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,, features local gardening news, resources, and plants for those who have started gardening or who have moved to the Virginia, Maryland, DC metro area.

Herbal Jewelry Makes Fashion Statement

Herbal Jewelry Makes Fashion Statement

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

dandelionMy boyfriend asked for birthday present ideas, so I turned to for handcrafted suggestions. As someone in thrall with nature, I love botanical material frozen in time and resin. And, dandelions are among my favorite. (I like lavender, too, but already have that in my jewelry box.)

Dandelion seed puffs evoke memories of warm sunny days gathering rich offerings of the field …tiny, flavorful wild strawberries and crowns of bright yellow blooms. I remember drawing deep breaths to launch wishes into the universe for more books or cats.  If I can’t stay the freshness of childhood at least I can freeze those delicate seeds and carry them as symbols of hope.

A quick search on shows that, with a simple nod to PayPal, I have many options for frozen puffs. Myriad artists encasethem in resin and turn them into jewelry and baubles. So many choices.serenity

To satisfy my curiosity, I interviewed one of the “herbiest” jewelry-makers I found — Amber Barnes, of McKinney, Texas, who works with dandelion seeds and other herbs in her home studio.

How did you start making herbal pendants?

I started with the dandelion seeds first around 2012. My preteen daughters and I would find fields of them near our house and pick some to take home. They helped me make the resin pieces and they turned out lovely! Our next style was to look at dried flowers. From there we started trying out different combinations and blends.

chamomile.jpgWhat herbs do you use?

So many. Calendula, hyssop, lavender and more. As well as combinations.

How did you come up with the idea for mixing herbs?

I had started out actually only making a single herb per pendant. Later we tried experimenting with different colored flower petals and went from there.

goddess.jpgWhat “properties” do ascribe to them?

I love the metaphysical properties of herbs and try to incorporate that into the pendant pieces. The various blends have different herbs known for different uses. There are several books to help with the properties of certain herbs and it’s a great place to start!

For example the one I created for Chakras.

Herb blends consists of Dandelion Root for the Root Chakra, Rosemary for the Root Chakra, Calendula for the Sacral Chakra, Rose for the Heart Chakra, Sage for the Throat Chakra, Mugwort for the Brow Chakra, Lavender for the Crown Chakra, and Anise for the Solar Chakra.

Then I added essential oils in the mix using the Aura Cacia brand Chakra Balancing oils.

What inspired you to get started?

Like many of my projects, I get an idea in my head of something I want and can’t find it. I remember years ago seeing these tiny yellow flowers in the lawn. They were so gorgeous and I started to wonder if they could be made into pendants to forever preserve that look. That led me to start researching how to dry flowers and spiraled from there. My favorite to date is still using the dandelion seeds. They represent childhood magic. My daughters pick them and blow the seeds and make their wishes.

To peruse Amber’s work, visit RiverSilverWolf at


Don’t Miss Mother Earth News Fair

Don’t Miss Mother Earth News Fair

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

__Shawna Coronado FB shot 2When Shawna Coronado was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her spine she changed her lifestyle, from job to eating habits. Gardening, including herbs, became part of that shift.  As a writer she began sharing her journey with others. She’s so good at it, she became a regular speaker at Mother Earth News Fair,  a series of educational festivals held in cities around the country. Herbs are among the various earthy topics presented.

If you haven’t heard about the Fairs, take a look. The list of topics and industry speakers has me drooling – aromatherapy, beauty products, kombucha, organic everything and more.  Only two events – Pennsylvania and Kansas – remain in 2017, and I’m too busy for both. This year. But, I’m eagerly anticipating next year’s schedule and plan to add one to my calendar.


Shawna, who’s been involved for years, is enthusiastic as a speaker and attendee. She anticipates more than 400 people will attend her one-hour presentation on “Arthritis in the Garden,” where she talks about using diet, exercise and gardening techniques to reduce chronic pain.

Herbs can play a simple role here. She advocates using more of them to flavor wholesome food in place of additive-laden dishes.

She will also talk about “Gardening Hacks” (or simple solutions) one of which is using wine bottles to edge your garden. And, another to fill wine bottles with water and turn upside down into garden for slow-watering when you’re away. (You’ll just have to drink more wine.)31 Wine Bottle Container Watering

While the fairs draw thousands, they’re still small enough for personal interactions with experts. When someone asks Shawna a question about a problem plant, she says her first response is usually, “What’s your soil like?” The answers go on from there.

For those worried they won’t fit in, Shawna says the audiences are  “part modern, suburban folks with small gardens and big dreams and part homesteaders who are into farming and may raise  animals.”

The fair includes a bookstore (my weakness) and herb vendors.

If you can’t make it to Shawna’s talk, check out her book 101 Organic Gardening Hacks, just published in January. And, watch for her book The Wellness Garden to publish in November.  Meanwhile, the folks at Mother Earth News are working on next year’s fair schedule.

7 Tips for Packaging Herb Liqueurs

7 Tips for Packaging Herb Liqueurs

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

20170829_181123It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas … in my kitchen. As I harvest the goods, I’ve been making Christmas gifts for family and friends. Some of my favorites are liqueurs. They’re deceptively simple and make elegant presentations.

Crème di violette and lemon herb liqueurs are two of my favorite. This year, I am trying something new – a crème di lavender liqueur. I’m making an infusion using ½ cup lavender and 12 ounce of vodka. After three days, I’ll strain and spike with simple syrup until the sweetness is balanced. I’m still debating the addition of food coloring for presentation.

To make simple syrup, bring one cup water and one cup sugar to a boil and dissolve sugar. Then, turn off the burner. Cool before use. Keeps in refrigerator for a few weeks.

Packaging the final product is as important as producing it. Do I want vintage decanters to present larger quantities to close friends? Cruets with cork stoppers for liqueurs in smaller quantities? Or maybe Mason jars with chalk labels? Perhaps I should buy brand new bottles from Amazon?

20170831_070024The problem with my creativity is my ideas run rampant and I struggle to choose. I want packaging in harmony with product. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years … some of it practical, some artistic.

  1. Select glass bottles to avoid off tastes from plastic.
  2. Source smaller bottles – 5 to 8 ounces – to stretch product and tease friends with a sample or two.
  3. Choose colored bottles if the product is an odd color and you’re not using food coloring. For example, I packaged my crème di menthe in green.
  4. Seal with screw tops or swing tops (not corks) to prevent spillage. Or be careful with cork.
  5. Finish with a heat-shrink plastic capsule for elegant presentation. These come in many colors, but I choose black.
  6. Use white markers, not chalk, on chalkboard labels, so they won’t smear.
  7. Write product name and date on label at the very least.

While I’m ordering my first batch of “Woozy” bottles from Amazon and picking up chalkboard labels/hangtags at, I will be watching the “dot” section at the entrance to my local Target. Throughout the year they’ve sold a number of bottles and labels that made lovely presentations.  And, if my budget feels more generous, I may check out the Bormioli Rocco Swing Bottles at Sur La Table.


Herbal Cocktails are in Season

Herbal Cocktails are in Season

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

20170722_184240Cocktails are hot and we’re not talking your father’s martini. Unless, you’ve found a way to dress it up with fresh herbs. Something so many of today’s bartenders are doing.

During a recent trip to Pittsburgh, where we stayed at the young, hip Ace Hotel  in the city’s East Liberty neighborhood, I sampled a Cosmo at the lobby bar.  The blend of vodka and cranberry-hibiscus syrup was subtly spiked with orange bitters and sage for a complex, fresh flavor. This was just one of four mixed drinks that required botanical attention. Basil, chipotle and tarragon had supporting roles in other concoctions.

After a few appetizers, we ubered to Wigle Distillery’s Barrelhouse and Whiskey Garden across the Allegheny River. There the Botanist cocktail — gin, simple syrup and bitters – required my admiration. What sounds simple would have been nothing without herbs.

20170722_205426Audra Kelly, Barrelhouse and Cocktail Program Manager, created it as an experiment. “We had some sage, thyme, and maple syrup that we had been using in three separate cocktails,” she recalls. “I was drinking the gin and thought, geeze, all of these things would taste amazing together and really showcase our Barrel Rested Ginever.”

So, she created a sage-thyme-maple simple syrup that teases a little sweetness into a tumbler of iced gin and bitters.

The Botanist has been a staple for three years. “We currently have three herb-based cocktails, The Botanist (sage and thyme), Mint Julep Old Fashioned (mint), and Just Peachy (basil),” says Audra. “We also pump up the herb garnishes during the season at the Barrelhouse patio location.”

“We grow all of the herbs that we use for cocktails on site. We will all be really sad when fall comes and we no longer have such an abundance of fresh herbs.”

The Botanist

  • 2 ounces barrel-rested gin
  • 0.5 ounce sage, thyme, and maple simple syrup
  • 3 dashes rosemary lavender bitters
  • 3 dashes pomander orange bitters

Combine, stir, pour over a giant ice cube and garnish with an orange twist.

Sage, Thyme and Maple Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 5 sage leaves
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup

Steep herbs in boiling water for 10 minutes, add sugar, stir, dissolve, strain and discard herbs

Top 10 Herb Society Blog Posts

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

After two years of blogging I’ve examined which posts have received the most clicks. The list below represents different topics, styles and interests. I hope you have fun rediscovering (or discovering) the content.

20170814_095900 (2)

  1. What to do with Garlic Scapes … Learn what to do with this garlic plant bonus from Madison, Ohio, Farmer Maggie Fusco.
  2. Fredericksburg Herb Farm: A Lifestyle Approach to Herbs … Spend the night(s) sleeping and dining at a real herb farm in Texas.
  3. Lavender Inspires Second Career for Wisconsin Retirees… Read about Martine and Edgar Anderson who turned their dream of a lavender farm into reality.
  4. Sweet Anthem Fragrances to go Herbal … Hear how Marisa Borrevik uses herbs to create fragrances for Sweet Anthem perfumes.
  5. You Can Grow Herbs in Winter … Conquer winter weather with tabletop technology to grow herbs indoors year ‘round.
  6. Any Mint But Peppermint … Laugh with member Jen Lenharth as she waxes whimsically about her dislike of peppermint.
  7. image001Discover the Best Lavender for Cooking … Explore the best lavender cultivars for cooking.
  8. Herb of March: Discovering Amaranth … Discover amaranth, an herb used as a grain.
  9. Mexican Tarragon … Uncover the history and uses of Mexican Tarragon.
  10. Meet Mountain Rose Herbs … Learn about a top mail-order company that makes and distributes sustainably harvested, organic, herbs, spices, and botanical products.

What’s your favorite post from The Herb Society of America Blog? Mine is probably Consortium Creating U.S. Source of Chinese Medicinal Herbs.

Editorial: As Medical Costs Rise, Will People Use More Herbs?

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

20170814_150549Given the rising cost of health care, I wonder if more people are turning to herbal medicine to address symptoms and seek treatment. While I’ve been skeptical and gone the “easy” route of modern medicine, I’m starting to think differently.

I have a summer cold … raging sore throat, swollen sinuses, puffy glands and general acheyness. I’ve waited a few days to see if it will resolve. It’s hasn’t. At this point I’d usually see my doctor. I’d pay my $35 deductible and get my Rx for $10 and be done with it.

That was until this year’s insurance plan. I have a $5,000 deductible. One doctor’s visit costs me $100 and my prescription adds another $40. Do the math. Last year I paid $45, this year I pay $140.  The increase hurts. Almost as much as my throat.

And so, I begin to overthink my situation — Am I overreacting to a simple cold? Or is this bad enough for a medical appointment? Am I being cheap? Am I being a baby? What should I do?

20170814_150557Because I’m developing a light rash, I’m going for a strep test. And, if it’s positive I will get antibiotics. (P.S. It was negative.)

In the meantime, I’m adjusting my philosophy about herbal medicine and adopting a new, three-step process

  • Identify immune system-boosting measures and supplements from the herbal world. Add them to my routine.
  • Learn about herb-based treatments for symptoms. Use them when appropriate.
  • Seek modern medicine when deemed necessary.

My goal is to be healthier in body and budget.

How are you using herbs in your approach to health and wellness?