I grow it outside during the summer months and always have at least one inside year round. Here are some basic facts and tips about the herb.
The plant's leaves are used in cooking, and these leaves can range from green to reddish to purple in color. There are more than sixty different varieties of basil, each with its own distinct and wonderful flavor. These flavors include hints of lemon, thyme, jasmine, clove, cinnamon and anise. For best flavor, the leaves should be picked before the plant flowers. As an added benefit to growing your own, basil is said to repel flies, mosquitoes and cockroaches. Although basil is an annual, you can pinch it back to keep it from flowering, extending its growing period. The picture to the right shows the leaves with flower bud.
Basil supposedly derives its name from the terrifying basilisk, a half-lizard, half-dragon creature with a fatal piercing stare according to Greek mythology. The basil plant was considered to be a magical cure against the look, breath or even the bite of the basilisk when a basil leaf was medicinally applied. Although this story moved into the realm of fable, basil was still considered a medicinal cure for venomous bites. In 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 custom is mirrored in French verbage where semer le baslic (sowing basil) means to rant. In Greece today, basil is readily grown as an ornamental and is used in certain religious rituals as a symbol of fertility.
In 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 awhile, the pot would be lifted to expose a scorpion. This legend no doubt ties into the Greek lore of the basilisk.
Lots of folks keep basil growing in pots indoors in a sunny window to have fresh basil at their fingertips. If you don't have a basil plant, you can still find fresh basil leaves in your grocery stores in the produce department. Look for fresh, vibrant green leaves with no dark spots or signs of decay. Fresh basil leaves should be layered in damp paper towels inside a plastic bag and refrigerated up to four days. For basil with stalks attached, place in a glass of water and cover with a plastic bag secured to the glass. Store in your refrigerator, change the water daily, and use within the week. Do not wash the leaves until you are ready to use them. Add the fresh basil to your recipe towards the end of the preparation for the best flavor.
Basil is readily available in dried form, but it cannot compare in flavor to fresh basil. Dried basil should be stored in a cool, dark place away from heat and light. Dried herbs lose their potency within six months, even under the best conditions. Bear in mind that dried basil can easily have been sitting on your grocer's shelf for months by the time you buy it. Buy small amounts unless you use a lot of any spice or herb.