I keep my seeds in a little box in the fridge. Over the years I’ve built up quite the variety, so I sorted through it last winter. I had seven different kinds of basil! Now, I like basil but this was excessive. The kinds I had were regular Sweet basil, Siam Queen Thai basil, Opal basil, Lemon basil, Cinnamon basil, Licorice basil, and Holy Basil. I wasn’t even sure I had grown all the varieties and the seeds were getting some age on them. So, I decided I’d try to germinate all of them and decide which to keep seeds for and which to drop.
So it turns out, basil seeds generally have high germination rates and the seeds are viable for quite a while. Generally. Sweet basil I grow every year, so that one was not a problem. Siam Queen, Opal and Licorice basils all had what looked to me like 100% germination, so instead of a pot with one or two seedlings, I had a whole potful. I separated these out, grew some of them on individually and gave away basil to anyone who wanted it. The Cinnamon basil did not germinate at all, and that’s one I don’t think I’ve grown before, so I have no idea what that one is like. The Holy Basil I was really eager for, so of course I ended up with only two plants, vs the 10 or so each of the other varieties. 🙂 So I have Sweet basil, Holy Basil, Siam Queen Basil, Licorice Basil, Opal Basil and Lemon Basil. Now it’s summer and I have basil plants out the wazoo. I planted them in pots, in the ground, and with every tomato plant I grew. Some of them are going to seed now so I got busy harvesting.
A brief description of the varieties: Siam Queen is a gorgeous plant. It tastes spicier than sweet basil and instead of the whitish-green flowers it has attractive burgundy flowers that are full and bushy. Licorice basil has purple stems and narrow leaves and it smells exactly like black licorice. I tasted it for the first time a few days ago and it tastes like licorice as well. This would be an interesting herb to experiment with. Opal basil has purple or mottled leaves, wider than those of Sweet basil. This one would make lovely vinegars or oils if that’s your thing. Lemon basil has serrated edges with a lemony taste. That one is not as vigorous as the others, but it is one I want to grow more of. The possibilities with this one are endless. Holy basil is another stunner. The leaves do not look like basil and it has pinkish spikes of flowers. Holy basil is from India and has a wide range of medicinal qualities. It is common for a pot of Holy basil to be kept in Indian homes. In cooking, Holy basil is referred to as Tulsi and is used in a variety of dishes.
Basil is high in Vitamin K, antioxidants, and many other vitamins. Made into a tea, it is used to aid digestion and prevent flatulence. Holy Basil deserves an entry all by itself, but in brief, it is considered an “adaptogen” and is used for a variety of ailments from oral care to heart disease. With the huge harvest this year, I made pesto earlier tonight for the first time. It is super easy and tastes fantastic.
2 cups (packed) Basil
1/4 cup pine nuts (Next time I’m going to try pistachios)
1/2 cup shredded cheese
3 cloves garlic
2/3 cup olive oil
salt & pepper
Throw it all in the food processor and blend. Simple, fast and fresh.
I may try some variations with my next batch.
Basil’s first mentioned use was in Egypt 4000 years ago. It’s been used in all cultures, but each culture has had it’s own uses and superstitions for it. Oddly, in Greece basil was said to cause scorpions to breed, but in Africa it was said to protect against scorpions. But wait, there are more scorpions! In medieval times, since basil could flourish in the presence of rue, it was considered poisonous. Apparently just smelling basil could cause scorpions to grow in the brain. (I’m sitting here snickering, but you have to consider the time and the level of ignorance.) There is a physician’s account of a patient who succumbed to “scorpions in the brain” after sniffing basil frequently. Another physician in Italy observed in his writings that if you place basil under a stone in a moist place, in two days time it would produce a scorpion. Pretty cool, huh.
Several cultures relate basil to love. In Italy a pot of basil displayed on the windowsill is said to announce that the lady of the house is ready to accept suitors. In a few cultures, a pot of basil given to the opposite sex will cause the receiver to fall deeply in love with the giver and be forever faithful. In Romania a pot of basil is given to announce your engagement. In medieval times, basil was used to ward off evil and witches were said to drink it before flying on their brooms. These are just a few of the superstitions attached to this versatile herb.
Holy basil is considered sacred in its native India, and a pot is kept in the home and sometimes at the altar. It is sacred to the goddess Tulasi and is a symbol of love, protection and eternal life. This in addition to all its medicinal uses! So, eat more basil of all kinds and experiment with it in your cooking. I’ve decided to keep the Sweet, Siam Queen, Lemon, and Holy varieties, and that will be more basil than I’ll need.