How to Grow Basil
Basil, an annual herb, is used to give a clove-like flavour to soups, sauces and salads. The chopped leaves go particularly well with tomatoes.
The herb is related to balm, and in common with other plants in this family it is attractive to bees. It is a good idea, therefore, to grow it near plants that require pollinating.
There are two species — sweet basil, and the compact bush basil. Both can be grown from seed, either from indoor sowings during early March or from outdoor sowings made during May.
Planning the crop
Basil needs a warm, sheltered site and grows best in well-drained, fertile soil. If the only available site is exposed, protect the plants with a tall cloche or a plastic tent. This is in any case advisable in the north of Britain.
How much to grow
Four plants of either type should provide plenty of fresh leaves from July to September, as well as sufficient dried leaves for use in the winter.
Two pots of bush basil will provide ample fresh leaves in winter.
Sweet basil grows to a height of 2-3 ft (610 mm. — 1m), with a spread of 12 in. (305 mm). Bush basil grows to a height of 6-12 in. (150-305 mm), and is suitable for growing in a pot indoors or in a greenhouse, as well as outdoors.
How to grow basil
For early plants, sow the seeds of sweet basil in March at a temperature of 13°C (55°F) in a pot or pan of seed compost. Prick out the seedlings into potting compost when they are large enough to handle.
Harden off the plants in mid-May, and plant them out 12 in. (305 mm) apart at the end of the month. Keep the soil moist until the plants are well established.
Raise seedlings of bush basil for growing in pots in the same way, and transfer them to 5 in. (130 mm) pots of John Innes No. 2 compost.
Basil seed may also be sown outside in May in the position where the plants are to grow. Sow in a drill ¼ in. (5 mm) deep, and thin out the seedlings to give a spacing of 12 in. (305 mm) between plants.
The seedlings can be transplanted, if preferred, but they will then receive a growth check which will delay development.
Water the plants during dry spells, and pinch out the flower buds at an early stage to promote the growth of leaves.
Pests and diseases
Basil is usually trouble-free.
If the leaves are needed for immediate use, pick them as required until the first autumn frosts. To harvest larger numbers of leaves at a single picking, for drying or freezing, cut the plants down once or twice to encourage fresh young growth.
Cooking with basil
Traditionally, this herb is used in the preparation of tomato dishes. The fresh young leaves are added, shredded, to salads; also to garnishing butters and to white sauces served with fish or poultry.
Basil leaves are used in savoury and sweet omelettes, added to soups as flavouring or garnish, and form the basis for the Italian pesto, a thick sauce of pounded basil, garlic, salt and oil, cheese and pine nuts, served with pasta dishes.
SWEET BASIL OMELETTE
A few sprigs of basil leaves
2 dessertspoons caster sugar
2 eggs, separated
Pound the cleaned basil leaves with half the sugar to a smooth paste. Beat the egg yolks and the remaining sugar, and beat the whites fairly stiff. Fold the whites carefully into the beaten yolks and pour the mixture into a hot, buttered omelette pan.
Cook over a low heat until the mixture is just set, but still fluffy and slightly moist. Slide the omelette on to a serving plate and sprinkle with the sugared basil and a little lemon juice.