Eritrean Basil

The King of Herbs: Growing Basil

Once you start growing your own fresh basil, there’s no going back. While tomatoes may get most of the attention in America’s summertime gardens, basil is the king of herbs. The basil you can grow at home is also more impressive than in the store. It’s much cheaper too! Thankfully, it’s also quite easy to grow, and you still have plenty of time to grow basil in your garden this summer.

Direct Sowing Basil

This time of year, the simplest way to grow basil is to direct sow it. Basil is native to tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, including Thailand, Iran, Pakistan, and other countries. Due to its tropical upbringing, basil thrives in full sun and needs a mimic of 6 to 8 hours of sunlight to produce. It also grows best in rich, well-drained soil and germinates best when the soil temperatures are around 70-75°F.

To direct sow basil, plant 3 to 4 seeds every 12 inches. Lightly cover the seeds, no more than two times the depth of the seed. Basil takes about 5 to 14 days to germinate. When the plants have four leaves, thin them to 1 plant every 12 inches for fuller, bushier plants. You can transplant extra plants to another bed.

Transplanting Basil

Basil can also be started in flats or containers indoors. To get an early start next spring, start your basil indoors about four weeks before your last frost. In flats, space seeds ½” apart. Thin to two inches apart and transplant in 3-4 weeks.

Growing Basil From Cuttings

Interestingly, basil is also easy to grow from cuttings. Take a cutting from your own or a friend’s basil plant that has at least four sets of leaves. Remove the bottom set of leaves and place the cutting in a clean, filtered glass of water in a sunny spot indoors. Change or refill the water as necessary until the cutting has clearly visible roots. Then transplant the cutting to the garden bed with loose, rich soil or a container.

Basil plant growing in a potGrowing Basil in Containers

Basil is also a suitable herb for container gardens. Start your basil just as you would for the garden. Select a container with drainage holes (or make them) and use potting mix and some good-quality compost. Keep the container somewhere sunny and water consistently. Basil doesn’t like to be soggy but thrives with consistent moisture, and containers tend to dry out more quickly than the garden. 

Can you Grow Basil Indoors?

You can grow basil indoors, but it’s much trickier. As basil enjoys full sun, providing adequate light in a home year-round is hard. Here in the northern hemisphere, you may be able to grow basil in a sunny, south-facing window. Your basil plant may need more light if it seems weak or spindly. A grow light bulb placed close to the plant may allow it to thrive. Read the bulb’s instructions for the exact placement. Many bulbs must be surprisingly close to a plant, just a few inches from its top leaves.

Ideas for Using Homegrown Basil

If you ask anyone (or Google) what to do with basil, they’ll tell you to make pesto. Don’t get me wrong, I love pesto, but there’s so much more to basil than just pesto! If you haven’t worked with fresh basil often, here are a few of our favorite ideas for using it.

  • Chop it up and toss it onto homemade or delivery pizza.
  • Make a classic Caprese salad with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, salt, and olive.
  • Use it for refreshing cocktails or cocktails like bloody marys, watermelon coolers, or limeades. 
  • Top your morning toast or bagel with slices of fresh tomato, basil leaves, salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.
  • Take your grilled cheese up a notch by adding basil leaves in with the cheese.
  • Basil pairs well with lemon and strawberry. Try adding a new twist to lemon cake or strawberry shortcake recipes by topping them with finely chopped basil.
  • Add basil, garlic, and other herbs to your favorite bread recipe if you love baking.
  • Basil, cheese, white beans, salt, and pepper, make for a tasty, easy-to-throw-together pasta dish. 

Basil as a Medicinal Herb

Basil also has a long history of use in traditional medicine. Basil has been used as a carminative (to relieve gas), to help ease stomach aches, and to improve digestion and appetite. Research indicates that it may inhibit gastric acid secretion. As it’s also a culinary herb, experimenting with basil as an herbal remedy is fairly safe. You can try basil in food, teas, and tinctures

*None of this is intended as medical advice. Always consult your doctor. 

Basil’s fresh, gently spicy flavor makes it a must-have for the kitchen and the garden. It’s not too late to add basil to your garden this year! Start basil from seed, transplants, or cuttings in the garden or patio containers.

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