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7/27/2009

Basil Season

Ozarks Gardening
Jim Long
August is Basil Season

I am just back from the annual International Herb Association conference, held this year at the Huntsville, Alabama Botanic Garden. One of our speakers at the conference was Dr. Mentreddy, who’s the head of research of basil at the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University in Huntsville. His research focuses on the highest concentrations of oils useful in preventing or treating diabetes and colon cancer. He is trialing 87 varieties of basil. The total number of basil varieties world wide is 150, therefore comparison studies of 87 varieties is a significant.

Dr. Mentreddy explained that two of the best basils (meaning highest is useful oils for medicinal purposes) so far are Indian holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum sny. sanctum) and one called, Ocimum selloi, the variety I grow that is commonly called, Green Pepper Basil. Mine came from Oaxaca, Mexico while Dr. Mentreddy’s sample came from Uruguay. (I passed my green pepper basil along to Nichols Garden Seed in Oregon and they are the only sellers of that basil as far as I know, You can contact them by visiting my website, www.LongCreekHerbs.com and clicking on, “Looking for Plants?”)

Basil comes into its own in July and August. If you are a first time basil grower, you may not have realized yet how important it is to consistently harvest basil. Leave it alone and it either goes to seed or gets bitter. I often see first time gardeners plant one lonely little basil plant and feel they need to baby it and not pick too much. It becomes a, “precious little plant” and the gardener is just glad to see it grow, but afraid to actually use more than a leaf or two.

Take your scissors and prune basil like it’s a hedge. The more you prune, every week to ten days, the more leaves it produces and the better the flavor. Quit shearing it and you’ll have bitter leaves due to the concentration of basil oils.

I like to chop basil leaves into salads. I use basil leaves instead of lettuce on sandwiches. And I make pesto often. I put a big, double handful of basil leaves - any kind, into the food processor. I add some nuts, pine nuts, almonds, pecans, it doesn’t matter which, and some grated parmesan cheese and a clove or two of garlic. To that I add about a tablespoon of olive oil then pulse blend the whole thing until I have a coarse paste. This will keep in the refrigerator for about six or seven days. I use it over fresh pasta, in summer cold tomato soups, spread on crackers or I slather some under the skin of chicken breasts before grilling or broiling them.

Summer is the basil season. I only grow 12 varieties, nothing close to the 87 of Dr. Mentreddy, but I am certain I enjoy mine every bit as much as he does in his research.

To see photos of the International Herb Association conference, Huntsville Botanic Garden and my garden, too, visit my blog: http://jimlongsgarden.blogspot.com. Happy gardening!

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