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September 2010
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How to grow Basil – a herb used in cooking

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a low growing, tender herb belonging to the Lamiaceae or the mint family. It is mainly a culinary herb and the most essential ingredient of Italian cuisine. It also features prominently in the cuisines of Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Thailand, and Taiwan etc. Dubbed as the “King of herbs”, basil is known for its delicious flavour and aromatic, strong, pungent smell, which makes it every chef’s delight. In fact, the word “basil” itself is derived from the Greek word “basileus”, meaning “king”. Basil also occupies a very special place in many cultures of the world, from being a symbol of love in Italy, to being worshipped in India. The ancient Egyptians believed that it opened the gates of heaven for the dead. The health benefits of basil are as numerous as its culinary uses. It is rich in vitamin A, vitamin c, phosphorus and calcium. Basil also contains beta-carotene which is a powerful antioxidant. Basil is originally native to India and Iran. Its leaves are crinkly or smooth and the colour varies from rich green to purple, depending on the variety. Some of the varieties are given below:
1. Lemon basil: The Lemon basil has a lemony aroma making it excellent for vinegars, salad dressings and fish dishes. Its leaves are dull green and pointy, about 2 inches long. This variety of basil requires at least 6 hours of direct sunlight and continuous watering, along with a good fertilizer.
2. Italian big leaf: The Italian Large Leaf basil is loved by chefs because it is sweet and less clover than other varieties of basil. Used in sauces and salads, its leaves are around 4 inches long and dark green.
3. Purple Petra: Purple Petra is mildly sweet tasting basil, with just the right amount of spiciness. It is used in Italian dishes, pasta’s and salads. The leaves of purple Petra are reddish purple and the plant can grow to a height of 24 inches. It can easily be grown in a home garden or even indoors for ornamental purposes.
4. Purple Ruffles: Purple ruffles is a beautiful variety of basil with its lavender pink flowers. The plant has a cinnamon and licorice, scent and flavour, with mahogany –purple colour ruffled jagged leaves and can grow up to 1.5 feet tall. It is more clover-like and therefore used in salads, vinegars and herb oils. This variety of basil is hard to grow because of its finicky nature.
5. Sweet basil: Sweet basil is considered to be the best variety of basil because of its captivating aroma. Its leaves are bright green, being reddish purple at the leafstalk. They have many dot like glands which contain its aromatic oil. This basil has a clove like scent and is used in sauces for pasta and flavouring meats like lamb, fish dishes and soups etc.
6. Cinnamon basil: Cinnamon basil has a cinnamon like aroma, which is why it has been given its name. It has a sweet flavour and can be used in any recipe that requires the use of basil. It can be used directly in cooking or there are other ways to capture its flavour like putting it in a bottle of olive oil to make cinnamon flavoured olive oil. Some garden pests do not like its smell so many gardeners grow it just to keep pests away from their garden.

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