If summer had a signature scent, it would most definitely be basil. Earthy, bright, slightly minty but not sweet. Crisp. It’s said you can crush a basil leaf on the inside of your wrist to use as an aphrodisiac—it would certainly work on me.
But whether you grow it indoors or out, your summer will not be complete without it. I promise you. You can throw it into any soup, toss it into salads, munch on it with a fresh garden tomato (heaven!) or sprinkle it on top of your morning eggs to brighten things up a bit. Basil is even finding its way to the dessert menu: blackberry-basil tart, lemon-basil ice cream, and peach-basil cobbler. Yum!
Basil is really simple to grow and maintain. Keep the basil in a sunny location and pinch off the flowers when they start to bud—this will keep your plant growing instead of going to seed. From there, harvest your basil on an as-needed basis. To do this, just pinch off the leaves where they meet the stem. I recommend pinching off the older, bigger leaves towards the base of the plant first and working your way up.
You can also harvest entire branches off of the basil and temporarily preserve them in a damp paper towel in your refrigerator or by standing them in a small glass of water.
Want some medicinal applications for basil? Try chewing it or steeping it into a tea to calm a stomach or soothe a cough. Chew a leaf up and put it on a bite or a sting for fast relief.
If your basil gets ahead of you (and it will) you can preserve it in a number of ways: dry it and store it in jars or Ziploc bags to use all year round. I personally like to harvest a bunch of it and blend it up with olive oil to make a thick paste. I then pour this paste into small mason jars and use them as a base for pesto. Just pull out a jar the night before to let it thaw. The next day blend it up with a little more oil, some pine nuts or walnuts, Parmesan cheese (optional) and salt. Use the pesto on sandwiches, wraps, salads, as a pasta sauce, etc.
In the meantime, enjoy this simple and quirky summer cooler:
Strawberry Basil Lemonade
Adapted from Chow.com
This lemonade is sweetened with basil syrup and infused with fresh strawberries. Serves 4-6
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup water
1 pound strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced thickly
¾ cup tightly packed basil leaves
In a medium saucepan over high heat, dissolve the sugar in the water and let the mixture come to a boil. Add the strawberries and reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove from heat, adding the basil leaves. Cool to room temperature (about 45 minutes—or 20 in the freezer). Strain and discard the basil and strawberries.
8 cups cold water
2 cups lemon juice (about 14 lemons—can also buy bottled or chilled lemon juice)
12-15 strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced thickly
10-12 basil leaves
Pour the water, lemon juice, and 1½ cups of the strawberry-basil syrup into a large pitcher. Add more syrup to taste. Pour over ice and garnish with the sliced strawberries and basil leaves.
Darla Antoine is an enrolled member of the Okanagan Indian Band in British Columbia and grew up in Eastern Washington State. For three years, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the Midwest, reporting on issues relevant to the Native and Hispanic communities, and most recently served as a producer for Native America Calling. In 2011, she moved to Costa Rica, where she currently lives with her husband and their infant son. She lives on an organic and sustainable farm in the “cloud forest”—the highlands of Costa Rica, 9,000 feet above sea level. Due to the high elevation, the conditions for farming and gardening are similar to that of the Pacific Northwest—cold and rainy for most of the year with a short growing season. Antoine has an herb garden, green house, a bee hive, cows, a goat, and two trout ponds stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout.