As a part of an Italian family, we would a have large home-cooked meal on every Sunday where, unless you were dying from the plague, the entire family’ presence was required. My mom is a fantastic cook and even better baker so I grew up in a house that smelled amazing, and when I was old enough I began to help my mom with some of the cooking responsibilities. Obviously, some of the ingredients that would end up in a majority of these Italian home-cooked meals were garlic and onions, but another ingredient that we used a lot was basil. We would use it frequently, whether it was to garnish a dish or to make a sauce, so it only made sense that come spring time we would be growing our own basil.
Basil’s scientific name is Ocimum basilicum (L.) which is a part of the Lamiaceae or mint family and is native to India where it has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years . Basil is a tender, aromatic plant that has a spicy odor and flavor that grows 12-18 inches tall. The foliage of the basil plant depends on the type of basil it is, but it can range from large lettuce-like leaves to very small leaves. Basil is easily grown from seed or from tip cuttings of overwintered plants and grows best when the temperature is at least 70 degrees. The basil seeds will germinate in about 5-7 days and it prefers a sunny location as well as fertile soil .
Although Basil is believed to be native to India and has been cultivated for over 5,000 years, there are some indications that this might necessarily not be true. There are some reports that basil may be native to China and used in the Hunan region at around 807 A.D due to ancient records . Historical uses of basil vary from its uses today. Ancient Egypt used basil as an embalming and preserving herb and this is known because basil is found in tombs and mummies. Ancient Greece used basil as a symbol of mourning. Jewish Folklore believes that basil adds strength while fasting. Ancient Portugal uses basil to make up park of a gift to a sweetheart or significant other on a religious holiday. The uses of basil today include as a culinary herb that can be added at the last moment, to make pesto, perfumery, incense, and herbal holistic remedies. According to recent research, scientists have also established that basil contains compounds in the essential oil that possess potent antioxidant, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties .
As mentioned before there are many different popular varieties of basil that all fall under the O. basilicum classification and they include sweet basil group, Genovese group, purple group, and other basils. The sweet basil group is the familiar sweet scented types of basil and they include the Napoletano (standard lettuce-leaved), Medinette(compact, large leaf), and Romanesco (large leaf with strong aroma). The Genovese group is a classic large leaf from the genoa area of Italy (which is the pesto capital of the world) and this group includes the Genovese (classic basil), Emily (compact variety), and Dolly (heavy produce of large leaves which is more cold tolerant). The bush group is a smaller, rounder form of basil often with a small, finer textured foliage and this groups includes Spice Globe (uniform and dense), Green Globe (which isdense, tight globe form) and Bush (standard bush variety). The purple group is a group of basils with dark purple to bronze foliage which are often decorative and this group includes the Dark Opal (which is a pure dark purple foliage excellent for vinegars), Emerald Wine which is a compact wine red leaf veins surrounded by a green border), and Rubin (which is a purple bronze foliage). The last group of basils is the other basils group which is a selection of basils that have distinctive flavors and aromas. These basils include cinnamon (which has a distinctive cinnamon taste and aroma), Lemon (which has an intense lemon fragrance), Clove (which has clove scented leaves), and Thai (which has a licorice-like aroma) .