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THE WORLD OF HERBS

J.E. Kinghorn

Basil
                
Herbs are fascinating plants to grow and each one has traditions and folklore associated with it as well as individual medicinal and culinary uses.

Today we will explore, Ocimum basilicum, commonly known as basil.  Basil, an ancient herb, perhaps the oldest of all herbs,  originated in India where it is still widely grown  for it culinary powers and as an antidote to venomous snake bites.  The cultivation and use of Basil spread to Europe and was revered for its `extraordinary powers.'   Its name comes from the Greek word `basileus' meaning king and is also known as the herb of poverty, protecting the needy and destitute.

FOLKLORE:

India:  It is believed that basil placed on the breasts of the deceased would protect them from other worldly evil.   
Additionally, a home built where basil flourishes will be safe from harm.  Pots of the herb are grown in temples for that reason.

Italy:   Sign of courtship.

England: Symbol of love.  England's great romantic poets-Percy, Shelley and Bysshe often referred to basil in their verse.

MEDICINAL:

traditionally used as a treatment for mild nervous disorders, i.e. headache and nausea in the form of atea.

A basil poultice was used to extract venomous snake and scorpion poison, as well as relieving  wasp and bee stings.

In the 1800's the herb was used in a tonic to lessen the pain of rheumatism.

CHARACTERISTICS:

Annual plant, grown from seed develops into a small compact bush.  Insect pollination required for seed formation.  Leaves are egg-shaped to oval, curled inward along the main stem and yellow-green to dark green in color dependant on soil fertility.  White folwers form at the end of each stem  The peppery flavored leaves are used for seasoning and is known to repel flies and mosquitoes.

COMMON VARIETIES:

Sweet Basil (O climum),  Bush Basil (O Minimum) and a  Hybrid Variety.

Sweet Basil- Large dark green shiny leaves and  grows approximately two feet high- white flowers in late spring.

Bush Basil- Compact shape approximately six to eight inches high with similar leaves and flowers.

Hybrid Variety-Opal Basil-dark purple/green leaves and pale pink flowers.



PLANTING GUIDE:    

Sow*2 seed in full sun as soon as the danger of frost has passed one quater inch deep and about twelve inches apart.  Soil should be light, yet fertile, well drained and weed free.  Mulching plants will hold mositure and help in controlling weeds.  Basil planted next to tomatoes improves their growth and flavor.

HARVEST:

Leaves should be harvested before stems go to flower.  First cutting takes the main stem out from the top, however, leave one node with two young shoots intact.  The remaining plant will branch out, ready for havest again in two or three weeks.  Continue harvesting until frost.  Dry leaves for extended storage or use fresh to flavor soups, sauces and salad dressings.

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