Catrina's Garden

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Tag: Basil

The History of Basil

basil used for embalmingSome ancient cultures considered basil a magnificent, royal or kingly herb.

Some say “Basil” is derived from the Greek word basilikon for “royal.”

As a passport to help the deceased to enter Paradise, basil was used as a botanical in embalming bodies. It was found with the mummies of ancient Egypt. Perhaps because of its embalming usage, basil was also a symbol of mourning.

Basil in Ancient Chinese MedicineMost likely basil is native to India, but there are some indications it may have originated even farther east. Ancient records from 907 A.D. indicate sweet basil in the Hunan region of China where it was used medicinally.

It migrated westward as whole plants, since it could be grown easily indoors away from frost exposure. Basil is also known as St. Joseph’s wort.

Basil is a member of the large mint family. It is known botanically as Ocimum basilicum.

 

Basil lore and legend

BasiliskOthers say the name Basil was derived from Greek mythology.  It’s named after the terrifying basilisk, a half-lizard, half-dragon creature with a fatal piercing stare. The basil plant was considered to be a magical cure against the look, breath or even the bite of the basilisk.

Possibly because of this association with a mythical “lizard”, basil is considered a medicinal cure for venomous bites. It is not however documented as an actual cure for snake bite.

roman sowing basilIn keeping with its hostile status, later Greeks and Romans believed the most potent basil could only be grown if one sowed the seed while ranting and swearing. This will give you an excuse if you misbehave while planting your herb garden. In French; semer le baslic (sowing basil) means to rant.

In Greece today, basil is used in certain religious rituals as a symbol of fertility.

Basil used to make a scorpionIn medieval times, it was thought that scorpions came from basil. Legend says to acquire a scorpion, one should place a few basil leaves under a flowerpot and after a while, the pot would be lifted to expose a scorpion.

Goddess-TulasiIn India, basil was consecrated to the Hindu god, Vishnu, whose wife Tulasi (also known as Tulsi) was said to have taken the form of basil when she came to earth. Hindus avoid harming basil plants, unless there is a good reason, and even then offer up prayers of forgiveness for touching a part of Tulasi. Interestingly enough, tradition requires the head of a Hindu be bathed in Tulasi water before being buried and a Tulasi leaf is placed on the chest over the heart.

Dragobete-RomaniaTo the ancient Romans, it was a symbol of hatred, yet basil eventually became a token of love in Italy. Young maidens would wear a sprig of basil in their hair to profess their availability. In some regions of Italy, basil is known as “kiss-me-Nicholas.” One can only wonder if the conflicting symbolism of basil in Rome is the origin of a love-hate relationship. The royal herb is regarded in a similar manner in Romania where if a boy accepts a sprig of basil from a girl, it means they are engaged to be married.

Click here to learn more about Basil.

To Grow Great Basil read this.

Blaukraut (German Red Cabbage)

(adapted from “my family”)
This was one of the vegetables that I actually liked as a kid. My grandma made it so when I started gardening “Red Acre” was one of the first things I grew.

Here’s the original recipe and you can see how I updated it below.

Ingredients:

1 medium head red cabbage, shredded
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup red wine
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup water
Kosher Salt and Pepper


Preparation:

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the 1/3 cup of red wine. Add 1/2 of the shredded cabbage, 1/2 of the apple, 1 bouillon cube, 2 tablespoons wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, 1/2 cup of water, season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper. Repeat the layer adding the other half of the ingredients in the same fashion.
Give a quick stir, cover and simmer for about 20 – 30 minutes or until the cabbage is soft. At this point stir, taste for seasonings and adjust if a little more salt and pepper is needed.

For each cabbage used I increased the wine to 1/2 cup, and used a whole onion instead of a half. I caramelized it instead of cooking to translucent. I also used 2 apples instead of one and added a can of mandarin oranges and their juice. If you can find the natural kind they are the best. I used more vinegar than called for and instead of apple cider vinegar I used white wine vinegar in which I had steeped osmin basil for about a month. I love this stuff. I didn’t add any extra water because of the extra wine and the orange juice. Lastly I substituted a little less than 1/4 cup of agave nectar for the sugar.

Served with a pork chop and some parsley buttered noodles…comfort food.

Grow Great Basil

Basil is easy to grow. If you are growing plants to put outside in the garden, here in Wisconsin you will want to start about now late February or early March). It is one of the first things I start along with parsley, peppers, eggplant and some early flowers like pansies and snaps. Wait a little while for the tomatoes or they will get too big too fast. (This is a gallery. Click one of the pictures to open it and click in the grey area to close)

Some of these pictures came from here.

Most places that sell garden seeds will have some kind of basil. Usually it is “sweet basil” which is just plain old regular green basil. It’s good and is a good fast, grower but there are so many other kinds. We will discuss the different varieties in detail in another blog, but do try lettuce leaf. Its leaves are twice the size of sweet basil. Try one of the many types of Thai basil. The flavor is a little more pronounced and the stems are purple. “Purple you say”; yes, if you like that try one of the varieties with purple leaves. They are very pretty and you won’t notice spotting as much. They make beautiful pink infused vinegar. Other varieties to try include lemon, lime, or one of the miniature types. I recommend a soil less seed starting mix as basil can be susceptible to fungal diseases.

Clean your potsYou have some choices; the little expandable pellets, small pots with the soil less mix or, you can use a larger pot with a nice rich soil on the bottom and then a layer of the soil less mi on top. If you use small pots you will have to transplant them into bigger pots as they grow. Use a clean pot. I wash mine in the dish washer. Fungal diseases can live from year to year on your pots.

Basil seeds1If the seed is fresh I usually put about 3 seeds in each pot. Space them out a little if you can. Put in a few more if they are older. If your soil is dry spray it with a mist bottle before you start. Bottom watering works best for seeds and really young seedlings and pre-misting the soil helps draw the water up better from the bottom. Bottom watering prevents the seed from being washed away and protects fragile young seedlings. Basil seeds do like to be covered a little bit. Either sprinkle them with a little more soil or poke them down with a tooth pick or something.

Be sure to label your seedlings. I like to use pencil. It doesn’t fade as much as markers.

Sprout seeds with bottom heatBasil loves warmth and they don’t need light until they sprout. They do best if you cover them to keep the moisture in and then put them somewhere that they will get bottom heat. The sell matts especially for this but I find that the heated tile floor in the bathroom works great. The top of the frig or the heating coils that are used to melt snow from the roof are some other things that I have heard of.

The next step is important. Check them every day. Water as necessary, by filling the bottom tray. You want them to stay moist but not overly soggy. When you see green it is time to move them into the light.

Spring Seedlings1Then you just let them grow. They need as much light as possible. If they don’t get enough light they will get tall and skinny and will have week stems. Either keep them in the brightest window with direct sunlight or use artificial light. Again, they sell set shelves that are set up especially for growing seedlings. You can however set up a growing station anywhere that you can hang lights. There are special bulbs for growing plants. They do help I think, but I have had good luck with standard shop lights. When using this method the lights should be lowered and raised as the plants grow so that the light is 2 to 6 inches above the plants. Don’t leave the lights on 24/7 though, plants have adapted to that period of darkness called “night” and some even bloom and or develop according to how many hours of light they get. I use a timer that turns the lights on and off at 12 hour intervals.

Some of my seedlings go out into the greenhouse early so that they can start to get used to the temperature fluctuations in preparation for moving outside but not the basil. Keep growing it in a nice warm spot. You will need to harden it off eventually to go outside but don’t even think of putting basil out until it is nice and warm. It’s the last thing we pant outside.

As the seedlings grow use a fan to circulate the air around your plants. This makes them stronger and helps ward of growth of fungus.

One more thing that makes basil different than how I grow most of the rest of my seedlings, don’t thin it. Tomatoes, peppers, Cole seedlings; all of these I would select as they grow, and keep the strongest seedling. Not basil, you can leave a little clump of them.  Not tons of seedlings, but up to 5 in a pot and then later planted into the garden together is fine.  This gives you more stems to harvest from and makes your plant(s) appear lusher. Basil doesn’t have a very dense root system so it doesn’t mind, but do give it some extra compost or other fertilizer when you plant it as it likes a nice rich soil.

Tomatoes and basil1Plant them out when there is absolutely no chance of frost. Water your plants regularly and harvest frequently.  This helps them become bushier. When you harvest take the top few stem segments just above where two leaves are attached. When you do this to new stems will grow out of the leaf junctions. Don’t just pick the leaves.

Now I have to wait until harvest time to write about making pesto.

For some more interesting talk on basil read “All About Basil”.

For the History of Basil click here.

All about Basil

Basil…either you love it or you hate it. Maybe if you hate it it’s because you haven’t really had “good” basil. Dried Herbs old1 Is this what the basil you are used to looks like? There is nothing wrong with dried basil, but if you use it this is what it should look like. Dried Herbs Fresh1Dried herbs don’t have a really long shelf life. Depending on where you store them the will only last about a year. When they have lost their bright green color and no longer have a nice aroma you may as well toss them. Old herbs won’t hurt you but as my dad says “they taste like grass”.

 

So where should they be stored? Well, dark and cool is best but you really don’t need to keep them in the refrigerator; just not right over the stove. Keep them in a container that is tightly sealed.

Freshly dried herbs are great but if you have never had fresh herbs you are really missing out. Here in Wisconsin, Basil is an annual herb. Basil and other annual herbs should be treated like fresh flowers. Many annual herbs can be stored for a short time in the frig.Fresh Basil1 If you put a piece of paper towel in the bag with them it will absorb moisture and keep them fresh longer. some people keep basil in the frig, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Basil will turn black if it gets too cold or will get dark spots. It’s still okay to eat if it’s not mushy; just not pretty.  Instead harvest it fresh (ideal) for each use or if you purchased it cut then put it in a cup or vase, just like it is a cut flower. It really can be quite beautiful. If you see it all the time, you will be more likely to use it too.

So, you could grow your own; we’ll talk about that next time.  However, you can buy it too. “It’s so expensive” you say. Well, yes, often times in the grocery store it is. Look for it at farmer’s markets and/or your local Asian market. If you find it for a good price get a lot and preserve it.

Thai basil flower1By the way, you can eat the flowers too. Try them, they are good; and also pretty on a salad.

Next click here to learn how to Grow Great Basil.

For the History of Basil click here.

 

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