Sweet Basil: The Favorite All-Purpose Culinary Herb

Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is the most popular variety of the basil herb that is used in cooking.  

It has bright green, aromatic leaves about 1-2 inches long.

It gives a sweet, spicy flavor to many foods and is indispensable in tomato dishes, pesto, soups, stews, spaghetti, poultry, fish, and salads.

When and where to plant

Sow at any time if the plant is always to be kept indoors.

Use the dwarf varieties to get the best growth indoors because they bear sufficient leaves for use from day-to-day.

Sow seeds shallowly (1/4" deep) in light soil that is rich in organic matter in small pots or starter trays.

Keep plants in moist clean soil and place in a warm, well-lit area of the kitchen. Seeds should germinate in 14-18 days.

Basil is a heat-loving herb. It will thrive indoors if you have plenty of sun and warmth with temperatures in the 70s during days and nights. The leaves will droop and fade if exposed to cool air. If you have plants on windowsills, move back from glass during the cold winter weather. Keep the humidity levels up because dry air is hard on annuals.

Care: When seedlings form the second pair of leaves, transfer three two five small plants to 4 inch pots to allow the plants to grow at the optimal rate. Give plants at least six hours of direct sun light a day or supplement with 12 hours of artificial a day

 Water plants thoroughly then allow the top 1 inch of soil to become moderately dry between waterings and feed monthly with an all-purpose liquid fertilizer.

Containers: Terra-cotta pots are ideal for this annual herb, but you can use any kind of container you like. Containers should be 8 to 10 inches deep and have several holes in the bottom for drainage.

The strawberry jar is a good choice for this herb. It has several planting pockets along the sides for growing an assortment of plants--that require similar care. Since basil does not like to be crowded, it will have its own space.

Harvesting: Cut stems just before the flowers open, strip leaves and use fresh. Leaves can be placed on a tray and dried; however, freezing is a lot easier. Mix clean chopped leaves with light vegetable, canola or grapeseed oil and fill ice cube trays two-thirds full with mixture and freeze. Store frozen cubes in freezer-safe bags. Frozen herbs will retain flavor up to one year.

When sweet basil herb flowers develop, pinch them off to make the plants continuously produce new flavorful leaves for more compact growth. You can keep the flowers for seeds planting.