An annual herb that can grow 24″ tall and wide, and sports crinckled leaves that reach 5″ long. Plant in a sunny location in well-drained, rich soil with plenty of moisture; maintain a soil pH of 5.5-6.5. It prefers soil at 70 degrees F, and is sensitive to frost. It is a great companion plant for tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. The flower buds should be pinched off, as the production of flowers tends to add bitterness to the leaf flavor. Basil is best fresh, but can also be preserved by drying, freezing, bottling in oil, or steeping in vinegar.
Basil is native to India, Asia and Africa but now grows in many regions throughout the world. It is prominently featured in varied cuisines throughout the world including Italian, Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian.
There are now more than 60 distinct varieties of basil, each with a distinctive flavour, aroma, colour, shape and its own essential oil composition. While the taste of sweet basil is bright and pungent, other varieties also offer unique tastes: lemon basil, anise basil and cinnamon basil all have flavours that subtly reflect their name. The genus name ‘basil’ is derived from the old Greek word basilikohn, which means ‘royal,’ reflecting that ancient culture’s attitudes towards an herb that they held to be very noble and sacred. The tradition of reverence of basil has continued in other cultures. Many traditions about the herb’s powers have to do with love and the afterlife.
In India, basil was cherished as an icon of hospitality, while in Italy, it was a symbol of love.