Sweet Basil - (Ocimum basilicum)

Sweet Basil – (Ocimum basilicum)

The most common basil used in the United States and found in the produce departments of most grocery stores.

Here is a chart with the particulars!

Hardiness Zone Zone 10 – 12
Plant type Annual, Herb
Height 20-90 cm (8-36 in) depending on variety
Spread 30-60 cm (12-24 in)
Bloom Time June to frost
Sun Full Sun
Planting/Propagation Sow seeds outdoors after all danger of frost is over.  Or start seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost to be transplanted later
Care and Watering Water in dry conditions; keep plants in containers well watered around midday
Soil Light, rich, well drained
Maintenance Low, pinch or cut back the flowering stems to promote more leaf production.
Flower Several groups of small white, yellow, or pink flowers  that are arranged in clusters on the flowering stems.  Very fragrant.
Leaves Varying sizes. Generally oval shaped.  Some varieties have curly edges that are bright or dark green, pruple and gree, and purple variegated.
Harvest Pick and use the leaves from the fresh plants from summer to early autumn.  Harvest indoor plants until early winter.  Dry leaves in a cool oven or in an airing cupboard.  Can also be frozen.
Repels Flies and possibly mosquitoes
Pests and problems Protect from frost and check fo shewing insects and snails.  Most other pests avoid this plant.
Suggested Uses:
Decoration Use a potted variety on a window sill or in the middle of the dining room table to repel flies
Culinary Use in a variety of recipes for pesto, pasta dishes, and soups.
Magickal/Spiritual Use for protection and healing spells.
Medicinal Is thought to lower blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and fevers.
Is an antispasmodic, analgesic, adaptogenic and anti-infammatory herb.
     Use as a: Tea
Decoction
Powder

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Ocimum Basilicum (Labiatae) of the family: Lamiaceae(Mint)

Anise Basil

Horapha – Anise basil, Thai basil, or Asian basil (Ocimum basilicum “Horapha”)

Basil is an herb that is pretty common here in the United States.  You can find it either fresh or dried in your local supermarket under the common name of either Sweet Basil or Garden Basil.  This variety is the mildest in flavor and has large oval leaves with white flowers.

There are a variety of flavors, shapes, sizes, and colors of this wonderful plant, and they include:  Boxwood, Napolatano, Nufar, Purple Ruffles, Queen of Sheba, Sweet Dani, Sweet Large Leaf Italian, Thai Siam Queen, Well-Sweep Miniature Purple, Horapha – (anise Basil), Lemon, Lime, and Cinnamon, just to name a few.  Each variety has it’s own unique flavor, scent, leaf shape, and color!

Holy Basil - Ocimum sanctum

Holy Basil – Ocimum sanctum

The variety Ocimum sanctum (Labiatae) is called Holy Basil or Tulsi in Hindi.  It is a sweet basil but is indigenous to India and tropical asia where it is considered sacred to the goddess Lakshmi, wife of Vishnu, the god who preserves life in the Hindu Religion.

History

Thai Siam Queen Basil

Thai Siam Queen Basil

Basil is a native plant from Tropical Asia, India, and Africa and is considered sacred to the Hindu gods Vishnu and Krishna.  It is a traditional practice of the Indian people to place a sprig of basil on their dead loved ones to help them travel to their next life.  In court, Oaths were sworn upon it because it was believed to be imbued with divine essence.

In the Greek Orthodox Church, basil has been used in the preparation of holy water and pots of it were sometimes set below church altars because it was believed that basil was holy because it was found growing outside of Christ’s tomb after he was resurrected.

Well-Sweep Miniature Purple Basil

Well-Sweep Miniature Purple Basil

During Medieval times, most people were afraid of basil.  They thought that scorpions were drawn to the plant and that if you left a sprig of basil under the basil pot, it would turn into a scorpion.  They even believed that smelling the herb used in snuff would allow scorpions to nest in their brains.  These fears were prevalent through the 17th century.  The theory is that the people misunderstood the Latin name Basilicum with Basilisk.  Which is actually a snake like dragon that has the power to kill by just looking at it’s prey!

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Magickal and Spiritual beliefs

Sweet Large Leaf Italian Basil

Sweet Large Leaf Italian Basil

Basil is said to be a very attractive plant to dragons.  Wherever basil is grown, dragons will be close by.   Especially the basilisk dragon! This is a dragon that breathes fire, has deadly venom, can kill with just a look, and has skin that repels snakes and spiders.  This is a very powerful dragon!

So how does one manage a dragon like this who might be hanging out in the basil patch?  Why, you call on the spirit of the basil itself!  It is said that the basil spirit will show itself as an elf like creature.  They have the knowledge of how to summon and control dragons.  By meditating on the basil plant and asking the spirit of the plant to teach you, you will learn lessons on how to incorporate greater discipline and devotion into your life.  Imagine that you are the dragon, and you must learn to control your desires and actions so that you don’t end up harming the people around you!

Boxwood Basil - (Ocimum basilicum "Boxwood")

Boxwood Basil – (Ocimum basilicum “Boxwood”)

It is also said that if you sprinkle basil all over your body, it will attract riches.  I’m not sure if this one works or not.  But if you try it and it works, please let me know!

Pest Control Uses

Purple Ruffles Basil

Purple Ruffles Basil

Besides being a culinary herb, basil can also be used to repel insects.  Place a potted plant on a window sill or on the middle of your picnic table to help repel flies and mosquitoes.  Or, plant a few basil plants amongst the citronella plants around your patio for a season long natural insect barrier.  Of course, the plants won’t keep ALL the flies and mosquitoes away!  But they just might reduce their numbers to a manageable level!

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 Medicinal Uses

Nufar Basil

Nufar Basil

Basil has carminative, antipyretic, stimulant, alterative, diuretic, nervine, anti-inflammatory, tonic, and disinfectant properties.  What does this mean?  It can be used to relieve headaches, nervousness, panic attacks, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, fevers, colds, flu, kidney and bladder troubles, cramps, and constipation. It can also stimulate milk production in lactating women and be used as a topical antiseptic when cleaning cuts and scrapes.

When the herb is dried and crushed into a powder, it has been used as a snuff in the past to alleviate stuffy noses and headaches.  Personally, I find that to be uncomfortable to even think about doing!  More often than not, the herb is infused in water to create a tea or tonic.  This tea can then be used for either drinking to help with internal issues, or poured into a bath to alleviate skin issues or to wash wounds.  When it is infused with oil, it can be taken directly or put into soaps and salves for use on the skin.

(Please see “Terms & Conditions” for disclaimer)

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How to Make Basil Tea

Thai Siam Queen Basil

Thai Siam Queen Basil

Make an infusion (tea) by steeping 15 ml/1 Tbsp of fresh basil or 5 ml/1 tsp of dried basil in 120 m./4 fl oz (1/2 cup) of hot water for about 3 to 5 minutes or longer if you like a stronger tea.  Add sugar or honey to taste if needed.

Culinary Uses

Sweet Dani Basil

Sweet Dani Basil

Basil is best known for being used to make pesto and added to tomato based dishes.  Personally, I have never had pesto so I don’t really know how it’s made or what it tastes like.  If you do, leave a comment below and share with us your favorite pesto recipe, how you use it, and let us know what to expect in the taste department as well!

I have used basil in a variety of my dishes!  I use it in salads in the summer to bring a bit of spice to an otherwise bland salad.  I’ve added it to my salsas, as well as my spaghetti sauces.  I must admit, I don’t use it nearly as much as I should!

Growing Basil

Napolatano Basil

Napolatano Basil

Growing basil is really quite simple.  About 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost in your area, plant several seeds in a seed starting tray using a seed starting mix.  Keep them warm and moist, but not wet, until they sprout.  Then move the sprouted plants to a sunny window away from cold drafts.  Basil is a tropical plant and will wilt and die if the temperature goes below about 45°F.  When the plants have their first 2 true leaves, they can be transplanted into a larger container.  When the weather begins to warm, set out the baby basil plants during the day in a bright spot to help harden them off before planting them directly into the ground.  Bring them in each night until the night time temperature stays above 45°F.  Once it’s warm enough, plant them into a sunny spot in the garden that has rich well drained soil.  Pinch off the flower stalks as they grow to encourage more leaf production.  Harvest the leaves all season as you need them.  Remember to never harvest more than 1/3 of an entire plant at any one time.  Harvesting more than that will stress the plant, and reduce the quality of your leaves.

Seeds from a Sweet Basil plant

Seeds from a Sweet Basil plant

In the fall, you can either take cuttings from your plants to make starts indoors for the winter season, or, you can do like I do and just start a new batch from seed directly in the pot that will live in the house all year.

I generally cut back my basil plants in the garden to basically the base of the main stalk.  I cut off any flower heads and let them dry separately to collect the seeds later.  I wash the leaves thoroughly and remove any damaged or discolored leaves.  Then I pat them dry with a paper towel, lay them on a cookie sheet and dry them in the oven set at about 150°F.  This drying method takes several hours but if you take the time to check on them once every hour and turn things over and around on the sheet, it can reduce the amount of time.  Once they are completely dried and cooled, I will then remove the leaves from the stalks and store them in a canning jar in my spice cabinet.  I only crush them just as I’m adding them to whatever I’m cook.

Just a word to the wise, the color of the basil leaves will darken in storage.  It’s best to use fresh basil whenever you can and replace your dried stock often to keep the flavor fresher.

For instructions on how to collect the seeds, please click here.

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Bibliography

Bryant, Geoff, Tony Rodd, Barbara Segall, R. G. Turner Jr., and Ernie Wasson. The Plant Book; The World of Plants in a Single Volume. 5th ed. Baulkham Hills: James Mills-Hicks, 2001. 610-611. Print.

Chevallier, Andrew. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. New York: DK Pub. ;, 1996. 114, 238. Print.

Kruger, Anna. An Illustrated Guide to Herbs: Their Medicine and Magic. Limpsfield, Surrey: Dragon’s World, 1993. 35. Print.

“Ocimum Basilicum – Plant Finder.” Missouri Botanical Garden. Web. 8 Oct. 2014. <http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/>.

Rodway, Marie. “Single-Herb Remedies: ‘Simples'” A Wiccan Herbal: Healing Secrets of Natural Magic. London: Quantum, 1997. 33-34. Print.

Segall, Barbara. “June.” The Herb Garden: Month-by-month. Newton Abbot, Devon: David & Charles, 1994. 68. Print.

Smith, Shane. “A Closer Look at the Plants – Herbs.” Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion: Growing Food and Flowers in Your Greenhouse or Sunspace. Rev. and Expanded ed. Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Pub., 2000. 305-306. Print.

Tierra, Michael. “Kitchen Medicines.” The Way of Herbs: Fully Updated –with the Latest Developments in Herbal Science. 3rd ed. New York: Pocket, 1990. 89. Print.

West, Kate. “The Medicinal Garden.” The Real Witches’ Garden: Spells, Herbs, Plants and Magical Spaces Outdoors. London: Element, 2004. 65-66. Print.

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