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Basil is not only a beautiful plant, but it is fragrant, delicious, and good for you. It is an easy addition to gardens. Did you know that basil is a great companion plant to help your peppers and tomatoes grow better and have more flavor? It attracts good pollinators, like bees and butterflies, to your garden while helping repel pests like aphids and white flies.
Health Benefits of Basil
Basil has antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties. Basil contains antioxidants that help your body fight free radicals that cause damage to your cells. The oxidative stress caused by free radicals can cause a host of problems for your body. Reducing oxidative stress helps reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. Basil contains anti-inflammatory properties as well which not only helps protect against these same issues but also a host of other digestive and skin issues. More details on all the health benefits of basil can be found at https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-basil. Fresh basil provides the most health benefits so we should find ways to add fresh basil into our diet as much as possible.
Basil is easy to grow. It likes full sun and will not tolerate a freeze. Once the soil has warmed up, I prefer to plant the seeds directly in my garden beds. I have started seeds indoors but have had more luck with the direct sow into the garden. I plant them with my peppers and tomatoes to save garden space and get the great benefits they provide as companion plants. The peppers and tomatoes also help shade the roots and keep my basil growing through the hot summer days. You can even plant different varieties of basil to add color to your garden. I love growing purple basil in addition to the traditional bright green.
Once the plants get about 6 to 8 inches tall, I trim them back by cutting the center stalk down to where the second set of leaves is starting to branch out. This will encourage the plant to form more branches. You will keep trimming off the tops, so the plants don’t “bolt” or form flowers. While the flowers can be pretty, you don’t want them if you are planning to keep harvesting leaves. They are technically edible but don’t taste as good and can start turning the rest of your leaves bitter.
Last summer, I had basil all through the season as long as I kept trimming off any tops before they formed flowers. I even missed a couple and threw some that were starting to bolt into the salad. So, what do you do with all this basil you are harvesting?
I love adding fresh basil to our salads throughout the growing season. You can add it to pizza, pastas and pretty much anything.
I made an herb salt, with a handful of basil and other fresh herbs (green onion, oregano, chives, garlic scapes and sage) that I blended in the food processor then dried on the lowest setting in the oven.
My next recipe is a homemade pesto. I am trying a vegan pesto recipe just because most of my family is not fond of parmesan.
You can chop it up and mix it with tomatoes and mozzarella with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. I will say that one of my favorite salads is a simple basil and tomato. You can also toss it with strawberries for a fun new flavor.
You can dry basil, but the flavor and the health benefits will decrease. My favorite way to preserve basil is to pull it off the larger stems and throw it in a freezer bag. This method works great for me because it is quick and easy and I can just keep adding to the bag through the season and throwing it back in the freezer. When you are ready to use it just pull out the amount you need and throw it in veggies or make a pesto sauce.
You can store fresh basil in a glass of water in the kitchen for several days and just pull leaves off as you need them. You can even root basil this way and make new plants.
You can also make your pesto and then freeze it. Many people freeze it in ice cube trays so it is easy to pull our just a bit to use at a time. This would be perfect for a margarita chicken plate or sandwich. You have grilled chicken with pesto, a slice of tomato and some fresh mozzarella either plain or on bread. Yum!
What is your favorite recipe to add fresh basil to?