Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Basil - a Great Aromatic Herb


Basil is a member of the mint family and is one of the world’s most popular herbs.   In colder climates it is generally grown as an annual, but in Hawai`i   can be grown as a perennial.  After flowering, when seeds have matured, basils will stop producing new leaves.  To ensure continued growth, cut off any flower buds that begin to form. Be sure to cut the branch rather than just the tips, otherwise, new flower buds will quickly appear.  By pruning basil often (every 3-4 weeks), plans remain vigorous with many harvests throughout the season. 

Sweet basil is the variety most widely grown on the Islands, but there is also Thai basil, lemon basil, cinnamon basil and royal basil.  Basil prefers a sunny location with a well-drained soil.  Typically, the best time to harvest basil is in the morning when the essential oils are strongest. However, University of Michigan researchers have found that harvesting basil in the evening between 6 and 10 p.m. increases its shelf life.

This aromatic herb can be used in soups, stews, and rice dishes, and with fish, chicken, and other meat. It can also be a key ingredient in cheeses, vinegars, oils, jellies and teas.  Even basil's flowers are edible and can be candied or added to salads and other dishes. For optimum flavor, add fresh basil in the last few minutes of cooking; the dried spice just doesn’t have the same robust flavor as the fresh.
Cooks often notice that fresh basil will quickly turn black.  This is due to oxidation of some elements in the leaves. To prevent this blackening and insure the best flavor, add basil to salads and other cold dishes soon after cutting. 




Pests – Basil is often grown with few or no pests.  But some of the more common problems encountered are thrips, leafhoppers, whitefly, spittlebug, scale and leafminers.  Insect pests that would be causing chewing damage to the leaves include the Chinese rose beetle, beet armyworm, a pinkwinged grasshopper and flea beetles.  If you see worms (caterpillars), pick them off, or you can spray the plant with an insecticide with the active ingredient, Bacillus Thuringiensis (Dipel, Javelin). Bt is an organic, bacterial preparation which will control the caterpillar but is harmless to humans.