Friday, September 4, 2015

Bunches of Basils!

Greetings Wild Indigo readers! After a somewhat crazy few weeks schedule wise I've squeezed in time to jot down the long awaited basil pictures and info.  I've been wanting to put these pics and thoughts into the blog all summer long so to celebrate the final weekend of summer, viola!

What garden is complete without basil? This versatile herb, grown for its lush aromatic foliage, is a staple for both landscaping and container gardening. Belonging to the Lamiaceae plant family (which also includes mint, sage, lavender, rosemary, oregano and thyme to name a few) these handsome plants are easy to grow and generally have high yields for culinary delights ranging from pastas and eggplant to teas. Not only is basil a staple ingredient in such classic Italian dishes like caprese and bruschetta but basil's popularity largely associated with Mediterranean cooking is of the likes of none other. A little known fact about basil: it's not native to the Mediterranean region. In fact it was brought over via the spice trade routes from India.

Enter specimen #1: Ocimum Sanctum

May I proudly introduce to you: Tulsi. Otherwise known as "Sacred Basil" in Hindi this basil has been a staple in Indian culinary fare for centuries. Now Tulsi basil leaves possess a most unique scent. To me its a delicate cross of vanilla meets honey with a twist of that traditional basil aroma. Its leaves are slightly fuzzy and thicker than common sweet basil which stand up nicely in teas and beverages. Just brushing up against Tulsi stirs the fragrant leaves and when its in bloom its the best party in town! Perhaps you've heard of Holy Basil tea? While fighting a summer cold I plucked a handful of  Tulsi leaves and with the addition of several varieties of mint leaves the result yielded a delicious hot tea. Simply put the leaves in a cup and add hot water. Steep until the desired strength and/or color is achieved then sip. A touch of honey also soothes sore throats. Traditional Tulsi tea only uses the basil leaves and yields a lovely honey colored tea with a flavorful taste to match. Concerning the plant itself, benign neglect wins the day! However it is happiest in loosely organic well draining soil. Nearly 50 seeds were sown to yield this one plant so be generous and patient come spring when trying to germinate Tulsi basil. It has grown to at least 20 inches across and roughly 3 feet in height. It has far outgrown any other basil in the basil bed so its stealth is admirable. This is my first growing of said basil and measures to root plants for overwintering are under way.  I highly recommend this culinary delight!

From India, basil traveled on the backs of many a camel and spice trade caravan into Europe eventually finding its way into Asia, specifically Thailand. If you've ever ventured into a Vietnamese or Korean eatery Thai basil is a staple ingredient.  Thai basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora) has a stronger more pungent flavor - almost anise. But it flavors pho and Asian dishes with amazing culinary flare.

Enter specimen #2: Cinnamon Basil

Mmmm ... Cinnaminaminamin
Now Thai basil can be referred to as cinnamon basil but the cinnamon basil plant (Ocimum basilicum cinnamon) holds its own presence in the basil kingdom. The plant has striking dark burgundy almost purple stems with matching veins in young leaves. Also known as Mexican Basil it contains the same chemical that gives cinnamon its flavor. (methyl cinnamate) Now the leaves aren't as wide as common sweet basil and appear to be a bit longer and narrower all told. Again these are hefty leaves that stand up well in teas. In the garden its a common companion plant for roses and tomatoes to deter white fly populations. According to Wikki, cinnamon basil became a cosmic hit when the space shuttle Endeavor delivered it FTD style for LEO experiments in the International Space Station. Cool!!!! I've used this basil in the makings of a simple syrup and mixed with a spirit or two the heavens roared in applause! Simply take a handful of cinnamon basil.  Steep in boiling water. Discard leaves (the compost worms enjoyed them!) then add organic fair trade sugar until the desired sweetness was achieved. Mix spirits of choice accordingly and sip preferably under a starry sky. Salute!

An uncommon basil which is not stocked in typical home and gardening establishments like Lowes or Home Despot was found on the humble trays at Bloomers Nursery in Sanford is the next featured basil in my collection.

Enter Specimen #3: Pesto Perpetuo

Ocimum Citriodorum: (a.k.a. Basil delicioso!!)

As you can see this ain't your Father's basil! The variegated leaves add to the beauty of this plant and are much smaller in length and width than traditional sweet basil. But man does it ever pack a flavorful punch! As the name suggests, Pesto basil is best suited for pesto making.  I made up a batch and froze it for later use in stews, soups and yes traditional pesto pasta. Here's the basic recipe I used.

Now this basil is a bit mysterious to me. I've never seen one flower so therefore yielding seeds has eluded the Celtic Garden. Growing cuttings is an option to attempt overwintering plants until spring so we'll see what the future holds. Perhaps the magical Pesto Perpetuo fairies will grace the Celtic Garden with their presence and gifts.

Enter Specimen #4: Sweet Basil

Oh Mickey you're so fine.... you blow my mind ... Hey Mickey!

And here it is rounding out the fourth and final basil variety in the basil beds, Ocimum Basilicum makes its grand blog entry. Now comparatively the leaves are wide and long with the familiar emerald green color and glossy sheen. In fact the longer they grow the stronger their flava! Though not as tough as Thai or Tulsi, sweet basil is strong enough to be rolled up with a thin slice of fresh mozzarella and dipped in eggplant tapanede. Goes great with a nice shiraz. Sweet basil is the grandest of basils due largely to its cultivation popularity and renowned culinary reputation. You just can't go wrong cooking with basil paired with fresh garlic, olive oil and heirloom tomatoes for a quick and easy pasta sauce. Again, this garden staple is worth its weight in gold.

One more note about basil.  Its relatively easy to propagate from seed and root from cuttings. All it really needs is organic well-drained soil and plentiful sunshine. To encourage a more bushy plant cut the main stem early on to encourage side growth.  Pinch off flowering buds and pick the leaves frequently. For with each leaf picked two will grow in its place. (two for the price of one!) For storage its best dried though I've heard of folks storing basil as olive oil infusions and freezing basil in ice cubes.

That wraps up this week's blog edition. By the way stay tuned for info regarding the annual Sustainable Neighbor Fall Urban Garden Tour. Details TBA.

And as always may happiness be like rays of sunshine in your mind, body and soul!