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.

Book Review: Foraging & Feasting – A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook

Book Review: Foraging & Feasting – A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

I love a good garage sale. So it only makes sense that I’d like foraging. It’s like garage sale meets farmers market. But it’s organic and free … if you know what you’re doing and stay away from chemically treated or publicly protected lands.

Foraging & Feasting CoverOver the past few years I’ve collected a few foraging books to teach myself what I can and cannot eat. I learn something new from each book. My latest addition/edition is Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook, by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender (Botanical Arts Press, 2013)

The book starts with a philosophical celebration leads into practical harvesting tips and continues with lushly detailed illustrations and identification information for 50 plants. Charts in the middle summarize seasonality and culinary uses. And relevant recipes are an inspiring finale. Did I already say it’s delightful to the eye?

Dina with Angelica 6_1_13

Dina’s interest in herbs and, then foraging, was sparked at 11, when she received her first herb book.

“I became conscious of the healing properties of food, clearly grasping the concept that food is my medicine,” she writes. “From that point forward, my commitment to and exploration of finding, preparing and eating healthful foods began.”

In flipping through I recognized my favorite chickweed. And, for the first time I came upon the day flower, a plant that I’ve been fighting (and losing) all summer. In the future it’s going into the salad, not the compost pile.

Dayflower-Commelina erectaI must admit my favorite recipes are herbal spirits and ice creams. The spirit combinations include lemon balm-strawberry vodka and black currant-fennel vodka. Ice cream inspirations include rose petal, lavender, bee balm and lemon verbena.

Therapeutic recipes include digestive bitters which are a scotch-based herbal root infusion.

My biggest problem with this book is that I don’t know if I should keep my copy on my nightstand for studying, in my kitchen for cooking or on the porch for relaxing. It’s that useful.


Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook, by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender is available from Botanical Arts Press.

Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine Teaches Online

Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine Teaches Online

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

herbs for medicineWith July 4th passed, the next big calendar date is “Back to School.” When the kids return to their studies you can, too. Make your studies about medicinal  herbs.

Consider the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, an online school with a home base in the botanically rich Appalachian Mountains just outside Asheville, NC. The school offers several opportunities to learn online, including the Herbal Medicine Making Course and the Herbal Immersion Program.

“We believe that direct connection with healing plants is the best way to learn about their medicine, and so we’ve infused our programs with a plant-centered approach to herbal medicine,” says owner and teacher Juliet Blankespoor, who has a degree in botany and a life of experience.

“One of the perks of our online format is the community support from herb lovers from around the globe. Our students range from total beginners to seasoned herbalists with established gardens and businesses. We welcome anyone who wants to learn more about growing or preparing medicinal herbs.”

Juliet-Blankespoor-in-her-gardenJuliet has had a connection to the earth since childhood.  “As a child I was a geeky introvert and bookworm,” she says. “I loved to dance and spend time alone in the woods.

“When I was eighteen I became involved with environmental activism and my vision started to turn toward the natural world. Somehow, almost overnight, I became infatuated with plants and have been involved in a love affair with the green world ever since. I wanted to know who every plant around me was.”

It only made sense to formally study plants, which Juliet did at the University of Florida. “I absorbed all I could about our local flora from my professors. In school, I would learn how to identify a plant, recognize it as a medicinal,” she recalls, “and then rush home to read about its herbal uses from one of the few books I owned on the subject.”

plantingAfter graduating Juliet founded and formulated a tincture line, Green Faith Herbals. She spent her twenties growing and wildcrafting medicine for her tincture business. At the same time she furthered her herbal studies.

In 2007, settled in the southern Appalachians, she started the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine and began teaching from home. After time, Juliet decided that she’s “a raging introvert” and moved the school online.

The virtual format offers more flexibility to students and her staff of highly experienced instructors. Studies can begin any time. The Herbal Medicine Making Course is a six-month program, while Herbal Immersion Program—which focuses on growing medicinal herbs—is completed in two and a half years.

“My mission with the school is to encourage more people to grow herbs and enjoy their medicinal and culinary bounty,” says Juliet, who uses herbal medicine as her family’s primary form of health care. “We also go to the doctor when needed but for the most part, we address everyday ailments at home.”

HSA (2)“We use herbs for preventative medicine. For example, we eat raw garlic daily to help ward off colds and to reduce the chance of cardiovascular disease and cancer.”

She also drinks a homemade tea blend of green tea, hibiscus, and calendula to support the immune system and to provide plenty of antioxidant compounds (which reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease, and inflammation, in general).

“We make herbal pestos from lemon balm, holy basil, and bee balm and use just about every kind of culinary herb (homegrown, of course) in our daily cooking,” says Juliet.

For more information, visit The Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine.


Medicinal Disclaimer – This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

What to do with Garlic Scapes

What to do with Garlic Scapes

20170701_124331At the Willoughby, Ohio, Farmers Market my farmer friend Maggie Fusco handed me a blue plastic grocery bag half full of garlic scapes. There must have been 100 of those long, circled flower stalks that must be trimmed from hardneck garlic to make certain energy goes back into the bulb. What was I supposed to do with so many scapes? Thank goodness she shared her weekly newsletter … it was full of ideas. — Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster

By Maggie Fusco, Wood Road Salad Farm, Madison, Ohio

You can chop ‘em and saute’ ‘em…..

You can pesto and puree’ ‘em…..

You can roast ‘em

You can toast ‘em

You can grill ‘em

You can swill ‘em?

You can eat ‘em on a boat

You can eat ‘em with a goat

You can use ‘em now or freeze for later

Either way it doesn’t matter

Get ‘em soon while they last

Like all things seasonal

They come and go so fast!

What am I rhyming about? Garlic Scapes of course!

image003Botanically speaking, the scape is any leafless flower stalk. The flower of the well-known Hosta plant falls into the classification of scape as do the flowers of many other plants. Each garlic produces one scape. If the scape is left on the garlic plant it will flower and produce seeds. (The wild garlic you tell me you have in your yard is spread this way.)

 

image007Cutting the scape from the garlic plant helps it focus more energy into making a bigger bulb underground (good for us) rather than making seed up top which is its real job in life. Turns out the garlic scape is not only edible – it has mild garlic/green flavor — it’s delightful to eat!

20170703_142646So, how can we use the scapes? Any way you already use garlic you can use scapes instead or treat them as would fresh young green beans.

Chop and sauté along with any dish or make a simple pesto by blending with olive oil for fresh use or to freeze for later. Braid them into wreaths and roast or grill them. Cut them into uniform lengths and make refrigerator pickles.  (NOTE: I mix the pesto into mayonnaise and serve with burgers, amazing. – PW)

20170703_145548Scapes are most likely found in July at farmer’s markets in Northeast Ohio.  They keep nicely wrapped in plastic for up to a month.


Maggie Fusco and Justin Kopczak own Wood Road Salad Farm in Madison Ohio. They have been happily married and growing great produce since 2002.  They call their fields a “salad” farm because in the beginning they grew mostly lettuces and greens but then one crop led to another, and every season became a new adventure in growing and eating.

 

Ideas to Make Herb Garden Markers

Ideas to Make Herb Garden Markers

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

I love herbs and I love making things, especially simple craft projects with immediate gratification. Combining them in the garden makes me happy.

This year, I’m overwhelmed by garden marker ideas. So many choices that I may choose different styles for pots and gardens.

I thought, for this post, I’d let pictures tell the story. Each craft is fairly self-explanatory and different approaches will appeal to different gardeners or different locations.

Corks star twice, first on skewers with names written in permanent marker. And, perhaps more decoratively, on fork tines with my best printing in black ink.

20170511_191210Silverware makes a second appearance with names stamped on flattened spoons. This is perhaps the most time consuming of my efforts. My dad flattened the cutlery in his workshop and I bought the stamping supplies at Joann stores. I’ve also seen them on Amazon.com.

Speaking of spoons, last year I painted wooden spoons and printed names on them. Bright red added a festive touch to our patch of kitchen herbs and peppers.

 

Craft - Spoon markers (14)

20170515_180816And, finally, it felt a bit like cheating, but I stalked the “dollar spot” at Target and found a variety of different options. These chalkboard stakes were among them.


Show us your favorite garden markers – handmade or purchased.

‘Silver Drop’ Eucalyptus 2016’s Most Popular for The Grower’s Exchange

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

eucalyptus-silver-dropIf everyone else is doing it, I often run the other way. Or so I’d like to think. I consider myself my own woman making my own decisions without an external script. (WestWorld anyone?)

Unless everyone else is growing an herb. Then, I want to be part of the club.

I was surprised when The Grower’s Exchange announced that its bestseller for 2016 was Eucalyptus, Silver Drop. I would have expected something better known.

“Always in the top 5, but never a winner, this year, eucalyptus pushed out lemongrass and would have done even better had we not run out near the end of the spring,” says grower/owner Brisco White.

eucalyptus-silver-drop-2The reasons, he says, are a mystery. “What makes for a winner? Who knows? Why Beanie Babies one year, and Cabbage Patch another?  Could it have been effective marketing? A trend in medicinal treatments? An article in a major publication that ramped up demand? What we do know is that we are growing a lot more for 2017.”

While a number of eucalyptus cultivars exist, ‘Silver Drop’ is popular for its deep, silvery green scalloped leaves and a growing habit that can be shaped into a wide shrub with ease. It’s prolific and can grow up to 40 feet, but is best kept to four to five feet.

“It smells incredible, can handle a drought, resists deer and insects and actually provides nectar in the summer to bees, hummingbirds and butterflies,” notes White. “It’s also easy to grow and we cut tons of it to add to both fresh and dried arrangements. We even have it for holiday decorating.”

Silver drop can be grown during hot summers in most regions, and lacking a long and harsh frost, it is hardy to Zone 7. With plenty of light, it might even over-winter indoors.

Those reasons explain its popularity well to me. I plan to order it for my summer garden in Northeast Ohio and keep it in the kitchen window with my bay tree next winter. I want to be part of this club.

Bring Your Credit Card to Asheville’s River Arts District

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

If you’re one of the 250-plus HSA members attending the 2016 Annual Meeting, April 29, in Asheville, N.C., bring your credit card. The River Arts District has inspiring art you’ll want to take home.

For me it was a watermelon tourmaline ring. The ring was Asheville - ringsynchronicity. I’ve wanted a watermelon tourmaline ring for 20 years. Every now and then I’d visit NEOMA rock shop in Northeast Ohio lusting after slices of the pink and green stone. I’d make
hints to my ex-husband. (Maybe that’s why he’s an ex; he couldn’t hear me.)

Anyway, I could never bring together beauty and budget.

Just two weeks before my trip to Asheville, I’d renewed my quest, searching Etsy.com for the perfect piece. I must have wasted an hour drooling. But nothing was quite me.

Asheville artistEureka! I stumbled into Bluebird Designs studio in Asheville and knew I couldn’t leave without the chunky sterling silver and gemstone ring.

For your own shopping epiphany,  you must get a River Arts District guide. Peruse online, but you’ll save printer ink if you pick up one in town.

Know that 200 artists are housed in a string of 22 converted industrial and historical buildings on a one-mile stretch along the French Broad River. This is not a mall, but a walking or driving tour. You may go by foot and pick up your art later. Or even have it shipped home. We drove because I’d recently had foot surgery.Asheville RAD

You’ll find notable artists like Matt Toomey making sculptural art baskets and hand-dyed, felted wearables at Dyed in the Wool Designs.  And those are just a tease.

The studio guide will help you decide which buildings hold the art medium/artists you’re most interested in. And, that will help you make the best use of your time. NOTE: Some studios require climbing stairs

Know that, true to their reputation, artists may keep funky hours. You’re most likely to find them in their studios on weekends.


Tell us about your favorite Asheville artist.