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Basic basil and beyond. The common herb is easy to grow and fun to cook with.

Basic basil and beyond A favorite choice both in the garden and in the kitchen, basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow. It thrives in warm and hot weather and produces an abundance of foliage over a long season. In cooking, it's versatile and zesty. Use it fresh in salads (far right), or add it to recipes for fish, soups, and sauces (see page 184).

In 19th-century Europe, more than 60 varieties of basil were in cultivation. Although most of these have disappeared, the last decade has seen a resurgence in popularity of different flavors and types. Catalogs now feature more than 16 you can grow from see--special Italian varieties, dwarf basil from Greece, and ones scented in lemon, licorice, or clove.

All these types have the herb's typical perfumy fragrance and pungent flavor, but they vary significantly in richness. For the intense taste that's perfect for peston, use 'Genovese', 'Genova Perfumatissima', or 'Lettuce Leaf'.

Scented basils are milder in classic basil taste, but they have pungent overtones of whatever their name describes (such as cinnamon or lemon); 'Tulsi' has a clove fragrance. Use them to season vegetables and fruit salads, as garnishes, and for tea. Dwarf basils, such as 'Greek Mini', 'Bush Green', and 'Spicy Globe' have tiny, fragrant leaves that are good for garnishes. Grow these in pots, as small hedges along borders, or on a kitchen windowsill.

Purple-leaf basils are spicier and more pungent but not as sweet as other kings. They're striking in salads, as a garnish, and in vinegar for flavor and color.

Give plants warmth and full sun

When planted in early summer, bails can be sown directly in the ground or in pots (although 'Lemon' basil must be planted in the ground because it doesn't transplant well). Plant in rich, well-composted soil. Cover seeds by no more than twice their width; pat down firmly and use a fine spray when irrigating. Seeds take one to two weeks to germinate.

You can thin seedlings by careful trans-planting. We found that tender young plants may wither in warm weather, so cover for a few days to protect from sun. For guaranteed success, sow seeds thinly and snip out extras. Space plants 12 to 18 inches part. When they reach 6 inches, pinch back growing tips for business. Water and fertilize regularly, and pinch off flowers. Harvest by cutting leaves and stems; don't pull up the whole plant.

Control whiteflies with insecticidal soap. At the end of the season, black spots caused by cold dew may form on leaves (this may also develop on early-planted seedlings in cool climates like the Pacific Northwest; cover at night and fertilize to encourage growth).

To start seeds indoors next spring, time your planting so the soil outside is at least 65 [degrees] at transplant time (basil doesn't grow well in cool weather). Plants need about six weeks to get started; use bottom heat (70 [degrees] to 75 [degrees]). Transplant when the plants have four sets of leaves.

Where to get seeds by mail

Nurseries sell seed and seedlings of standard basils; a few may sell unusual types. These mail-order sources have the widest selections.

Nicholas Garden Nursery, 1190 N. Pacific Highway, Albany, Ore. 97321. Catalog is free. Sells 10 kinds.

Ornamental Edibles, 3622 Weedin Court, San Jose, Calif. 95132. Catalog costs $2. Sells 10 kinds.

Seeds Blum, IDaho City Stage, Boise 83706. Free price list; catalog costs $3. Sells eight kinds.

Shepherd's Garden Seeds, 6116 Highway 9, Felton, Calif. 95018. Catalog costs $1. Sells 10 kinds.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jun 1, 1991
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