Once sold only as a bug deterrent, its lovely aromatic leaves are now a main stay in the kitchen. Its distinctive peppery clove like favour is a perfect match with all tomatoes dishes and of course for making pesto.
Originating Africa and Asia, there are said to be up to 150 types of basil, not all are used in the kitchen though. Basil also has some medicinal properties, which include the treatment of digestive disorders, cough medicines and headaches. It can also be infused in boiling water for a soothing tea.
Basil is a delicate plant and needs the summer warmth to thrive; it will last in the garden until the cooler autumn weather sets in.
It needs free draining soil, if this can’t be achieved in the garden; it grows very well in pots.
Add compost and sheep pellets to the soil before planting and plant in the sunniest sheltered spot you can find.
Water well in the morning or evening, keeping the water off the leaves and avoid watering in the hottest part of the day.
Feed with a liquid fertiliser every two weeks.
Pinch out the tips of young plants to make the plant bushy, don’t waste them though, they can be used in the kitchen.
Pinch the flowers out when they appear to maintain growth.
To freeze excess Basil, wash the leaves, chop or leave them whole. Pack the leaves in to empty ice cube trays and fill with water, pushing the leaves under the water. Place them in the freezer, once frozen, remove from the tray and put in a plastic bag. They will keep frozen for up to a year.
Make your own basil oil, use in marinades, salad dressing or brushing over meat before grilling.
Bruise the leaves either with your hands or lightly in a mortar and pestle.
Fill a clean jar with the leaves and pour over quality non- aromatic oil, leave to infuse for 2-3 weeks.
Taste the oil for strength of flavour, if it is not strong enough then leave for a few weeks more.
When it has reached the flavour you like, strain off the leaves and store in clean sterilised bottles.