Sweet basil (ocimum basilicum) is a very popular herb that can be cultivated indoors or out. Commonly called the “king of herbs,” basil has dark green leaves about an inch long. It grows into an attractive bushy plant. Some varieties can be quite decorative without losing their flavor and usefulness. It’s a good thing that basil is attractive to look at, because you need to keep an eye on it. If allowed to bloom, it will go to seed. Pinch the plant tops regularly.
Basil should be grown in full sun and planted in well-drained, nutrient rich soil that is slightly acidic. It should be watered frequently without over-watering. It really doesn’t tolerate cold weather very well, so if you plan to grow it outside, plant it in a container that can be brought indoors during cold snaps.
Basil really loves the light. At least five hours a day of sunlight will insure healthy, flavorful plants. Depending on the location indoors, you may need to turn your basil regularly to make sure all sides of the plant receive sunlight. However, make sure the leaves don’t come into contact with cold windows. If you live far enough north that sunlight becomes scarce, don’t worry. Basil plants may actually like flourescent lights even better. Mount some over you plants and leave them on for 14 hours a day.
In your outdoor herb garden, basil partners well with tomatoes as it can ward off insects and disease. You will also be pleased to know that basil is a natural flying insect repellant.
The uses for basil in cooked dishes are nearly limitless. From tomato dishes to sauces to vegetables, most courses can be enhanced with a pinch of basil. Fresh, frozen or dried leaves work equally well. Keep in mind, though, that basil flavors can actually increase with heating, something not true with other spices.