by Dr. Gary R. Bachman, MSU Extension Service
Basil can be grown in limited space and is an excellent addition to many homemade dishes
and even drinks. (Photo by MSU Extension/Gary Bachman)
After going through that recent cold snap, the glorious weather this past weekend has me wanting spring to get here as fast as possible. Visiting garden centers and seeing all the herb transplants means I just may get my spring wish.
One of my favorite herbs to grow and cook with is basil. And because I grow everything in containers, basil is my main, go-to herb.
If you ask me what a good variety is for starting an herb garden, my answer is always Genovese Italian basil. The large leaves of this plant are intoxicatingly aromatic, and they look beautiful garnishing tomato-based sauces.
Most of the Genovese Italian basil I grow is used for homemade pesto. Here’s my easy pesto recipe.
Combine in a food processor for 30 seconds or until smooth:
- 2 cups fresh basil
- 1/4 cup pine nuts (cashews are also good)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
One of my favorite purple basil varieties is Amethyst. The bright-purple leaves resemble the broad flat leaves of Genovese basil, and they have a similar taste with a touch of licorice.
Amethyst is a great ingredient for my easy recipe for purple basil mojitos. Muddle eight Amethyst basil leaves with the juice from a lemon. Add two ounces of simple syrup and six ounces of white rum. Shake with ice, then pour over ice into a tall glass. Finish with a splash of soda water.
This drink has a pretty, pink amethyst color and is a refreshing beverage for a great day in the garden.
Basil care is really easy.
First, be sure to deadhead the flowers. While they are attractive on their own, flowering halts leaf production. Be sure to keep the containers consistently moist. For the best flavor, harvest the sprigs in the morning when the essential oils are at their peak. Place them in a small vase or jar until ready to use for dinner.
I think growing basil in containers is a fantastic way to enjoy fresh flavor without the need to weed. Container growing is perfect for the porch or patio, and it is ideal if you have limited space in the yard or you live in an apartment and only have a balcony.
You can even place your containers on benches or tables to bring the garden up to a higher level for those with accessibility concerns to enjoy.
The type of container you use doesn’t matter, so you can get as simple or fancy as you like. I personally like terra cotta or just plain black plastic nursery pots. More important than the type of container is using a good, professional growing mix, which is available at your favorite local garden center.
These mixes can have a variety of components like peat moss, coir, bark and forest by-products that ensure a well-drained container.
When you use the container mix, basil benefits from the addition of fertilizer applied at half the recommended rate. I personally like using a controlled-release product. There are both inorganic and organic fertilizers available, with more choices offered every season.
Growing your own basil is easy, and it makes for delicious, home-cooked dinners.