Growing Basil Indoors
A colorful herb awaits your green thumb. We’re talking about basil, a staple in every cook’s kitchen. The fresher, the better. Alan Ray makes the case for growing your own.
If you’ve purchased dried herbs from the store lately, you know just how expensive they can be. You practically need a line of credit from the bank to go shopping for them.
You can easily spend $5 for 2 oz. of practically any dried herb that may have been processed months ago (or longer) and has been sitting on a shelf just drying out even further. Fresh herbs aren’t cheap either, and what isn’t used in the recipe that night often gets tossed into the trash later.
You can spend all of that money, or you can start your own little herb garden and within a short period of time be enjoying fresh herbs packed with all of the healthy nutrients long-gone from the store-bought varieties.
In addition to saving money and eating healthier foods, planting an herb garden is fun, and a good way to relieve stress. Herb gardening is like nature’s Prozac, without any of the negative side effects.
Most herbs can be grown indoors in a small area that is easy to maintain. No rakes, no hoes, no weeding, no weather—it’s a beautiful thing. So, which herbs are best to grow? The kind you like!
If you have only a small space in which to grow, you can have a nice little plot of delicious, healthy, home-grown herbs that includes rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, chives and more, as well as the featured herb of today’s article: basil, a true superfood.
A Short History Lesson on Basil
Basil is an annual herb that resembles a peppermint plant and is actually a member of the mint family. The name basil derives from the Greek word basilikon, from basilikos, meaning “royal” or “king,” and it is a rightful moniker.
Originating in Africa, Asia and India, basil is now grown practically worldwide. It has been used as a culinary complement and pharmaceutical for nearly 5,000 years and also as colorful ornamentation in landscaping with its various shapes and multi-colored leaves.
Different Types of Basil
The variety of distinctive flavors basil imparts to food is simply supherb! There are around 60 types of basil to choose from, depending on who you ask, so finding one you’d like to grow should be no problem. In fact, it can even be fun discovering all of the varieties. You may even choose to grow several types at once. Here is a short-list to get you started:
- Genovese basil is a culinary favorite, widely regarded as the best to use in Italian dishes such as pesto and tomato-basil soups and sauces.
- Lemon basil is a nice complement to dressings and salads and makes a nice lemon-spiced tea.
- Cinnamon basil’s name says it all, as its flavor matches its name.
- Purple basil is versatile and is used in a myriad of international foods, including Thai, Italian and Mediterranean dishes.
- Thai basil, also known as licorice or anise basil, is most often used in stir-fries, imparting a sweet licorice flavor.
- Sweet Thai basil abounds with flavor and its fragrant purple leaves add a nice pop of color to the garden. It’s a suitable addition to Asian cuisine.
Why is Basil so Beneficial?
The list of basil’s beneficial properties is exciting to put it mildly, and is seemingly endless. There is no way we could cover them all here! Researchers are still studying and discovering how this small aromatic herb protects us at the cellular level.
For example, studies conducted on white blood cells showed that two water-based flavonoids found in basil protected those cells from radiation and from cellular damage during oxidation.
Furthermore, the antibacterial properties found in basil are cause for excitement in the science of microbiology. In lab tests, the essential oil extract showed a remarkable capacity for restricting the growth of numerous bacteria, including some pretty nasty strains practically resistant to conventional antibiotics.
Basil’s antibacterial properties effectively fight Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus, Enterococcus, Pseudomonas, Escherichia coli and more.
These are some heavy hitters in the bacteria world and the promise basil shows in helping to fight these dangerous organisms may give rise to more natural and effective treatments against them.
To bring it from the lab and into the kitchen, check this out. Studies proved that washing produce in the essential oil of basil, even in a mere 1% solution in water, dropped the levels of Shigella, a nasty and infectious bacteria that can cause severe intestinal damage, to undetectable levels. Impressive!
Growing Basil Indoors
Basil is easy to grow and likes a lot of light. In outdoor gardens, it requires at least 6-8 hours of light. Indoors, give your basil plants 8-10 hours of light. A southern-facing window makes an ideal spot to place your indoor plants. If you don’t have that luxury, pick up a grow light that suits your needs.
If you’re using containers, plant in a general potting mix. If the pots have been used before, be sure to rinse them with a 10% bleach-to-water solution to avoid transferring any harmful bacteria or micro-organisms. Rinse again with clean water.
Basil can grow anywhere from 1-2-ft. tall, depending on the type, so plants don’t require much space at all. Water once a week and feed once a month using half the amount of fertilizer as recommended for outdoor basil plants.
The best way to keep a perpetual flow of fresh, nutritious basil going is to harvest the young leaves once the plant is established. This encourages new growth and keeps plants shorter and more compact.
Moreover, you’ll always have the freshest basil possible on hand. Pinch the flowers as they appear, as they can rob the plant of flavor. If you are going to dry your basil, don’t group it in bunches. The leaves dry slowly, so lay them out separately on a rack or table to avoid the possibility of mold.
In parting, here’s a cool, or, better said, cold trick: To ensure you have fresh basil ready to add to soups and sauces, place some fresh-cut leaves in ice cube trays, then fill them with water and place in the freezer. When you are ready, simply drop the frozen basil cubes into whatever you’re cooking.