It’s easy to grow, has a sensational scent and is perfect with tomatoes – pop in a basil plant now for a taste of summer.
Fast-growing, hardy basil is a gift for newbie gardeners. Just pop one in a box pot or in your vege garden and look forward to an abundance of this gloriously fragrant herb. Basil prefers a sunny spot, and grows best in well-drained soil, but it needs regular watering, especially while it gets established. Pinch out the spikes of pretty white flowers to promote plenty of leafy growth – but perhaps leave a few for the bees. If you have the room, pop in a new plant every few weeks for a continuous supply over summer. A basil plant will also be happy in a pot on your patio (where it might help deter flies) or as a centrepiece in a hanging basket.
Basil makes a lovely friend for tomatoes, both in the garden, where the herb is said to ward off pests, and on the plate – who can go past a colourful Caprese salad of sliced tomatoes, layered with mozzarella and scattered with basil? For thousands of years basil has been used for culinary, medicinal and symbolic purposes. Ancient Egyptians believed it would open the gates of heaven and Jewish folklore suggested basil would give strength during fasting. It’s been used as a remedy for everything from stomach spasms to head colds and for stimulating breast milk. The most commonly grown form is sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), but basil aficionados can source all kinds of different varieties from ‘Genovese Giant’ to a miniature form that’s often grown in pots and window boxes outside Greek homes, as well as pretty purple and bronze-leaved basil. Asian food fans will enjoy being able to pick their own fresh Thai basil.
If you end up with a basil glut, try making basil-infused oil or that old favourite, pesto, which can be frozen to bring a taste of summer to your table in the winter months. Traditionally, basil pesto contains pine nuts, but if you find they are heinously expensive, make it with cashews instead – the Thrive team thinks it might even be nicer.