Put ‘Cardinal’ Basil on Your Planting List

Put ‘Cardinal’ Basil on Your Planting List

By Maryann Readal, Secretary, Board of Directors, The Herb Society of America

Cardinal basil (3)It seems almost sacrilegious to be talking about spring already, but that is exactly what gardeners do—they plan for the season ahead.

As I survey my East Texas garden each morning, I make notes on what has done well and what has been a disappointment.  Cardinal basil, Ocimum basilicum ‘Cardinal’, is one of the plants that has definitely made next year’s list.   While the Genovese, African, lemon and holy basils have already gone to seed and are beginning to fade, the Cardinal basil is still going strong.  The attractive celosia-like magenta flowers and burgundy stems are beginning to put on a show in the garden.  The flowers just keep getting bigger as each day passes.  And this basil is generously endowed with scent. Just brushing by it releases a wonderful aroma that makes you hungry for pesto.

Cardinal basil (1)Cardinal basil is also a culinary basil, although I have to admit that I have not tried it yet. Others report that it has the same basil flavor with a slight anise, pungent flavor. The young flowers make a colorful addition to salads or vegetable dishes.

This is one basil that you may not be able to find in a nursery, however.  But you can grow your own plants from seed as the seeds germinate easily and transplant well into the garden.  Cardinal basil grows well in Zones 4 to 10.  Like all basils, it thrives in the sun and prefers warm soil, so wait until your soil is warm enough and the temperature is consistently above 50o F to transplant it into the garden.  This basil prefers a weakly acidic to neutral soil. It forms a shrubby, well-branched plant and will reach a height of 18 inches to 2 feet.

Cardinal basil (2)

And did I mention that Cardinal basil also makes a great landscape plant?  It’s lush, shiny green leaves make a great filler in the garden border. The glossy leaves are disease- and pest-free and look great in the garden.  The flowers and the stems look and smell great in bouquets as well.

Cardinal basil is an Herb Society of America Promising Plant for 2018. This HSA program features selected herbs that are either newly introduced or are plants that are currently under used in gardens today.

This basil will definitely be a keeper in my garden in the years to come.

Seeds are available from Park Seeds and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Heirloom Update: Ground Cherry

Heirloom Update: Ground Cherry

by Susan Liechty, Member and Former President of The Herb Society of America

IMG_1637 (2)The ground cherry –often called Cape gooseberry, husk tomato or poha berry – is gaining ground with heirloom lovers.  My husband grew up in Indiana eating ground cherry pies and preserves made by his mom.  She had them in the garden every year. Today they are showing up at local farm markets as heirlooms become popular. That is good news.  Bringing back heirlooms is important to our botanical future.

The official name is Physalis pruinosa and it is part of the nightshade family that includes tomatoes and peppers.  The fruits are small, yellow balls hiding in a paper husk, similar to tomatillos.  The “berries” start green and turn yellow when ripe. As they ripen they fall from the plant, still in the husk.

A single plant can produce up to 300 fruits.  Four to six plants can easily supply an average family of four. They self-seed easily so keep in mind that you will probably have them in the garden for years to come.

IMG_2385My advice to anyone tasting a new fruit for the first time is to eat it plain with no sugar or additions so you know what the flavor is. The green fruit will definitely be tart and taste a bit like a green tomato.  The yellow ripened fruit has been described as a combo of orange and strawberry, or pineapple and vanilla. An advantage of the flavor confusion is it works well as a savory or sweet addition in your kitchen.  You can use the fruit in muffins, quick bread, salsa, added to your fruit salad, or made into jams, preserves, and pies.  Enjoy as they are low in calories, low fat, no cholesterol, high in Vitamins A and C, and are a good source of niacin.

There are wild and cultivated varieties available today. The varieties of wild ones are Physalis heterophylla or P. subglabrata.  The wild versions have smaller pea sized fruit while the cultivated ones are larger, about the size of a grape.  Aunt Molly, an heirloom variety from Poland, has been mentioned in catalogs and books since 1837.  This variety has a high pectin content and tastes like pineapple/vanilla.  This is a great one to try as your first variety.

The plant can be one to three feet tall and can spread.  It likes full sun and warm temperatures.  So don’t get too ambitious and plant outside too early.  Wait until the end of May to plant when frost has gone and the soil is warming up.  You can pick the fruit beginning in August and continue up to the end of September (zone 5 -6).  It will not completely die back until a hard frost hits.

Disease is not much of an issue with ground cherries.  As they are a relative of the tomatillos, they can be bothered by flea beetles or whitefly, but usually not enough to bother the harvest. Wait to eat once they have fallen to the ground and turn a lovely golden color. You can leave the fruits out to ripen even more for a few days; they only become sweeter.

 Warning:  leaves, stems and unripe fruit can be toxic if you eat too many. 

After you purchase your first package of seeds, you should be set.  Some sources are Johnny’s Seeds – http://www.johnnyseeds.com, rareseeds.com (Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds), territorialseeds.com, and seedsavers.org.  A few varieties to try and easy to find are Aunt Molly’s, Goldie, and Cossack Pineapple.  Bon Appétit.

Basil: 15 Uses Beyond Pesto

Basil: 15 Uses Beyond Pesto

By Peggy Riccio, Guest Blogger and Member of The Herb Society of America

sweet basilSay basil and people think of a plant with large, cupped green leaves and pesto.  They probably envision sweet basil, the poster child for this plant. But, many different types exist. A member of the mint family, the basil genus Ocimum has more than 30 species. And, most of the basils we grow are some type of Ocimum basilicum; within this species, there are more than 40 cultivars.  All have garden and home use.

Growers quickly learn that basil is an annual, herbaceous plant that prefers warmth, full sun, and well-drained soil. Realizing that basil is an annual plant that also flowers helps gardeners imagine how the different varieties of basil can be used. And, dividing them into five basic categories listed below enables gardeners to expand their concept of how basil can be used as a garden visual or kitchen staple.

  • sweet green foliage (the green plant we always associate with pesto such as Genovese or Italian large leaf)
  • small leaves and dwarf size (spicy globe basil, dwarf Greek basil, Minette, or Pluto)
  • colored foliage (purple leaved Purple Ruffles or Dark Opal or light green/cream variegated Pesto Perpetuo)
  • colorful flower heads (Thai Siam Queen has purple stems and fragrant purple flowers), African blue (many prominent purple flowers), or cardinal (purple stems, purple/red flower heads)
  • fragrant leaves (holy, lemon, or lime).

Some basils overlap into more than one group; for example, cinnamon basil has fragrant leaves, purple stems and veins, and deep pink flowers so the plant provides scent/flavor as well as color.

Following are 15 ways one can use basil; species or cultivar depends on personal preference and availability.

  1. basil in containerContainer plant. All types of basil can be used as container plants either for green, variegated, or purple foliage, or colorful flower heads. Basil comes in different sizes from 8 inches to 4 feet so make sure the maximum height is in proportion to the container. Companion plants must also like well-drained soil and the container should have drainage holes. I had a few extra holy basil plants that I stuck in the same container as my bush beans and I have seen containers of basil and ornamental purple peppers.
  2. Annual in the garden. All types can be used as an annual in the garden bed, either for green, variegated, or purple foliage or for colorful flower heads or simply to fill in a gap. Think of basil as a flowering annual such as marigolds and plant them in the same type of location. My Thai, lemon, and lime basil have filled the gap left by my bleeding heart plant, which goes dormant in the beginning of the summer.
  3. Cut flowers in a vase. Basils that are grown for colorful flower heads or dark foliage are beautiful in flower arrangements. For example, Thai and African blue provide purple flowers and Purple Ruffles provide purple leaves.
  4. Potpourri or dried flower arrangements. Basil produces a tall, sturdy flower stalk that dries well and can be used in dried flower arrangements. The leaves or flowers can be used in potpourris, especially the more fragrant leaves such as cinnamon basil.
  5. Thai basil (2).JPGMagnet for pollinators, beneficial insects, and birds. All basils, if left to flower, have small flowers that attract beneficial insects and bees. Birds, such as goldfinches, love the seed heads. I grow lemon basil in a container on the deck to attract the finches so I can see the birds up close through my kitchen window.
  6. Edging and/or border plants. In particular, the dwarf basils are best for creating a tight edging effect. They have small leaves, similar to boxwood, and are great for delineating a garden bed in the summer. Spicy globe basil can outline a garden bed and can be harvested at the same time.
  7. Cooking. Usually a sweet basil such as Genovese is used in pasta, eggs, pesto, soups, salad, and vegetables, but you can try any type of basil. I use lemon basil with fish filets and Thai basil with stir fried chicken and vegetables. Thai basil is often used in Asian cuisine because it keeps its flavor at high temperatures.  Holy basil often is used in Indian cuisine and the sweet basil is often used in the Italian cuisine.
  8. Vinegars/oils/marinades. The purple basils work well in vinegar or oil for color and scented basils such as cinnamon can be used for flavor in either a vinegar, oil, or marinade.
  9. Honey, jellies, butters. Sweet basil is good for butter and the spicy types are good for honey and jellies.
  10. Beverages. Lemonade, cocktails, tea, and fruit juice pair well with basil. Try adding the spicy, cinnamon, lemon or lime flavored basils to these drinks for flavor or just make a cup of tea with basil leaves. I grow holy basil specifically for hot tea.
  11. thai basil (1).JPGBaking. Basil has been used to flavor cookies, pound cakes, and breads (rolls, muffins, flatbreads). I use the sweet basil for flatbreads and dinner rolls and the lemon, lime, or cinnamon for flavoring pound cakes. Basil flowers are edible and can be candied and used as decorations on desserts.
  12. Sugar syrups. Boiling one cup of water and one cup of sugar with one cup of scented basil leaves creates a sugar syrup that adds a sweet flavor to fruit salads, desserts, and drinks. Try cinnamon, lemon, or lime and keep a jar in the refrigerator so you always have it on hand to add to drinks, baking, and cooking.
  13. Fruit salads. Cut the leaves into ribbons and add fragrant strips of lemon, lime, or cinnamon to fruit salads or coat fruit salads with the sugar syrups made with the fragrant basils. Add purple flowers for decoration or line the bowl with sprigs of basil.
  14. Bath bags and soaps. Try cinnamon basil in the bath for an invigorating scent or combine basil with other herbs and spices. If you make your own soap, add the scented basils for fragrance or small basil flowers for decoration.
  15. Medicinal. Although basil has not been approved for medicinal use, basilicum has antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Several species have been used in traditional medicine. In other countries, basil has been used for kidney problems, gum ulcers, earache, arthritis, and skin conditions.

 

Peggy Riccio is member of the Potomac Unit of The Herb Society of America. She lives in Northern Virginia. Her website, pegplant.com, features local gardening news, resources, and plants for those who have started gardening or who have moved to the Virginia, Maryland, DC metro area.

Guide to Root Division for Herbs

Guide to Root Division for Herbs

By Juliet Blankespoor, Herbalist, Teacher, Gardener, Writer and Botanical Photographer

Following is adapted, with permission, from the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine’s 1,000-hour Herbal Immersion Program. The program is the most comprehensive handcrafted online herbal course available. Learn more at Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine..

root division two plantsAs a gardener, you’ve undoubtedly bought many plants to populate your garden, but you can’t beat the satisfaction of propagating your own. Dividing roots is perhaps the easiest and least expensive way to quickly fill your garden with mature plants. In a nutshell, this involves digging up a plant and separating a portion of the root system, and then replanting the separated portions, or divisions. The daughter plants, or divisions, may be planted directly in the garden or potted in preparation for moving to a new location. Depending on the plant, it’s possible to make more than 20 divisions from just one mother plant.

When you propagate a plant by root division, the new plant will be an exact clone of the parent. This is how we maintain a specific set of desired traits, such as height, flower color, flavor, aroma, or any number of distinct qualities that allow for that plant to stand out from the rest of its species.

Most herbs can be divided through root division, especially plants that run or clump. I don’t recommend dividing plants with taproots or a single stem, as they typically won’t “take.”

root division toolsEarly fall and early spring are the best times to divide roots because plants are more dormant. In the fall, just make sure to divide your roots before too many hard freezes, as the cold can stress your divisions. You’ll want to divide roots when the ground isn’t too wet, as the soil will be clumpy and adhere to the root system, making it challenging to get to the roots and see what’s going on.

To start, its best to gather a digging fork, pruners, flat-ended shovel, and a Japanese digging knife, or hori-hori. The digging fork is especially helpful, as the tines minimally disturb the soil. The blade of a Japanese digging knife has a sharp or serrated side to saw through difficult roots. Finally, some roots are just so tough that you’ll need to jump on a flat-ended shovel to sever them.

 Step-by-Step Guide to Root Division

  1. Dig the plant. Choose a vigorous, large plant that can withstand some stress. Use a digging fork or shovel to loosen soil in a circle around the plant. Gently pry plant from soil, excavating side roots if needed.

 

  1. Remove excess soil. Shake away just enough soil to see what you’re working with. You may need to thump the root system in its hole to dislodge soil clumps. Be careful, as removing all the soil will damage the tender microscopic root hairs.

 

  1. Size up the root system. Determine how many buds or shoots the root system has and decide how many cuts to make, yielding a few large divisions or many small divisions. Each plant is truly unique in how small of a division will actually survive. Be certain to have at least one shoot or bud per division and a large enough root system to support it.

Root division hori hori

  1. Make divisions. Using one of the tools mentioned above, divide your roots. For roots that are growing loosely, pry apart divisions with your hands. Denser root systems may require sawing into segments with a hori-hori. And tough root systems require a shovel.

 

  1. Trim the tops. This is the most important step in successful root division. When you disturb the root system, the plant can no longer support the original aboveground vegetation. If the plant is dormant, you can skip this step. If your plant is an herbaceous perennial that is already dying back for the winter, you can completely cut back the aboveground growth. If the plant is actively growing with many stems, cut the stems back by half. If it just has emerging leaves, remove half the leaves. If you’re replanting the mother plant, make sure to cut back its growth as well.

Root division cutting back

  1. Transplant into the garden or pots. Transplant “divisionlings” into their forever home in the garden or pot them. Make sure to plant at the same soil depth they were originally growing. Potted divisions can be grown until their root system is established and has filled up the pot, and then they can be transplanted or shared with a friend.

 

  1. Water. Water your divisions with fresh water or prepare a solution from willow or seaweed that encourages rooting.

 

  1. Enjoy.

HSA (2)The Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine is located in the botanically rich Appalachian Mountains, outside of Asheville, NC. Their passion for healing plants, herbal education, and medicinal gardening is at the heart of all their teachings. Their online courses: the Herbal Medicine Making Course, the Herbal Immersion Program, and the Foraging Course (launching in early 2018).

 Juliet Blankespoor is the botanical mastermind behind the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, which she founded in 2007 after deciding to become a professional plant-human matchmaker. She has more than 25 years of herbal experience.