Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Perennial Basil

Hilarius, the French physician, claimed that sniffing basil had led to a scorpion breeding in the brain of an acquaintance. I don't know about you, but I have buried my nose into the King of Herbs on many occasions and have never, as yet, noticed scorpions in my brain, breeding, or otherwise. 
My passion for growing basil began in London where an Italian neighbour's garden was the source of a bountiful supply of fresh, juicy, sun-ripened tomatoes and delicious basil. He gave me my first basil plant and I quickly became hooked on growing culinary herbs. The thrill of harvesting fresh herbs never diminishes. I keep the plants close to the kitchen door so that I can grab a handful without bothering to put on my shoes. I also grow lettuce and tomatoes there in the hope that I might reach for salad instead of a chocolate bar (there is more chance of basil inducing brain-breeding scorpions). 
The Salad Bar (sadly, the chocolate bar is no longer with us)
Greeks and Romans would curse when they sowed basil seeds as they believed that it helped germination. When seeds stick to my hands rather than depositing themselves onto the compost, I call them names. It is hardly in the same league as a jolly good curse, so I have to take other precautions, such as sowing into modules, which does much to prevent death from damping off. I supplement home-sown insulted seeds with plant purchases if I see one which tickles my fancy. There are so many to choose from: cinnamon, lemon, lime, sweet or spice, Thai, Greek, Marseillais and Neopolitana, not forgetting the sumptuous purples, which may or may not be ruffled.
Spot the purple basil purchase
The key requirements of basil are warmth and well-drained, rich soil. I grow the plants in containers placed in sheltered corners which receive midday sun. Basil can be given to sulking if it goes to bed with wet feet, which is perfectly understandable (I don't like my feet to be cold, let alone wet), so water basil by noon.

One of my ongoing gardening challenges is to keep the kitchen supplied with fresh herbs over winter. Some, such as rosemary, are a doddle, but others, basil among them, are trickier, especially without a greenhouse. The solution might be 'African Blue' basil (Ocimum 'African Blue'), a half hardy perennial which is sterile. Since it doesn’t go to seed, I guess that it will not have that irritating habit of ceasing leaf production every time it sends up a flower stem, which is as well because the flowers are beautiful and delicious (I nibbled a few after I took the photos). 
Ocimum 'African Blue'
While 'African Blue' certainly tastes of basil, it does not have quite the same flavour as the more commonly grown annuals. It does, however, have the distinct advantage of being perennial, so it may very well supply me with leaves earlier than the annual forms if I get it into my sunny office before the first frosts. Imagine how much basil I will be sniffing at my desk! If the perennial basil experiment works and Hilarius was right, we may very well be facing a massive UK scorpion infestation in 2017. It will make a change from slugs.

40 comments:

  1. Do scorpions eat slugs? I have lost my basil, along with so many other things, to the incessant Devon rain and aforementioned slimy beasties. I shall try pots.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have no trouble with basil in pots, so it's worth a go. The slugs here have gone for the beans. I am left with just two plants on two wigwams. I shall shortly be harvesting a solitary bean. It's my own fault - I was late with the slug pubs. I will make sure that I'm more hospitable in future and offer our slimy visitors a drink as soon as they arrive.

      Delete
  2. Hello Sarah, we've never got into the habit of growing herbs, we do it in fits and starts but I'm hoping that at some point, when the manic work in the garden settles down, we can return to having herbs and leaf salads on the patio so we can quickly nip outside the kitchen door for a bit of flavouring.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Sunil, you must! Especially the easier ones like sage, thyme and rosemary. They'll save you the effort of a few centimetres of weeding while you get on with the business of planting the rest of the garden.

      Delete
  3. Thai basil here.
    I shall look for African Blue.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's an attractive and tasty one too.

      Delete
  4. Useful tip. I like to have some basil handy too but, as you say, most kinds die off during the winter. I'll look out for "African Blue".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fingers crossed it will work. I have to say that the flowers are very moreish!

      Delete
  5. I wonder if we get the term "hilarious" from the outrageous and funny claims of Dr. Hilarius! I love basil. One of my summer delights is a broiled tomato/cheese/ basil sandwich.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess that's what we call a toastie here? I haven't ever added basil to a cheese and tomato toastie, but I will now.

      Delete
  6. I grow African blue basil for the bees, rather than culinary purposes. Though it is not great in the kitchen, the bees love it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is reputed to be an excellent bee plant. Even though I have been grazing the flowers, I have left a few for bees, but they seem to prefer other plants. Perhaps that will change as summer progresses.

      Delete
  7. I grew African blue basil in my raised planter for years here in Southern California. The plant gradually lost its vigor and I finally pulled it out. Although I never tried to cook with it (mainly because my husband, not I, is the cook), I grew it for its good looks and for the bees. I used to include it in floral bouquets too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It would be lovely in a bouquet. What a great idea! It's good to learn that your African blue basil grew for years before it declined. I guess, like many shrubby plants, it goes past its best eventually.

      Delete
  8. Interesting looking foliage too, certainly looks ornamental as well. I wonder if it tastes just as good with tomatoes, hmmm...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is very pretty. I think it tastes fine - different, but certainly basily!

      Delete
  9. Thanks for the laughs Sarah! I grew perennial basil one year and mixed in a few leaves with the normal one if making pesto. The flavour and texture is different, but I think it's such a pretty plant too. Sadly it didn't survive the winter in a pot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mixing with normal basil leaves sounds like an excellent idea. It is a very pretty plant. I am growing increasingly fond of it.

      Delete
  10. This looks worth a try to grow alongside my winter salads :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fingers crossed that it does what we hope it will do!

      Delete
  11. I've never heard of perennial basil - is it commonly available ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I got it from a specialist herb nursery. The Independent Nursery Guide might help you to find a herb nursery in your area http://independentplantnurseriesguide.uk/

      Delete
  12. In cold wet Wales it's a herb I struggle to grow. I suppose there is always the chocolate though. x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is always chocolate - although my children are concerned about a global shortage. (I suspect that they blame me for eating it all).

      Delete
  13. The salad bar looks wonderful though it would be tough to pass up that chocolate bar. I've read about African Blue basil but have never seen plants available. Seeds might be worth a try in my mild climate. Basil plants are available all winter in the market here so I often keep one in the window. They don't really grow but last long enough to harvest leaves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have been known to sit and admire the salad bar while eating chocolate! I think that the basil comes well from cuttings - they seem quite easy to take. It doesn't produce seed, which is a pain for you, although great for when we want to let it flower without worrying about it going over.

      Delete
  14. Hi Sarah,
    I grow the usual Italian basil. I tend to forget that they like it hot so I usually move it outside too early and have to start new plants.
    This year for the first time I grew chervil. I also grow parsley but it tends to sprout on its own in various places (other than where you want them). I let them grow and end up having parsley plants just about all over the garden.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wouldn't mind being inundated with parsley. I love the taste and it's a pretty enough plant. It is also reputed to be good for masking garlic breath, which is why I am occasionally spotted driving around with a parsley stalk hanging from my mouth.

      Delete
  15. Poor Hilarius, I suspect that with such a name none of his remarks were taken seriously. I grow Italian and Thai basil and as you say it is the King of Herbs. I hope the 'African Blue' works out. In the meantime, I'll keep a lookout for scorpions, just in case.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a brilliant name, isn't it? I think that by growing two types of basil, you might be doubling your chances of a scorpion infestation. You are clearly fearless.

      Delete
  16. Hi Sarah, thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment!
    I have never heard about 'African Blue' basil. But it looks like a very beautiful plant and it's cool that it is a perennial.
    Sadly this year I haven't grown any herbs, but your post has inspired me to at least get some basil and some mint. I love tomatoes with mozzarella and basil. I will go the easy route though and just visit my favorite nursery and get some pre-grown organic herbs. I doubt that they have 'African Blue' basil, but at least I could ask.
    Wishing you lovely weekend!
    Christina

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm delighted that you are inspired to grow some herbs. I love fresh mint - especially in Pimms.
      Tomato, mozzarella and basil has to be one of the best combinations of food ever. I'm pleased that you're supporting your favourite nursery - it's excellent that they sell organically grown herbs.

      Delete
  17. Hi Sarah, We are great Basil lovers as well, but, so are the bugs! What a time trying to get them big enough to survive! I'm intrigued by the perennial Basil.....must look it up. In the fall, I harvest the leaves, wash them and dry them in a salad spinner and freeze them for soups and sauces. I very quickly cut the amount I need with scissors as frozen Basil defrosts quickly and turns to mush.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are organised! At one time, I froze herbs into ice cube trays for use in the winter... then I had children and I never had the time any more. I really should start again - it's really worth the effort.

      Delete
  18. Basil and tomatoes are a match made in heaven. I have grown the purple leaved one in the past, just to be different.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They are the perfect match. If I had a greenhouse, I would grow them together.

      Delete
  19. I try to grow basil every year, and I fail spectacularly – every year. I would have loved to grow it for eating but I have given up that, the basil taste too strong when you grow it yourself, at least mine does. Even when it is supposed to be the same variety as I buy in the supermarket. But it doesn’t taste the same, too strong.
    So I have resorted to grow basil just for my tomatoes, to keep them happy and pest free, but even that is difficult – and this year I think the basil will end up in the compost bin even earlier than usual. I grow the basil in big pots, placed among the tomato plants, in full sun. The basil bolts, wilt, look miserable, fail to grow much and often have distorted leaves. I have never heard of the ‘water before noon’ thing, but maybe that’s where I go wrong? I am not able to water before noon so all my plants will have to accept evening watering.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a shame - tomatoes and basil usually make fine companions. Basil will sulk when it is watered later in the day, so like you say, it is probably miserable about the watering regime. We can't always do everything we would wish for our plants. Sometimes a plant doesn't suit us because it is too fussy for our lifestyle. I would like to grow some more demanding plants in pots, but I know that I couldn't take on the watering, so I do without them.

      Delete
  20. I made pesto tonight and somehow missed the scorpions. How very dull of me. They might have added some extra crunch.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ... and a smattering of protein. (I now have visions of you chasing a scorpion around with your pestle and mortar)

      Delete