Growing And Using Basil
If you're taking an interest in gardening, but want to start small, there's a few options that you have. You could try a few potted flowers, but while these certainly look and smell nice, it's not gardening with a purpose. For gardening with purpose, try growing some herbs, which have great smells like flowers do, but are also useful in helping you to cook great food in the kitchen. One herb in particular, basil, is easy to grow and is useful in a number of recipes. Let's talk a little about how to grow, harvest, and use it.
Growing The Plant
Basil, while easy to grow, does require some considerations based on your location. In the northern climates, basil grows well, but will die outside if exposed to freezing temperatures. To prevent this, sow your plant inside in a pot, then transfer it outside in late spring or early summer once the danger of nighttime freezing is past. Be sure to plant it where it gets a lot of exposure and little shade, since it thrives in sunlight.
It's this love of sunlight that makes basil particularly great for growing in southern climates. You should be able to plant the basil outside, and although the plant will eventually die in the winter, the seeds will survive and grow into healthy plants when spring comes. Be aware, though, that any flowering stems will lose their leaves, and thus no longer be useful for food. To prevent this from happening to all your basil, pinch off flower stems before they mature.
Basil is best when the leaves are fresh, and they're at their peak of flavor if you harvest them in the morning, before the sunlight dries out the plant somewhat. Leaves quickly lose their flavor if you wait to use them, but blanching and freezing the leaves often helps to preserve flavor if you intend to store them over a long period of time. The best thing about growing this herb, though, is you can always just pick the leaves when you're ready to cook.
Basil is a versatile herb used in many recipes, particularly in Italian and Asian cooking. Try adding fresh chopped basil to tomato sauce for a more authentic Italian flavor. Alternately, find a good recipe for pesto, which is made primarily of basil. Add flavor to your Asian stir-fry dishes with whole leaves, which add great flavor. So, give growing this plant a try and find out what a difference fresh basil can make in your cooking.