By Katy Budge
A popular culinary herb throughout the world, Ocimum basilicum – aka basil – has a long and intriguing history.
Native to India and cultivated there for over 5000 years, basil was considered sacred, a status that helped garner its “basilicum” moniker in the Western world. The word comes from the Greek, meaning “king” or “royal.” Throughout the years, basil was also used as a method of determining chastity, as a love token to place on the gravesites, as a way to clear your brain, or to make scorpions grow in your brain. Thankfully, these days, we know it as a wonderfully flavorful ingredient.
Belonging to the mint family, basil is a water lover that likes to stay wet. As such, the best way to grow it is in a pot with a generous saucer underneath so that the plant can actually sit in the water and soak up every last drop of that precious resource.
When harvesting your basil, make your snips low on the stalks, and right above where at least two leaves are branching out from the main stalk. Those will then grow into two separate stalks, which you can trim in the same way when they get bigger, and ensure that you’ll have basil throughout the growing year.
One of the most popular uses for basil is pesto. Make extra, spoon the remaining into ice cube trays, and pop it in the freezer so you’ll have it on hand for pasta, pizza, and bruschetta. If you leave out the cheese and even the pine nuts for freezing, it becomes an even more versatile dollop of delight — for pistou, salad dressings, marinades, etc. — and you can always add the cheese and nuts after it thaws.