Vermont Garden Journal: Basil, The Global Herb

Jun 14, 2018

When I was in the Peace Corps in Thailand, I remember a green leaf used as a spice in one of my first meals. It had an anise flavor but looked familiar. It was my first experience with Thai basil. Many years later, I was drinking a flavorful tea in India and again noticed a familiar leaf with a distinct clove-like flavor. It was Tulsi tea made from holy basil. My point is, there are a lot of unique flavored basils from around the world. 

While we all know Genovese basil, there are many basil with flavors that are truly unique such as lemon, lime, cinnamon and pepper. Not only are they tasty, some are very ornamental. 'Purple Ruffles,' 'Spicy Globe,' 'African Blue' and 'Cardinal Basil' all add an attractive quality to a containers and gardens.

While these basils all look and taste a bit different, they are mostly grown the same. Basil loves sun and heat. Harden them off well or you'll get sunburn on the leaves that will set them back. They need well-drained soil as well.

Give your basil a monthly boost with a liquid nitrogen fertilizer such as fish emulsion. Pinch the tops of plants now to encourage bushier growth. Pinch off flower stalks as they form, unless you're growing basil for the colorful blooms. Start harvesting your basil plant as soon as enough leaves have formed. Strip whole stems when harvesting. This will encourage more branching and larger replacement basil leaves to form. If you just harvest individual leaves, the leaf size will get smaller over time. If you're harvesting the stems but aren't ready to cook, place the stems in a vase of water to keep them fresh.

Now for this week's tip: stake tall stalks of Tiger, Asiatic and Trumpet lilies with a stake and twine or metal plant stake to prevent the stalks from flopping over when the heavy flowers open.