When & Where to Plant Basil
In cooler climates, basil should be planted in full sun (where it will receive 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day). If you are living in a hotter climate, basil will benefit from some afternoon shade.
Basil should be planted outdoors 2 weeks after your last spring frost. You can also plant basil in the summer or grow it indoors in an area that receives plenty of light. Basil is particularly sensitive to frost and should not be planted outdoors until all threat of frost has passed. If you are expecting frost, cover the plants to protect them.
Follow the planting instructions on your seed packet. Basil plants are usually spaced about 12 inches apart. If starting seed indoors, make sure the seeds stay moist and have access to plenty of light. Harden-off your seedlings before transplanting outdoors.
Soil Requirements for Basil
Basil thrives in rich, moist, well-drained soil with a PH between 5.5 and 6.5. If you are planting Basil in the ground, amend your soil with compost or blood meal and add a small amount of general purpose fertilizer.
Caring for Basil
Basil prefers constant moisture. Check the soil often. If it feels dry, the plants should be watered. Don’t overdo it though: Basil does not like to sit in standing water.
Potted plants will dry out faster and will need more frequent watering to maintain moisture.
For the best results, fertilize your basil once every 2 to 3 weeks with a general-purpose liquid fertilizer.
Basil: Pests & Problems
Basil can be effected by Japanese Beetles, Aphids and Slugs. Slugs can be deterred with a sprinkling of Diatomaceous Earth. Japanese Beetle infestations only last for several weeks and most people control them by monitoring the plants and knocking the beetles off by hand (into a jar of soapy water). Aphids can be removed by spraying plants with a mixture of dish soap & water, pruning-off any infested foilage, and/or spraying with organic insecticide.
Basil is very susceptible to root rot. Standing water and poor drainage will be the death of your basil plants. Make sure you plan their location well and ensure the plants are not soggy.
Basil should be harvested frequently even if the leaves are not being used. Frequent harvesting will help the plant continue to produce and prevent flowering too soon (once your basil has flowered, the plant will stop producing new leaves).
Harvest by pinching the leaves from the tips of the stems. This will encourage the plant to branch out further. If you do see flowers, remove them. If you plan to use the Basil flowers (flowers are also edible) you may want to keep some plants pruned and allow others to go into the flowering stage.
At the first sign of frost, you should harvest all remaining Basil. After the first frost, the plant will die quickly and be useless.
Drying & Storing Basil
Basil can be air dried for later use. To air dry your basil, soak the leaves in cold water for several minutes. Lay the leaves on paper towels and discard any dead or spotted leaves.
You can dry entire stems by arranging them in small bunches and hanging them upside-down with string, or you can dry individual leaves by laying them on screens. Basil will take approximately 4 weeks to dry completely. Test if you leaves are dry enough by removing a leaf and crumbling it in your hand. It the leaf crumbles easily, your basil is ready to be stored.
You can store your Basil by removing the leaves from the stem and storing them in air-tight containers, crumbling the leaves into jars, or placing entire stems of leaves in a Ziploc bag.
Uses for Basil
Cooking with Basil
Fresh Basil has the richest flavor when it is only lightly cooked. Wait until your dish is 10 to 5 minutes from being done before adding fresh basil. This herb goes well with oregano, thyme, parsley, rosemary and sage, and works fabulously in Italian dishes. You can even make your own basil pesto.
Basil flowers can also be used in cooking. The flowers of basil are a great addition to pestos, salads, fruits & even ice cream.
See Recipes With Basil: http://allrecipes.com/recipes/herbs-and-spices/herbs/basil/
Medicinal Uses for Basil
Basil has anti-inflammatory properties, it is high in anti-oxidants and contains cinnamanic acid. Basil also has anti-bacterial uses. It can be applied directly to wounds, used to clean surfaces and consumed to combat colds and infections.
Basil has been used to treat bowel inflammation, impotence and infertility, diabetes, allergies and respiratory disorders. The antioxidants in basil may help slow aging, prevent cancer and improve skin problems.
Making Basil Tincture
Tinctures are the simplest way to use basil medicinally and will last up to 5 years on your shelf.
To make your own basil tincture, start with a clean jar with a tight fitting lid. Chop your basil (and any other herbs you will be adding), and fill the jar with 1 part basil to 3 parts clear vodka or Everclear. If using a canning jar, place a plastic layer between the lid and your liquid to prevent rust contamination. Place your jar in a dark place for 4 to six weeks and shake the jar every few days.
After 4 to 6 weeks, strain your liquid through cheesecloth or muslin and squeeze the leaves tightly in the cloth to extract as much liquid as possible. Funnel your extract into amber jars and store in a dark place for up to 5 years.
Tinctures can be taken to treat illnesses in small doses (about 1-2ml) at a time.
For More Ways to Prepare Basil for Medical Uses, See: http://www.offthegridnews.com/2011/04/21/medicinal-uses-and-health-benefits-of-basil/
Other Uses for Basil
Basil can also be used fresh for homemade shampoo or body wash, or dried for potpourri.