Basil is a fragrant herb commonly used in cooking, particularly in Italian and Thai cuisine. It has a sweet, slightly peppery flavor and pairs well with tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil. It can also be used as an ornamental plant in gardens due to its attractive foliage and delicate flowers.
Basil plants typically grow to a height of 12-24 inches and have green leaves that are 1-3 inches long. The leaves are slightly pointed and have a smooth texture. Basil plants also produce small white or purple flowers in the summer.
Basil prefers full sun and warm temperatures between 70-80°F. It also requires well-draining soil that is kept consistently moist but not waterlogged.
Basil can be planted from seeds or cuttings. Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep in rich soil and keep the soil moist until seedlings appear. Space plants 8-12 inches apart. If planting from cuttings, place the cuttings in water until they develop roots and then transplant them into soil.
Basil requires consistent watering, especially during hot weather. Water the plants deeply once or twice a week, depending on the weather. Fertilize the plants every 4-6 weeks with a balanced fertilizer.
Pinch back the tips of basil plants regularly to encourage bushy growth and prevent flowering. Remove any yellow or damaged leaves.
Harvest basil leaves as needed once the plant has reached a height of at least 6 inches. To encourage continued growth, avoid harvesting more than 1/3 of the plant at a time. Basil typically flowers in mid to late summer.
Store harvested basil leaves in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week. To extend the life of the leaves, trim the stems and place them in a vase of water on a sunny windowsill.
Basil is susceptible to fungal diseases such as powdery mildew, which can be prevented by providing good air circulation and avoiding overhead watering. Spider mites and aphids can also be a problem, but can be controlled with insecticidal soap or neem oil.
Basil has been used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years and is believed to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects. In addition to its culinary uses, basil is also used in perfumes and cosmetics.