Basil (medicinally referred to as St Joseph’s Wort) is mainly considered a culinary herb. It is widely used in dishes from chicken to pasta. For culinary use, you would want to grow a Sweet Basil, or Genovese Basil strain. Basil is best used fresh, so this would be a plant to include in your year-round kitchen or your indoor garden during wintering periods. Basil gives its best flavor to a dish when added at the last minute, as cooking quickly dilutes the flavor. Basil can be used dried, however, the drying process does diminish the flavor significantly, so growing fresh year-round is strongly recommended for a serious homesteader.
Medicinally, basil (St Joseph’s Wort) has been used in homeopathic methods using the leaves of the plant. These are boiled in tea or eaten along with other herbs to help alleviate gastrointestinal problems such as gas, constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and even spasms. Basil contains Vitamin A and C.
As mentioned previously, Basil needs to be fresh, so you should grow this one indoors. Luckily Basil is container friendly. Once established it will grow well indoors in low light. Seeds should be placed in a container of water to sprout. This generally takes 5 days. Once the seeds have sprouted spread them into a container of well packed soil that drains well. Sprinkle just enough growing medium over sprouts to cover. Plants generally take 10-14 days to develop. Keep the containers in a dish of water so that the sprouts and young plants never run out of water.
Transplant outside if desired only after 60 days for best results. Basil should be started indoors and transplanted for best results. Basil is considered a “companion plant” to the tomato and is believed to deter pests for the tomato plant. Sweet Basil is also considered a natural insect repellent. Plant it with marigolds, peppermint, rosemary, lemongrass, lavender, or any other mix of plants for beautiful and functional landscaping anywhere. I prefer to keep this one in the “kitchen garden” which means I grow it indoors in the winter and right out the back door with a few other flowers, herbs, and spices for easy access in cooking and bug deterrent.
HARVESTING AND STORAGE
Harvesting Basil is simple. Snip as many leaves as you require for your immediate need. If you do choose to store for later use, you may refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week. Freeze in an airtight container for up to a month. Dry completely as whole leaves in a mason jar with air holes in the lid until a leaf crumbles easily upon touching. Replace the lid with holes with a regular lid and store dry up to 6 months.
HARVESTING SEEDS FOR FOLLOWING YEAR
Seeds will form on plants or sections of the plant that go without picking or pruning. Basil will “flower” or go to seed. The seeds will be full developed when they are dark brown to almost black in color. Remove all protective petals and shells, rinse, and allow seeds to dry on a paper plate or towel for 1 week. Store seeds in a sealed envelope for the winter. For extra protection against moisture put the envelopes together into a wooden or tin container (you can use Ziploc if you wish) and store in a cool dry location out of sunlight. The area you store seeds should NOT freeze however. A steady 50-60 degrees should be sufficient.