Growing, Harvesting and Using Basil

Reader Contribution by Anna Twitto
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Basil is one of my favorite plants. I seriously think everyone should grow it, as it’s so easy. Basil is extremely healthy, delicious, versatile, and can be used fresh, dry or frozen (though nothing equals the taste of freshly picked basil leaves). 

Basil is very easy to grow from seed. You can sow the seeds either directly in the soil or in a large pot – placed out of doors or even near a sunny window. In either case, make sure not to buy them too deep. Basil likes warmth and partial sunshine – mine thrives in a spot where it gets sunshine in the morning and shade in the afternoon. Full sun is unnecessary and may even be excessive in hot, dry climates. 

If you’re a poultry keeper, you will soon discover that your chickens love fresh basil as much as you do, so make sure to fence off the garden beds or, if you grow in pots, put them out of reach of chickens. 

Harvest basil from the top down to encourage further production – when you harvest the top, it results in bushier plants. Pick off and discard blemished leaves. Rather than strip a single plant bare, take some leaves from several plants. It is recommended to pinch off all flowers, but you can leave some if you wish to collect seeds for next year. 

What to do with those wonderful fresh basil leaves? The possibilities are endless! Basil is great in salads and all sorts of dishes, especially combined with tomatoes. It is terrific in pizza sauce. But my favorite use for basil is pesto. This versatile sauce/spread has only a few ingredients – basil leaves, nuts (any kind – pine nuts are the classic, but you can substitute any kind of nuts, walnuts, cashews, etc), olive oil, salt, garlic. Just toss it all in the food processor, taste, and play with the amounts to your preference. The result is sure to be delicious. The pesto can be stored in a jar in the fridge for a few days, and used as a sandwich spread or as pasta sauce, particularly with grated parmesan cheese. 

If you are lucky enough to have more basil than you can use, you can air-dry it in bunches like any herb, but it’s better to press the leaves into an ice cube tray and freeze them. This way, you’ll have small, convenient portions that will be nearly as good as fresh, and the smell will remind you of summer with every use. 

 Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna’s books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna’s Mother Earth News posts here.

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