Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme

Two men sitting and looking at the viewer. The one in the middle has yellow hair and a blue shirt and jeans, while the man to the left of him has black hair blending in with the background and a white shirt. Only the right side of the second man's face is visible. Flowers are in the images foreground. The right of the first man it is written in script "Simon and Garfunkel" and below that "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme". There are symbols in the top left and center top of the picture.Simon and Garfunkel might have missed one of the all time great herbs:  Basil!  (You know you're going to be humming that song the rest of the day and be extremely aggravated at me each time.)

Basil is considered a culinary herb and a landscape plant.  It is used for healing and worship practices.  It is called St. Joseph's Wort in some areas of Europe.  Studies are showing the possibility the essential oils might help in the treatment of cancer.

Originally from India it's been cultivated for over 5,000 years.  There are annuals, non-woody perennials and shrubs.  Some estimates report over 150 kinds of basils but most are in the sweet basil category. 
In addition to the many different looks of basil, the fragrance varies according to the types and quantities of essential oils.  Sweet basil may smell much like cloves.  Lemon and Lime basil has a citrus scent.  African blue basil smells like camphor.  Licorice basil smells like anise.  Other scents abound.  

I always find the origin of plant words fascinating:  The word basil comes from the Greek βασιλεύς (basileus), meaning "king", as it is believed to have grown above the spot where St. Constantine and Helen discovered the Holy Cross.   It has significant folklore in French, Welsh, Jewish, Greek, European, African, India, and Egyptian cultures.   The French have the best one, "Smelling too much basil produces scorpions in the brain."  Folklore at it's best!

Basil is easy to cultivate.  I buy sets but they are easily started from seed.  Once established, they prefer a hot well drained sunny spot.  Over watering can cause fungal problems.   I pinch the flowers off to prolong the growth and increase the bush size.  Stop pinching off the flowers in late summer if you want to save the seeds.   

I don't think there is a category of recipes that doesn't contain one featuring basil.  A few examples:
Soup, Pesto, Ice Cream, Chocolate, Tea, Raw vegetables, Salads, Fish, Duck and many others.

Although I usually plant several sweet basils, I try to get at least one other unusual basil for the experience.  This year I added Italian (a form of sweet) and lemon.  Basil essential oil is very toxic to mosquitoes.  Not sure how you're to use but a plate in the middle of a picnic might be worth the try.

Use basil fresh for best flavor.  Throw into a cooking pot at the last minute to keep the flavor strong and the green from turning black.  Keep in a glass of water in the refrigerator for several weeks.  Freeze in ice cube trays of basil/water.  Both fresh, frozen and dry loose flavor quickly. 

I have been known to include a few basil cuttings in flower arrangements.  It's beautiful and scents the air for days.  I pull a few leaves as I walk by the plant in the garden and my hands smell good the remainder of the day.  My all-time favorite is its culinary uses.  Well, that and singing along with Simon and Garfunkel:  "Parsley-Sage-Rosemary-Thyme and Basil".  I'm sure that's what they meant to write!

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