Basil is a wonderfully aromatic and flavorful herb that can be used in a variety of recipes and dishes. Unlike many other herbs, however, it is not cold-hardy, so it has to be replanted every year. Luckily, basil grows very fast and thrives in warmer climates such as ours. It is also very easy to grow, and, if it is maintained properly, can continue to yield great-tasting, fresh basil leaves into October and even November in our area. The trick to growing basil is to keep it from flowering. This can be achieved quite easily by pinching off the top growth of the basil plant every few days.
Look at the photo below. This photo was taken looking directly down at the top of one of our basil plants. You can tell that it is attempting to flower by the cross-like pattern of leaves forming at the top. To keep it from flowering, simply pinch the top growth off down to the stem, right above the first set of leaves.
By pinching the basil in this manner, you disrupt its flowering phase and the plant begins vegetating again. Keeping your basil in the vegetative state will produce a wider, bushier plant. Just look at the two plants above!
If you do nothing to maintain your basil plants, it will not take long for them to start flowering, especially considering the heat here in Central Texas. When they start flowering, they will no longer produce abundant leaves for harvesting. Instead, all of the plant’s energy will be used to produce flowers and then seed. Also during this time, the plant will stop producing the oils which gives basil leaves their flavor. Plants that have begun flowering simply do not taste as good. Keep them pinched back and you’ll be awarded with an abundant basil harvest this year!
Did you know …
Basil originated in Iran. It has been cultivated there for over 5,000 years.
The Greek word for basil, basileus, translates as “king”. Basil is often called the “king of herbs” for this reason.
Basil quickly loses its flavor when cooked. For strongest flavor, add at the end of cooking and serve.
Basil leaves taste great whole in a mixed salad.
Basil leaves can be stored in the freezer for months when prepared in pesto.
Basic Pesto Recipe:
2 cups chopped, fresh basil
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 T. sliced almonds, lightly crushed
1/3 cup grated parmesean cheese
1 T. garlic
Dash of salt
Optional: red pepper flakes
Directions: Put chopped basil in food processor and add a tablespoon of oil. Chop well until it turns into a paste. Slowly add the additional ingredients with a little oil each time and continue to process until all items have been added and the mixture is thick, but smooth. If you want a little more texture, add the nuts last and don’t chop as much. Try this on some toasted bruschetta, or slather it on chicken breasts before baking.