What I’ve Learned in Three Years Growing Basil: A Rough Guide

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Absolutely nothing. I’m joking, but the temptation to just post that remains. Seriously though, I think there are a few pointers that I can share to growing many successful harvests of basil. These are just anecdotal tips from your forever friend Jack, nothing more than the summation of my experiences. The reason why every guide here is rough is because I’m constantly learning and the me sharing my experiences in the here and now will be a very different person in the future. There does have to come a point where I’ve learned as much as I can, but you can never be sure. So whether you’re new to basil an old hand or just vaguely interested in these little herb, here are a few tips, in the now ubiquitous list format, for getting a large, healthy and delicious harvest. I’ll even point out a few tips for pesto, I’m still new-ish to pesto, but now I’ll only make it using he freshest herbs, my own in other words. I never ate it before I couldn’t eat any commerical pesto so take my tips as you will.

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Basil Tips:

Not too Tall.

You’ll enjoy watching you basil get bigger and bigger, but one of the problems is that when it grows very tall is that it can get weak stemmed, if you’re not cutting it and letting it bush out the basil can end up wobbly. The other issue is that when it reaches it’s maximum height it will start to flower and as pretty as they are you don’t want them spoiling the taste of your basil. Either pinch them off or just cut below them. What you want is a basil that isn’t too tall, has no flowers and has leaves from everywhere on the stem.

Light prune, heavy prune.

Now this does assume you have basil ready, whether you buy it as a seed, like Jack, or you buy it from the shops and propagate it via cuttings, like last year’s Jack. The best way I’ve found is alternating between light harvests, small amounts taken with careful hand, and heavy harvests, large amounts taken with rough cuts. The idea is that you do need to keep basil pruned, removing the light, small leaves when healthy is great as you can use them, rather than letting them wilt, this will let the plant feed itself and grow. For heavy the best time is when there’s too much top growth, way too many leaves, you can just cut it down a few inches, at the growth node of course, and the plant should have sufficient leaves to grow again. The best way to determine the stage is by how many leaves are on a stem. If they’re mostly empty then you don’t want to take too much. All crowded and hen it’s time to take a heavy hand. Basil is tough, but smart pruning means you get more out of each plant.

Feed when scraggly.

Like you and me, dear reader, plants need to feed to grow. The thing about herbs is that they release their flavoursome oils when they struggle, the less for it to draw upon the better tasting it is. So naturally feeding isn’t advised, but you should do it. Huh? Bear with me. You want the basil to be at it’s peak when harvesting, just wet enough to be healthy, the smell will spread throughout any room,  it’ll taste best then. After a few harvests you’ll want to add a little plant feed, this will help the plant grow again and stay strong. The only issue is that the taste will be almost non-existent while the nutrients are in the soil so don’t over-feed it or use slow-release pellets. A little liquid feed is all you need.

Consistently Warm.

Now this pertains to Ireland wacky weather. I had basil last year in a plastic greenhouse that was just ready for harvest so I let it until the next day, the next day’s weather was a cold snap and the basil wilted and died. Now that I have a well insulated greenhouse that holds heat better, and keeps out some of the cold, there’s a world of difference in my basil. You might be best to keep your basil indoors if you don’t have a greenhouse. It’s very disheartening to see basil just die suddenly. I did find the Thai a tougher basil, but that may have been a fluke.

Pesto Tips

Not too smooth.

I use to blend my pesto to a smooth consistency and I feel that that’s a disservice to the basil. I find that a rough blend, where the nuts are just broken up and there are few shreds of leaf left gives  much better texture and even improves the taste. You’re not disguising stems or hiding poor quality leaves, this is your harvest and you should use it the best way possible. I don’t recommend using the stems, they’re okay when very young, but become rubbery in time and eventually woody when the weather changes to cooler temperatures.

Not too much oil.

This is more of a preference, but if you are freezing, and topping with oil naturally, then I find making a thick paste, topping it before freezing leads to a pesto that clings perfectly an doesn’t end up with pasta that’s floating in oil. I love oil and rich pasta dishes, but I think the freshness is where pesto shines, overwhelming the basil is a mistake I’m glad to say I no longer make.

Mixing and Match.

I’ve mentioned that I grow a few varieties of basil, the sweet is the most versatile, but the others offer a unique taste in dishes. The issue I find is that some overwhelm while others fail to stand out enough on their own. I’ve found that mixing the Thai (They call it cinnamon on the packet, but it’s Thai) with the dark opal gives the Thai’s aniseed a slight undercurrent of something sweeter, the lighter flavour of the dark opal is still present, more so thanks to the contrast in flavours. It’s also helpful if you just don’t have enough basil to make pesto, a little Thai with sweet is really fun and different ratios make really different pesto.

Coconut Basil Chicken

 photo WP_20160605_001_e_zpsj9hggcka.jpgSecond harvest. The cinnamon basil is coming on too. I can’t wait for that.

It’s hot and I’m starting to miss the days of rain based gardening. Joking of course, but a little light rain wouldn’t go amiss. Poor Jack is starting to melt slightly. I’m still pondering about the grow your own herb garden guide, problem being I keep forgetting to write anything down and consequently I forget it all. We’ll see how things go, no promises, but if I do it I’d like it done well. That all assumes anyone would be interested, there are no doubt an abundance of guides already available out there. I’d like to share a little something, nothing extraordinary, just a slice of life with multiple allergies and intolerances, not that I’m complaining, well I would if you’d let me. I was fortunate to win a voucher for Aldi and they happen to have a gluten free list on their website. Foods that happen to be gluten free but aren’t marked as such. There are barcodes and it’s kept up-to-date, really useful. You can imagine my choices were limited, I opted for nuts and sesame seeds. That should keep me in cheap nut and seed butters for a while. So I have to make the trip there by bus. Thus the “fun” starts. I can’t eat or drink, with the exception to some soft drinks and soda, so I have to plan ahead. How much time would I be spending up there? What should I eat before hand and how much of a drink should I bring? (I dehydrate easily) You can see how this goes. It’s a great deal of work and keep in mind this is just a bus trip to do some shopping. A holiday would be so far out of the question I couldn’t even think of it. It’s  a sad bit of truth, but it’s my life. I didn’t choose to be like this and thus I can only live as much as I can within my limitations. I admit I almost went on the defensive in this ramble, attacking the questioners, but why bother? Believe  it or not. The good will accept and understand as best they can., the others will, well, bite me. Okay, recipe time.

 photo WP_20160605_004_e_zps14ngu7fq.jpgIt’s so green! A nice green, not sno…erm…*Flees*

Now what can you do with basil? Why make pesto! Which I also did.I used Brazil nut for a change. They’re really delicious roasted. I had to use nine grams of parsley to bulk it up, but that’s why it’s handy to have a lot of parsley growing. It doesn’t seem to flower when left there. Then again, all pesto and nothing new makes Jack a dull boy, no comments about my already apparent dullness, snarky reader. So I looked up a lot of recipes and found this a straightforward recipe, that uses a lot of basil. I cut this down to a quarter and it still used a wealth of basil. (I keep calling it pesto like my nephew, he loves my pesto and asked me to grow “pesto” for him) The rest is fairly basic and it does seem like it might jar, it is eclectic,  but the end result worked really well. You can really taste every element while they also work in harmony with one another. It’s a little on the light side, I had no vegetables at hand that I could add in. The original uses carrot, but I’d have liked sweet potato. Maybe next time. One warning: Don’t use too much oil, I had to to fry the chicken, but when you add a lot to coconut milk it remains separate and is unpleasant. Also: Don’t boil it, the coconut milk may split and, again, unpleasant. I just used a blender to mix it all up, I rinsed it out with a dash of water, waste not want not profligate reader, and tossed that in too. So, if you can get, or do have this much basil to hand, or foot, I won’t judge, then maybe you’ll give this a try. I enjoyed it and if I end up with way too much basil, no such thing, then I may come back. I’m still searching for new recipes to use these herbs, still in the garden, too often these days, but the sun is unforgiving and plants need their nurture. I almost lost my sunflowers, thankfully they’re okay. So you’ll see me when you see me. I’ve also been notified that I’ve reached 100 followers and 1337 (Really? How old are we, WordPress?) likes. Um, wow, thank you everyone. This really means the world to me. I’m just one person doing my own thing, that it resonates with others on this scale is tremendous. Please stick with me, we’ve got a long way to go still. Until later, take care.

 photo WP_20160605_005_e_zps3kiwskrc.jpgThe coconut milk makes it surprisingly creamy.

Ingredients

2 Chicken Breasts, Cubed
160ml Coconut Milk
25g Fresh Basil
1/2 Tbsp Fresh Ginger, Grated
2 Cloves Garlic
1 Lime

Spice Blend

1/4 Tsp Turmeric
1/4 Tsp Cumin
1/4 Tsp Garlic Powder
1/8 Tsp Sea Salt
1/8 Tsp Cinnamon

Method

1. In a bowl mix together Spices and Juice from half the Lime. Add Chicken and stir until completely coated. Place in fridge and marinade for an hour.

3. Blitz together Basil, Coconut Milk, Garlic and Ginger and the rest of the Lime Juice.

4. Heat 1 Tbsp Olive Oil in a non-stick pan on a medium heat. Add Chicken and cook until cooked through, about 15 minutes.

5. Add Sauce and let warm up (Don’t boil!). Stir everything together. It should take around 10 minutes to thicken and reduce. Adjust cooking time to preference.

 photo WP_20160605_007_e_zpscuqyyafn.jpgBonus: Basil (With a bit of parsley) and Brazil Nut Pesto. I got less than usual, but I did cut down the garlic cloves.

Teas

Turmeric and Ginger Tea (Single Serving) (From: Here)

Ingredients

240ml Water
1/4 Tsp Ground Turmeric
1/4 Tsp Ground Ginger
Milk and Honey to Taste

Method

1. Bring Water to the boil in a small saucepan, then add Turmeric and Ginger and stir to combine. Reduce to a simmer and boil for ten minutes.

2. Add Honey to a cup and strain tea using a fine mesh sieve, add Milk and stir to combine everything.


Cold Brewed Tea/Coffee (Single Serving)

Ingredients

1 Teabag (Or equivalent in loose Tea) per 250ml Water or 2 Dessert Spoons Ground Coffee

1. Place Teabags and Water in a jar and close the lid. Place in the fridge and leave for 12 hours. (Strain with Cheesecloth if using Ground Coffee)


Chai Tea Latte (Single Serving)

Ingredients

240ml Low Fat Milk or 120ml Full Fat Milk and 120ml Water
1 Tsp Black Tea or Rooibos Tea
1/2 Tbsp Sugar or to Taste
1/2 Tsp Chai Masala

Method

1. Add everything to a pot and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let cook for 5 minutes.

2. Strain using a fine mesh sieve into a cup and top with Frothed Milk if desired.


Basil Tea (Single Serving) (From: How to Brew Fresh Basil Tea)

Ingredients

240ml Boiling Water
2 Tbsp Fresh Basil, Chopped (More for a Stronger Tea)
Honey or Sugar if Desired

Method

1. Add Water and Basil to Teapot or Cup and let sit for 7-10 minutes.

2. When time is up, strain Tea into cup and add Sweeteners if using.

Sweet Basil Chicken Curry

Going Nightshade free isn’t the end of curries, it just makes it a lot harder. Not impossible though.

Ingredients

160ml Coconut Milk
1 Chicken Breast
1/2 Yellow Onion, Chopped Fine
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Tsp Ground Almonds or 1 Tbsp Almond Butter
4 Fresh Basil Leaves, Cut into Strips
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/3 Chicken Stock Cube dissolved in 20ml Hot Water
1 Tsp Curry Powder
1/8 Tsp Ground Allspice
Pinch Ground Nutmeg
Salt and Black Pepper to Taste

Method

1. Heat Olive Oil in a pan and when hot add Onion and Garlic, mix and cover. Let cook for 5-10 minutes, on a medium heat, or until soft.

2. Add Curry Powder, Allspice, Salt, Black Pepper and Nutmeg and stir together, then add Chicken, stir and cook for 5 minutes.

3. Add Coconut Milk, Chicken Stock and Ground Almonds and stir, bring to boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 20 minutes. When 10 minutes remain add the Basil and cook covered for the remaining time.

Smoothies

Smoothies: Just blend together unless otherwise stated.

Strawberry Mizuna (Adapted slightly from: Annluann)

1/2 Cup Packed Mizuna Leaves
100ml Water, More as Needed
85g (About 2) Frozen Strawberries
1 Small Frozen Banana

Cilantro (Adapted slightly from: Cilantro Smoothie)

240ml Water
1 Banana, Fresh or Frozen
1/2 Cup Cilantro
Juice of 1/2 Lime
1/2 Tbsp Coconut Oil
Honey/Maple Syrup to Sweeten
Pinch of Sea Salt

Optional:

1/2 Cup Mango, Chopped
1-2 Tbsp Hemp Seed


Banana Cream Pie Small Serving (Tweaked From: Healthy Banana Cream Pie Smoothie)

1 Large Banana, Frozen
50g Greek Yoghurt
125ml Water/Almond Milk (Less if a thicker Smoothie is desired)
1 Tbsp Honey
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
1/4 Tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/8 Tsp Nutmeg


Broccoli

75g Blanched Broccoli, Fresh or Frozen
150ml Water or Milk (Optional: Add 1 Tbsp Hemp if using Water)
1 Banana
Dash Maple Syrup


Spiced Butternut Squash

100g Butternut Squash
1 Banana, Frozen or Fresh
120ml Water (Optional: With 1 Tbsp Hempseed or replace with other Milk)
1/8 Tsp Cinnamon
1 Tbsp Maple Syrup
Dash: Ginger, Nutmeg, Allspice, Cloves and Vanilla Extract


Sweet Potato

75g Sweet Potato
1 Banana, Frozen or Fresh
120ml Water
1 Tbsp Natural Peanut Butter
Dash Maple Syrup
Pinch of Cinnamon


Frozen Banana and Blueberry

1 Banana, Chopped and Frozen
50g/1/2 Cup Frozen Blueberries
200ml of Milk, More if Needed
2 Tbsp Maple Syrup
Optional: Add 5 Large Basil Leaves


Kale and Banana Smoothie

1 Ripe Banana
120ml Water
40g Kale
1 Tbsp Maple Syrup


Chocolate Avocado

15g Flaxseed/Chia Seed (Stir in after blending)
1 Ripe Banana
125g Plain Yoghurt
100ml Milk
1 Cold, Ripe Avocado
2 Tbsp Sweet Freedom or Sugar
2 Tbsp Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder

Brown Butter Sauce

Buckwheat and Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Pecan Brown Butter Sauce

Ingredients

2 Tbsp Butter

Method

1. Heat Pan over medium heat until hot. Add the Butter which will start to sizzle and foam.

2. Once the water evaporates the Butter will start to brown, turn the heat to low and keep whisking continuously.

3. If adding additional flavours now is the time to do so.

4. Keep whisking. The Butter will continue to brown over the next few minutes, a sweet Caramel smell should be noticed. Once the Butter has reached a gold brown it is done, if it starts to get too dark remove from the heat.

5. Either add Sauce to Pasta or add Pasta to Sauce.

Variations:

Basil and Garlic: Measure out 1/4 Cup of Fresh Basil Leaves and finely chop, also grate 1 Clove of Garlic and set aside. Cook Butter as normal and then add Garlic and cook for a minute. Remove sauce from heat and mix in Fresh Basil and a pinch of Sea Salt. Serve as normal.

Pecan: 2 Tbsp Chopped Pecans, 1/4 Tsp Dried Thyme or 1 Tsp Fresh (Add Fresh at the End) and Salt and Pepper to Taste.

Basil, Lime Chicken Curry

Ingredients

1 Chicken Breast
160ml Coconut Milk
1/2 Yellow Onion, Chopped Fine
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 Tbsp Fresh Ginger, Grated
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/4 Tsp Turmeric
1/4 Tsp Black Pepper
1/4 Tsp Sea Salt
1/4 Tsp Cumin
1/4 Tsp Ground Coriander
1/8 Tsp Ground Cardamom
1/8 Tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/8 Tsp Ground Cloves

To Serve

5 Fresh Basil Leaves, Torn
1/2 Tbsp Lime Juice

Method

1. Heat Olive Oil in a pot and when hot add Onion, Ginger and Garlic, mix and cover. Let cook for 5-10 minutes, on a medium heat, or until soft.

2. Add Spices and stir together, then add Chicken, stir and cook for 5 minutes.

3. Add Coconut Milk and stir, bring to boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for 20 minutes, bring to a boil for the final 5 minutes to thicken Sauce. Add Lime Juice and Basil just before serving.