It's been called "the perfect herb" and it's often referred to as "the king of herbs." What makes basil such a highly-regarded plant? Well, there isn't just one answer to that question. Its versatility makes it perfect for many dishes, and its popularity anoints it as the reigning king when it comes to herbs and spices.
Basil's fresh, spicy flavor is a natural addition to so many cooking styles and recipes. Whether it's sprinkled over almost any type of salad, added into a variety of soups, included in sandwiches, tossed on top of pizzas, and even stirred into mixed drinks, its distinctive aroma and flavor make it a favorite among cooks.
The best way to enjoy basil is freshly cut from your garden or a container near your kitchen. Here's how to grow it:
1. Give it plenty of sunlight
Whether you're using a container or planting them in your garden bed, basil should be in a location that gets 6 to 8 hours of full sun each day. Basil is sensitive to the cold, so if you have plants in the ground, keep an eye on the early spring temperatures and cover the plants if necessary. If you are transplanting a seedling, wait until the ground temperature is at least 70°F.
2. Plant it in soil that drains well
Basil does best when it's in well-drained, moist soil with a neutral pH. Add some rich compost to the soil at the start of the season. Nothing else should be needed after that. Actually, if the soil is overly rich, the basil will lose some of its flavor.
3. Choose either seeds or seedlings
If you start with seeds, scatter them over the location that you have chosen and lightly cover with dirt. Water them thoroughly. Once they emerge, thin them to 6 inches apart. If you choose seedlings, dig a small hole, plant them about 12" apart, and water thoroughly.
4. Plant it among its friends
Consider planting basil among other herbs and vegetables with similar lighting and watering needs--tomatoes and parsley, for example. It also does well planted in with lettuce, chamomile, peppers, and oregano.
5. Pinch the flowers
Once a basil plant flowers, the leaves will lose some of their good flavor. If you pinch out the flowers, the leaves will get their flavor back in a day or two. Remove the flowers as soon as they appear.
6. Harvest often
You can start picking basil leaves as soon as they are 6 to 8 inches tall. Once temperatures hit 80 degrees, they will start growing quickly. Picking the leaves regularly encourages the plant to grow throughout the summer, so keep harvesting them. You can always freeze any leaves you don't need right away.