The Secret Life of Basil: Forlorn Love, Holy Water, and Scorpions?

The Secret Life of Basil: Forlorn Love, Holy Water, and Scorpions?

Basil: We love it. It’s become a household staple and a beloved friend. It tastes great and enhances everything. No wonder the word “basil” comes from the Greek word for “King.” But, when you stop to think, how much do you really know about that Basil sitting on your windowsill? This “King of the Kitchen” has a fascinating secret past, and surprising origins! Learning the facts will give you some mind-tingling trivia to use at the dinner table, and just might put a smile on your face next time you make your grandma’s marinara recipe.

Basil Basics

What do Basil, Mint, Rosemary, and Sage have in common? Hold onto your chair! They’re all related. Is your mind blown?

These plant-cousins seem vastly different in looks and tastes, but they are all part of the Lamiaceae plant family, which has about 3,500 species! In fact, the genus we know as Basil (ocimum basilicum) has 150 varieties.

That classic variety you’re probably thinking of right now is Basil ‘Genovese,’ aka: Sweet Basil. But, there are plenty other types of this royal herb that deserve attention. Tulsi, or Holy Green Basil, is revered for its religious significance and health benefits. Then, of course, there’s the dark and glossy Basil ‘Amethyst,’ and the ‘Thai Siam Queen,’ who graces us with her sweet licorice twist. And that’s just to name a few!

Care

The good news is, all of these Basil plants require the same type of care. So, if you want to experiment this growing season and try out a new variety, don’t despair! Just follow these basic care tips:

  • Soil: Select a nutrient rich, well-draining soil.
  • Water: Basil hates soggy roots. The soil should be kept slightly damp, rewatering before it has dried out in its entirety. If you’ve opted for container gardening, check your soil an inch or two down with a chopstick or your finger. If you used a traditional potting mix instead of the recommended well-draining soil, water less frequently. Tip: The best time to water is in the mornings or evenings. This will help prevent the foliage from getting sunburned from the harsh afternoon sun!
  • Light: These herbs love the morning and early afternoon sun. They require 6-8 hours of natural light per day.

If you are growing your Basil indoors, they still have the same natural light requirement. Put them near your sunniest window, and supplement with a grow light. If you opt to use a grow light-only, Basil requires 10 hours of artificial light.

  • Harvesting: You should do this frequently to encourage your Basil to become a mighty bush! Check the stem and locate an area where two pairs of leaves are growing; cut the stem just above. This means the two stems will continue to grow, amplifying your plant’s productivity.

Fast fact: If harvested properly, twelve Basil plants can yield 4-6 cups of leaves per week! Having trouble using that much basil? You can always freeze it. Simply pulse the washed leaves in your food processor with some olive oil (to prevent the leaves from turning black in the freezer) and put it in an ice cube tray. Viola! Fresh Basil whenever you need it.

The Origins of Basil

When you hear “Basil,” what country comes to mind? Italy, no doubt! And for a good reason: Pesto, Pasta Sauce, and Caprese Salad are some of our favorite Basil-forward dishes. The cruel irony, however, is that Italy’s favorite herb is not a native of the Mediterranean.

Basil was a transplant during the spice trade from India and Asia. No one is entirely sure who gets dibs on its origin. The first historical record of Sweet Basil was in 807 AD in the region of Hunan, China. However, Basil’s roots run deep in India, where Hindus revere it and use it in the ancient worship of the god Vishnu.

The confusion about the exact origins of Basil is a testament to its hardiness! Wherever this plant goes, it can grow and propagate. This also highlights the rich history of container gardening, which aided in Basil’s transport.

Historical Significance

People in ancient times were fascinated by our favorite herb. Basil became an integral part of religious traditions and the topic of some intriguing folklore. Perhaps funniest of all: Many of the concepts are in stark contrast to each other. So, will we never know all of the secrets Basil has to hold? Read on and draw your own conclusion!

Basil is a central part of Hinduism. Holy Green Basil is offered to Vishnu, when worshipping her, making it a common feature in Indian gardens. During the British occupation, Indian citizens were permitted to swear on Basil rather than the Bible when in court, highlighting just how esteemed this herb is in Hindu culture!

The religious significance of Basil transcends belief-systems, as the Greek Orthodox Church uses the same type of Basil to prepare their holy water.

Jewish tradition says that Basil can give you strength when fasting. While Italians say that Basil helps you have a restful “abbiocco” (after-lunch nap).

Many cultures also revered Basil as a way to gain favorable passage into the afterlife. Ancient Egyptians used it in their mummifying procedures. Other cultures would place the herb in the hand or mouth of the deceased.

John Keats famously wrote a tragic love-poem surrounding Basil Folklore, entitled “Isabella, or the Pot of Basil.” While we will save you from some of the grisly details (this story makes Romeo and Juliet sound like a kid’s cartoon): A forlorn girl uses a pot of Basil to preserve her dead beau, only to “die forlorn, imploring for her Basil to the last” after her brothers steal her beloved herb. (Don’t get this attached to your container garden, please!)

Meanwhile, in Africa, Basil was used to ward off scorpions. While in European cultures, just one whiff of Basil could apparently infest your brain with them!

Italians saw Basil as a signal of love. Portugal too, uses Basil as a gift to your sweetheart during certain religious holidays. While ancient Rome and Greece felt that Basil symbolized hatred, abuse, poverty, and misfortune.

 

Who would’ve thought that we had such a world-traveler on our hands! Next time you pick up some fresh Basil, take a couple of seconds to reflect on how far this ‘King of the Kitchen’ has come. (But smell it at your own risk!)

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It’s Beginning To Feel A Lot Like Christmas

It’s Beginning To Feel A Lot Like Christmas

Shop Parsley Plants

Although we’ve really enjoyed the 50-60, even 70 degree weather this fall, it’s a little weird to be wearing shorts in Virginia in December. Last night was one of the first real reminders of what we’re in for this winter, a hard frost. Though scraping your windshields in the morning can be quite a pain, the delicate, cold crystals really made our herb test garden glitter this morning. So, goodbye short sleeves and screen doors, we’ll pack you away until mid March. Hello, long johns and indoor herb gardening! 

Savory Beef Stew Recipe

With these cold winter nights there is nothing better than to light a fire, open a bottle of a nice deep, dark red wine, slice up a warm loaf of crusty bread and dip into a hearty bowl of Savory Beef Stew. Here’s one we suggest!

Beef:  Make sure you are getting a cut that is ‘made’ for stews. 1 to 1 ½ pounds should do it.

Leeks:  I like to use leeks instead of onions, but either one is fine.  Leeks just have a subtler flavor.  1 leek or onion, chopped.  

Carrots: 1 cup of chopped carrots

Garlic: 2 – 3 cloves chopped fine

Mushrooms:  1 cup of coarsely chopped Baby Bella or Shitake 

Potatoes:  I’m sort of moving away from potatoes these days, and a big fan of Sweet Potatoes. Or I suggest using Yukon Golds.  A cup of cubed Tomatoes?  Depends on your taste.  Sometimes I’ll add, and sometimes I won’t.  In any event, use a 15 oz can of GREAT quality chopped tomatoes.  Better yet, use your own!  These should be added when you pour in the broth.

Broth:  You can use beef, mushroom or vegetable broth.  I usually use mushroom broth and one container will do.  If you need more liquid, add a bit of water.

I do like salt and pepper, but that really is ‘to taste’.  I’ve been using red peppercorns lately and really happy with the result. You can toss just about anything else into this stew, but I like to keep it clean and simple.  That way, the flavors of the herbs really stand out.  

Don’t Forget To Add Herbs!

Herbs:  honestly, almost any savory herb works in this stew.  I’ve got a lot of dried concoctions from my fall harvest, and I’ll toss in my Herbs de Provence and add extra Bay and Thyme.  Marjoram works … oregano.  It’s really up to you and your palate but don’t be shy!

    Cooking Instructions

    Olive oil in the bottom of the pan heated to medium low and toss in the meat.  A lot of recipes call for the meat to be tossed in flour, but that seems to ‘gum up the works’.  Just allow the meat to brown slowly.  Stir around a bit.  Once the pieces are nice and brown, toss in the garlic, leeks and carrots and potatoes and let them cook SLOWLY – low heat and a lot of stirring and patience.  When they are nice, soft and aromatic, toss in the herbs.  Ok, if you need measurements, let’s say a tablespoon of that and a tablespoon of this and then keep it on low heat and allow all those flavors to infuse.  Slow and steady.  Then pop in the mushrooms and cover the whole batch with the broth.  At this point, it’s time to let this baby simmer.  You’ll need to check from time to time, and cover and uncover.  There will come a point where you are getting close to the finish line.  Take a spoon and let the stew cool a bit.  Taste and then decide on the salt and pepper.  It’s at this point that I may decide on an additional ‘punch’ – maybe a bit of Worcestershire Sauce!

    After 2 hours, check the beef.  If it’s easy to shred, you are near the finish line.  Make sure that the broth has a nice, herbal infusion and it’s salted and peppered to your taste.  I usually let it sit, unheated, for a bit and then slowly heat back up right before serving.  Enjoy!

    A Time to Plant, Fall Herb Gardening

    A Time to Plant, Fall Herb Gardening

    Spring: The Fickle Season

    Ah, Spring ~ the fickle season. Bringing us out on a lovely day then slapping us back inside with an unexpected snowstorm. “Cover the__” – {you can fill in the blank!} And on the other side of spring, another lovely day followed by a scorcher  “Water the __” {and fill in the blank!}

    Spring is such a frenzied time for a gardener, and so many of us, tired of the dreary winter, tend to jump the gun and live to regret it. Yes, even veteran gardeners give into emotion when we see all of those bright annuals luring us into the garden center in March. What we don’t see, however, is their weary staff trying to hustle carts back into the greenhouses in the evening after a snap frost has been forecasted. Or, planting early when the soil is still cold, being frustrated by no growth.

    Fall: The Stable Season

    Let’s talk about the less emotional side of autumn. If Spring is a drama queen, then Fall is the more stable sister season; less intense in terms of mood swings. We glide into cooler days, cooler air temperatures are easier of plants, the soil remains warm and allows roots to grow longer than the spring, up until a freeze. Plants can devote their energy to growing tough, strong and healthy root systems. Harvesting herbs in the fall is a joy. The sun is less intense in the fall, and not only is that better on the plants, what about the gardener?

    Pre-Order Fall Plants

    These plants ship in the Fall, pre-order today as plants will not last! 

    Fall Planting Is For The Grower Too

    Right now, in mid-summer in Zone 7A, I find myself gardening in the very early morning and harvesting late, almost dusk. It’s hot and humid in my garden, and I’m at war with all of the pests and diseases and weeds that are just waiting to invade. Honestly, gardening in July is a challenge.

    In autumn, your biggest challenge is keeping those pesky falling leaves at bay with a leaf blower, but one the biggest advantages is the lack of insects. Give me the cool and pest free days of autumn. Sure, there are mosquitos and a few other challenges, but I’m much better equipped to deal with them in autumn. Right now, they just make me cranky!

    As we begin growing our Fall Crop, over 150 different herb plants, we turn our attention to helping our customers understand the value of growing in autumn.  

    Many culinary herbs grow best in the fall season. Take some time to review the plants we offer, think about your own wants and needs in both fall and spring … and summer, and realize that planting these herbs in the fall not only gives them the best start, but it provides you with both a fall and spring/summer crop as well as gives you the opportunity to garden at what we think is the BEST time of year! 

    The Beauty of Fall

    Following the progression of the seasons and anchoring us to nature’s rhythm, even if we can only follow a few moments a day.  But those few minutes are enough to relax our thoughts, lower our blood pressure and give us a restart; recharging us to take on the day! We at The Growers Exchange believe everyone should have their own little garden spot, no matter how big or small. Whether you have ten acres or ten inches, we know how important gardening can be. Your outdoor plot or indoor pot can sometimes be the only oasis in a busy day of fast paced living. We applaud your green thumb, and  if you have one, we have an interesting assortment of plants, we can help beginners, and as always, we send healthy, well rooted plants. Our success depends on your garden success; we want to help you grow!

    Growing Your Own Superfood: Turmeric Plants

    Growing Your Own Superfood: Turmeric Plants

    You may or may not have heard of turmeric before, or only know about it as a dried spice. However, like many herbs, fresh turmeric is leaps and bounds above it’s dried counterpart. Have you ever dined on Indian food, or perhaps a yellow/orange Thai curry? If you have, chances are you’ve eaten turmeric (Curcuma longa). It is a tropical rhizomatous herbaceous perennial in the ginger family, also related to cardamom.

    The bright hues of the fleshy rhizomes contain a chemical compound called curcumin, which also provides many various potential health benefits. Often considered a superfood, turmeric is a staple of Ayurvedic medicine, which dates back thousands of years. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH) considers turmeric generally safe to eat and apply to the skin. And with most anything, moderation is key. High doses may cause gastrointestinal upset.  (more…)

    The Benefits of Growing Your Own Ginger Plants

    The Benefits of Growing Your Own Ginger Plants

    Many people may recognize ginger root in the store, or the powdered ginger spice in a bottle, and yet wouldn’t be able to identify a ginger plant. This exotic plant (Zingiber officinale) grows best in fertile, moist well-draining soil with warm temperatures. The stout, yellow rhizomes (ginger root) can be due in late summer to early fall. Ginger is a beautiful plant that can grow about 3 feet tall, with purple and pale yellow flowers that arise on separate shoots directly from the rhizome. Turmeric is a close relative of ginger. (more…)

    White Sage is a Winner With Us! – How to Make a Cleansing Stick

    White Sage is a Winner With Us! – How to Make a Cleansing Stick

    What is a White Sage Cleansing Stick?

    Have you ever seen someone burn a rustic-looking bundle of dried herbs to cleanse their new home or work space? Well, that herb was most likely white sage. Though some people may find this practice a little odd, burning sacred herbs as a safeguard against evil or negative energy actually dates centuries back, to Ancient Babylonian practices. In most recent history, Native Americans continued this ritual throughout North and South America, and burnt this culturally-sacred herb to ward off negative energy and rid their homes and temples of bad spirits. The botanical word for sage, ‘Salvia’, actually comes from the Latin words, meaning “to heal”, and its medicinal properties as well as its natural ability to repel insects (like ladybugs), is probably at the root of its mystical history. (more…)