Sweet basil, also known as basilie and basiliekruid, originated in India, where it is regarded as a herb sacred to the gods Krishna and Vishnu. It is thought to protect against evil and every Hindu is buried with a leaf of basil – a tulasi – on his or her breast.
How To Use Sweet Basil in Your Cooking
Best used fresh (dried basil does not have the same flavour, a minty taste predominates), sweet basil has a pungent, aromatic and spicy flavour that resembles cloves. It’s an outstanding choice as a home cuisine herb and you can never have too many sweet basil plants growing in your garden.
Sweet basil has a special affinity for tomatoes and tomato-flavoured dishes, and it is an essential ingredient to make a truly wonderful pesto sauce. You can also add sweet basil to beans, cheeses, chicken, eggs, fish, marinades, marrows, mushrooms, pasta and pasta sauces and salads. It also makes a great herb vinegar and herb butter.
Always add it just before serving to cooked dishes as its flavour diminishes with cooking. Pound it with a bit of olive oil or tear it with the fingers, rather than chopping it. Sweet basil combines well with garlic, parsley, rosemary, oregano, thyme and sage.
How To Use Sweet Basil as a Natural Remedy
Sweet basil is used extensively in aromatherapy for ailments such as stress, migraine, colds and hay fever. It has antispasmodic, appetizing, carminative, galactagogue and stomachic properties. It is quite effective for tension headaches, exhaustion and digestive upsets such as stomach cramps, constipation, diarrhea and enteritis.
Make an infusion by adding 2 teaspoons fresh leaves to 1/2 cup boiling-hot water. Steep for about 10 minutes. Strain and drink hot. Take three times a day.
Sweet basil is also used in flower therapy for those who tend to separate spirituality from sexuality, believing the two cannot be integrated.
Traditionally the dried leaves were pounded and, taken as snuff, used as a remedy for colds.
How To Use Sweet Basil for Natural Skin Care
You can make an invigorating beauty bath by adding a strong infusion of fresh basil leaves to your bath. Use 1 cup chopped basil leaves in 2 cups boiling-hot water. Steep for 15-20 minutes. Then add to bath.How To Use Sweet Basil as a Companion Plant
Sweet Basil is a most beneficial companion for your other plants. In particular it enhances the flavour of summer savory and it helps tomatoes to grow larger and more flavoursome.
It’s a good insect repellant for white fly, aphids and fruit fly. A pot of basil, set on a windowsill near an open window, will prevent flies from entering the room through the window.
Nicholas Culpeper observed that ‘… something is the matter, this herb and rue will not grow together, no, nor near one another.’ – but in our experience they are quite happy bedfellows.
You can set pots on windowsills and in open doorways to deter flies, or you can add a few leaves to the barbeque fire to deter moths. You can also grow it as an attractive pot plant for the patio.
How To Grow Your Own Sweet Basil
Sweet basil is a tender annual that grows about 40-60cm high. It prefers well-drained soil in a sunny position. Protect your sweet basil against cold winds and frost. Space the plants about 30cm apart and pinch out the growing tips and flower heads to encourage a bushy habit.
Sweet Basil is propagated from seed and young plants can be purchased from nurseries to plant in your herb garden.
Harvesting and Preserving Your Sweet Basil
Sweet Basil is such a vigorous herb that you’ll always have an abundant harvest to share with others.
Don’t try to dry your sweet basil as the flavour is not the same as fresh basil. You can keep the leaves briefly in plastic bags in the refrigerator or you can preserve them in olive oil or vinegar. To freeze you can puree the leaves with a little water and freeze them in ice cube trays or you can cover both sides with olive oil and freeze them whole.
Purple Splash Basil Vinegar
Definitely one of our favourite basil preservation recipes. Not only because it is a lovely pink, but because the vinegar preserves the flavour of the basil exceptionally as well. We use purple splash in our marinades, salads, stir fries and home-made mustards.
For the bathroom we make it with apple cider vinegar to use as a hair rinse and to add to the bath water. It restores the natural acid mantle of the skin and hair and is exceptionally good for dry, itchy skin – traditional winter skin.