What’s better than a compact, decorative plant that’s easy to maintain? A compact, decorative plant that’s easy to maintain and edible, too! Basil and other herbs are excellent choices for both houseplants and outdoor gardens. Not only do you get to admire the glossy, green foliage and dainty purple flowers, but you get to enjoy their versatile flavor! From garden to plate, here’s everything you need to know about this delicious herb:
If you’re just dipping your thumbs into the green world of gardening, you can’t go wrong by starting with herbs. They’re pretty easy to grow and stay relatively small, so they can fit into virtually any house with a window. While you can grow basil outdoors during the summer, it’s pretty sensitive to the cold and will die off if you don’t bring it inside before the first frost. Alternatively, you can simply pick a window and leave it to bask in the sun.
Plant basil in nutrient-rich, fertile potting mix with good drainage. While it will still manage to grow in poor soils, the leaves won’t be nearly as tasty. Keep the soil well-watered, but keep an eye out for yellowing of the plant, which is a sign of overwatering.
Once your plant reaches 6 inches in height, it has established itself well enough for you to begin harvesting leaves. Like many other herbs, basil is the gift that keeps on giving—the more leaves you pick, the more new growth appears! We recommend pinching the leaves off quite often to encourage new growth and a bushier plant. Just avoid getting over-excited and plucking more than a quarter of the plant at once, as this might stress it out and stunt its growth.
As great as they are, herbs are still leafy greens, which means they don’t have a stellar track record for staying fresh for long after harvest. The flavor is also diminished pretty quickly by heat. Make a habit of picking the leaves as you use them and adding them to dishes last to ensure the freshest flavors for serving your family and friends. If you pick them without the intention of using them right away, pack them into an airtight bag and freeze them until you need them.
If your plant is dying back for the season or you’re simply culling more than you can cook, you can also opt to preserve the leaves by drying them out. Dried basil, which offers a much more intense flavor, is perfect for stretching the use of your plant longer. You only have to use about one quarter as much in a recipe, compared to using fresh leaves.
The easiest, fastest way to dry herbs is to use a food dehydrator, though you can also dry them in an oven to remove all the moisture. The best way to dry them, however, is to cut stems that are about 6 inches long, bundle them together, and hang them to dry in a dark, warm, dry place. You can tie a paper bag around the bundles to catch the dried bits as they fall off—just remember to poke some holes in the bag to promote airflow.
After collecting dried basil and removing the stems and flowers, crumble the leaves and store them in a dark, dry place (like a cupboard) in airtight containers. Exposure to light will degrade the flavor quicker.
Cooking with Basil
So, you’ve got your cute little plant flourishing in the kitchen window, and you’ve properly plucked your first batch of leaves. But now, you’re stumped on what exactly to do with them! For some of us, growing plants is the easy part, but cooking with them is a whole other story. Luckily, this herb has a pretty versatile flavor, so it won’t be hard to incorporate it into your cooking.
Basil is a prominent garnish in Italian dishes, like pizza and pasta, but is also popular in Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Thai cuisine. Truthfully, it can impart its wonderful flavor in a wide variety of dishes, including meats, fish, eggs, tomato-based dishes, soups, salads, and more!
Different Basil Varieties
As if the characteristic flavor of basil wasn’t delicious enough, with so many different varieties, there’s no way you can grow tired of this heavenly herb! Here are some of our favorite flavors and how you can use them in the kitchen:
- Sweet Basil: This is the most common type, and maybe even the most widely used herb, ever! It has a slightly spicy odor and flavor that enhances a wide range of dishes and even sauces like homemade pesto.
- Lemon Basil: A combination of the classic savory taste combined with a light, citrusy flavor and a sweet scent. Lemon basil is delicious when eaten raw, topping a salad or adding some zest to fish dishes.
- Purple Basil: The eccentric, purple leaves of this plant might not taste very different from the common, sweet variety, but it definitely adds a unique visual aesthetic! Impress your guests by serving them an artistic dish or fancy drink embellished with purple basil.
- Cinnamon Basil: Who would have thought that a savory herb could fit so deliciously well in a sweet dish?! Cinnamon basil adds a warm, spicy flavor and mouth-watering aroma to warm desserts like baked fruit, pies, and rice pudding.
- African Blue Basil: The dark green-purple leaves of African Blue are (almost!) too pretty to eat. The plant itself is a bushier variety and displays deep purple blooms—an effective accent to both your kitchen and your salads, pizzas, and pasta.
Not everyone has the time to care for houseplants, or the space for a full-blown backyard garden, but basil is the perfect compromise for our busy lives. It’s compact enough for any home or garden, cute enough to provide a natural, earthy aesthetic, and tasty enough to enhance almost any dish! If you’re interested in gardening with herbs, stop into one of our three Greenstreet Garden locations, today!