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The wind is blustery outside, and there is a slight chill in the air. As I think about what to make for dinner, my mind keeps going back to summer. It seems so long ago that I could just walk out to the garden and pick fresh vegetables and herbs for a nutritious, flavorful dinner. I am counting down the days until I can have that luxury again. But then I remember, I did preserve some summer bounty. I made basil pesto which freezes really well. What a perfect way to have a little taste of summer on a dreary, cold day. As I taste the pesto, I am drawn back to the long nights of sitting on the porch, listening to the crickets chirping as the fireflies light up the darkening sky.
I am so glad that I took the time during the summer to grow herbs that could be preserved and enjoyed throughout the year, bringing me back to days spent in the sunny garden with insects flitting around and the sky blue above. I love growing herbs, and there are some herbs that are very simple to grow either directly in the ground or in pots. One of my favorite herbs is basil. It has such a fresh, aromatic flavor that can be a great addition to pasta and salads or can be the main flavor of a dish. It also has uses outside of the culinary realm.
How to Grow Basil
Sweet basil is an annual herb, meaning it will have to be planted every year. If it is planted directly in the ground and it goes to seed, it is likely to reseed itself. Sweet basil grows about 18 – 24 inches tall. I like to plant basil directly in the ground in full sun in well-drained, rich soil when it is warm outside (basil needs a soil temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit). Seed in rows about a quarter inch deep. Spacing should be about 8-18 inches depending on variety. It should germinate within a week if temperatures are warm enough.
Sweet basil can also be planted in a pot. Just make sure it is placed in an area with full sun. Basil can also be started from seed indoors and then transplanted into the ground or into a pot, but I find that it germinates fast enough that it doesn’t need to be started indoors ahead of time.
Make sure the flower heads are pinched off regularly before they bloom so plants can put all of their energy into leaf production. If the basil flowers, it changes the taste of the leaves and makes it less potent. When harvesting, do not cut the main stem, as it will not regrow. Pinch off individual leaves or leafy stems. Leaves can be harvested as soon as the plant has enough to spare some. Basil cuttings can be kept in a jar of water. Just cut off the leaves with scissors on the lower two-thirds of the cutting, put the basil cutting in a jar of water and keep it at room temperature.
How to Use Basil
Basil has a long history and has many benefits and uses. It has many health benefits such as improving appetite, being an anti-inflammatory, and containing anti-bacterial properties. It can also be used to help repel insects. When you’re in the garden, try rubbing some basil leaves on your skin, or plant basil throughout the garden to keep harmful insects away.
I love to make basil pesto during the summer and freeze it to use throughout the year. It is easy to make and can be frozen in ice cube trays or in a container or baggie. The recipe I use has optional cheese, and you can use your preferred nuts.
Here is my go-to recipe. Feel free to get creative and adjust to your taste.
- 2 cups basil
- 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts
- 1/2 cup or more olive oil
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Remove basil leaves from stems. Wash and dry leaves or use a salad spinner to remove excess water
- Peel garlic cloves
- Place basil and garlic in food processor
- Pulse a few times and then add nuts and cheese and pulse again
- Start drizzling olive oil slowly into food processor as it is running
- Stop and scrape sides to make sure that it is well-blended
- Add additional olive oil as needed to get the consistency you want (I like my pesto a bit thick)
- Add salt and pepper to taste (about 1/4 tsp of salt and a sprinkle of pepper)
- Eat on pasta or veggies or freeze in ice cube trays or a container or baggie
Happy basil growing! Here’s wishing you a bountiful harvest! What are some of your favorite ways to enjoy basil?
Want to learn more about growing herbs? Check out these posts: