Basil is a small annual shrub, belonging to the Lamiaceae family, to which mint also belongs; it is an aromatic plant cultivated for centuries in the Mediterranean area and in Asia, from where the cultivation is widespread in most of the globe.
It produces herbaceous shrubs, 25-45 cm high, with thin, square-sectioned stems, which bear numerous large aromatic leaves, thin and delicate; in summer at the apex of the stems it produces small spikes of white flowers, followed by seeds. After flowering in general the plant stops the production of new shoots and the stems tend to lignify; in areas with a temperate winter climate the basil can develop into small woody shrubs, although in general the younger leaves are more aromatic, therefore it is convenient to constantly cultivate new plants.
How to grow it
The ocimum basilicum plants do not tolerate minimum temperatures below 10 ° C, therefore it is grown outdoors only in summer; starting from February-March it can be sown in seedbeds, to be kept at a temperature of at least 20 ° C, to allow the seeds to sprout; as spring arrives, the already developed plants move outdoors. If desired, it is also possible to sow the basil directly, but it will take about 25-30 days before the first leaves can be harvested. It is cultivated in pots or in the open ground, in a sunny place, in a good rich and fresh soil; to better develop this plant needs at least a few hours a day of direct sunlight; fears drought, it is therefore advisable to water it whenever the soil is dry. However, we avoid excesses. To be able to use the foliage of the same plant throughout the summer it is advisable to periodically remove the floral buds, to prevent the plant, as a result of flowering, from ceasing to produce new shoots.
How it is collected
The basil contains in its leaves a very intense and volatile essential oil, which disperses quickly in the air when the leaves dry up; for this reason it is generally used fresh, collecting foliage when needed in the kitchen.
Throughout the year we can obtain basil seedlings, having the foresight to periodically re-seed the plant, and to place pots in the kitchen as the first colds approach: a bright and not excessively cold niche is ideal.
Otherwise we can, at the end of the season, cut all our plants at the base and place the leaves in the freezer, or in oil.
Basil - Ocimum basilicum: How to use it
The ocimum basilicum is used fresh, in particular it is used with vegetables or to prepare sauces, such as the famous Genoese pesto.
The basil leaves give the best of themselves if used raw, so it is advisable to add them to sauces or cooked products only when we are bringing the preparation to the table, so as not to cook the tender leaves, which tend to oxidize and darken quickly.
Over the centuries of cultivation, numerous cultivars and hybrids have been introduced, which often have a slightly different aroma than the more common variety; there are leaves of ocimum basilicum with a purple color, a slightly lied aroma, and also huge or tiny leaves, depending on the variety. There is also anise-flavored basil and lemon-scented basil; try to sow more varieties in the same pot on the terrace: the basil plants, besides having a delicious aroma, are very decorative.