With a pot of basil on the window sill and a tomato plant in a window box outside, you have the perfect partnership for many summer salads and sauces, for basil and tomatoes go together in any combination. The herb is a half-hardy annual emanating from warm climates and is therefore a sun-lover.
Basil traveled overland to Europe via the Middle East from India, where it was considered sacred by the Hindus. A Belgian old wives' tale of the sixteenth century told that basil leaves crushed between two bricks would turn into scorpions, while Boccaccio has his heroine Lisabetta burying her lover's head in a pot of basil and watering it with her tears.
According to type, a basil plant can have either a multitude of minute leaves or ones up to 4 inches long and almost half as wide. Glossy, smooth, silky, and highly aromatic, the leaves smell similar to cloves. The stems tend to be woody and straggly, and the flowers, in long spikes, are small, white, and tubular. They appear from midsummer through to the fall. The plants can reach a height of 24 inches.
Basil is the ideal window sill herb, but will grow outdoors if sheltered from the wind.
Sow seed shallowly in gentle heat in late spring and transplant toward midsummer, taking care not to disturb the roots. It likes a moist but well-drained soil and plenty of sun. Pinch out the tips of the shoots to help avoid flowering and encourage bushy growth. Harvest by taking the larger, lower leaves first.
In Italy and France, basil is used to make pesto or pistou sauce, in which it is crushed with garlic and pine kernels. The sauce may be served with spaghetti or stirred into soup.
The fresh and dried herb is antiseptic, sweet smelling, and relaxing and can be used in bath and after-bath preparations. Frequently used in potpourri, it not only smells nice but also repels flies. The essential oil is very aromatic and is mainly used in soaps and perfumery.
Health-wise,basil may be used to support chills, colds, and fevers where it has a stimulant action. For the digestion, basil is of great help in cases of stomach inflammation and abdominal cramps associated with menstruation. Basil is sometimes referred to as St. Joseph wort, not to be confused with St. John's Wort.
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