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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Tips For Growing Herb Plants Indoors

Tips For Growing Herb Plants Indoors

LIGHT:

Light is the most crucial element for their success ~ even direct light is a challenge in the winter when intensity is reduced.  Your herbs will need at least 6 to 8 hours of indirect sun a day (for the most light needy herbs, the ones that say ‘bright light’ or ‘full sun’).  There are those that recommend acclimating your plants to lower light by gradually adjusting them to lower light conditions.  Great idea, but ‘ain’t going to happen’ in my case.  My space gets morning and afternoon sun, so I am lucky in that we are talking 8 hours per day.  You can use grow lights, but since I have no experience with them, a Google search is advised.  You are going to see a few changes in the plants due to this decrease in light:  your herbs may drop a few leaves.  The plant is actually shedding its more inefficient leaves by producing more efficient leaves higher up, closer to the light source.  The plant may get a big leggier as it reaches for the light.  I recommend that you turn the plant periodically so that it receives light on all sides;   you’ll know it is time as the plant will ‘lean toward the light’.

WATER:

‘Not too much, not too little, just right’.  That is hard when they come indoors.  The really trick is to find that balance.  In general, begin to water LESS often and MORE thoroughly.  Make sure that the soil is dry to the touch before watering, and when you water, make sure that the water runs out of the pot.  Drainage is key, so make sure that you use a well-draining pot.  My favorite pots are your run of the mill, red clay pot.  If you plants are small, a 6” pot will be perfect.  And, make sure that you are using a quality potting soil.  Not making a ‘plug’ for one soil over another, but Miracle Grow makes a good indoor mix that we’ve used for a few years.

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FOOD:

Although we aren’t big promoters of fertilizer ‘in the field’, we do recommend a nice supplementary feeding when your plants are confined to a pot, growing indoors.  Again, just our recommendation ~ a top quality fish emulsion every 2 weeks when the plants are in their ‘grow phase’.  Stinky but effective!

PESTS AND DISEASES:

No one wants to think that they are harboring these ‘nasties’ but you’ll never know what can be lurking inside.  Actually, some of these pests may just piggyback on your plants as they come home to roost.  Bottom line:  be vigilant.  I used to wait to act, but now I’m encouraging everyone to ‘be proactive, not reactive’.  Herbs are more susceptible to common pests when growing indoors, so keep your eyes open for whiteflies, spider mites, aphids, mealy bugs and the WORST of all – scale insects!  I’ve begun a routine of regular spraying with an insecticidal soap.  If it works in the greenhouse, it should work on my sun porch.  There are a number of safe and effective products out there, so take a look.

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ACCEPTING THE INDOOR CHALLENGE:

I’ll be the first to admit it:  growing herbs indoors is not as easy as growing them outdoors.  But, rest assured, it can be done.  Since I have a lot of greenhouse space, plenty of light and water and 24/7 attention, I never felt the need to grow them indoors, at home.  But, over the years, as your questions about indoor growing became more numerous and specific, I began to grow more and more of them in our bright little ‘life of it’ room (named by my then 6 year old son, who on a cold wintery day, proclaimed that our warm sunny haven was ‘the life of it’) – not sure where that came from, but it stuck.  Twenty -three years later, it’s still bright and sunny and filled with herbs ferns, gardenias and a lot of citrus trees and bushes.

Our room is glass, on three sides, and has an east, south and west exposure;  basically we have a lot of light all day.  We have an old fashioned radiator backed up by a small baseboard electric heater.  I am always out there, watering, cleaning, trimming and keeping a sharp eye out for any potential pests.  So, the basics: lightheatwater and lots of attention.  I do a weekly spraying with a ‘safe’ pesticide made from … herbs!

The second vital component is knowing which herbs do best indoors.  We try to be specific on our site, and try to provide information on why some herbs do well indoors and why others should not be grown indoors.  Do yourself a favor and take our advice.  

Start small and try to pick three or four of your favorites – the ones you will use.  I’d suggest mintparsleyoregano and thyme.  Rosemary and lavender are a bit trickier but they can be successfully grown indoors remembering that lavenders must dry out well between waterings.  A note of cautions – make sure that you don’t crowd out your plants, as good air flow between plants is a must.

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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!

Help Save the Monarch Butterfly with Asclepias Tuberosa, Butterfly Milkweed

Help Save the Monarch Butterfly with Asclepias Tuberosa, Butterfly Milkweed

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias Tuberosa) is a native plant that creates a wonder area of your garden for monarch butterflies. The Growers Exchange wants to encourage our gardening friends to set aside a sunny space in their gardens to help these majestic butterflies thrive and slow the decline of their population. Monarch’s exist because of milkweed plants.

The bad news: there can be no question that natural habitats, areas where monarch butterflies live, are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Habitat destruction, defined as changing an area in which a plant, animal or other organism lives to the point where that species can no longer survive. The destruction is generally described as either actual destruction, degradation or fragmentation. In the case of the Monarch butterfly, the major threat to their survival is the loss of milkweed habitat, which is an essential plant in their life cycle. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the counts of Monarch butterflies are trending down sharply, and their migration is now under threat.

The monarch butterfly population has declined over 80% in the last 20 years.

The good news: restoration of habitat can be achieved with very little effort on the part of concerned gardeners. You can easily offset this loss of a critical host plant in your own yard by planting milkweed, the vital host plant for Monarch butterflies. (more…)

An Overview on Using Herbal & Essential Oils for Your Skin: How They Work and Which Ones Work Best

An Overview on Using Herbal & Essential Oils for Your Skin: How They Work and Which Ones Work Best

Herbal & essential oils have become an increasingly popular way to treat a variety of ailments. They have potential uses for everything from improving a person’s mood to helping someone feel more relaxed and fall asleep more easily. Some essential oils even relieve the symptoms of pain and inflammation, heal irritations on the skin, and boost the immune system.(1) People choose to use essential oils in a variety of ways, such as aromatherapy, and topical application (through the skin) is one of the most natural and most common methods.

Topical Application of Herbal & Essential Oils

Topical essential oils are typically either applied directly to the skin (known as “neat” or “undiluted”) or via a carrier, such as a lotion or another type of oil. To realize how essential oils penetrate the skin, you must understand the anatomy of the skin. All skin has four layers, which are comprised of the stratums corneum, granulosum, spinosum and Basale. The palms of the hands and soles of the feet also contain a fifth layer of skin known as the stratum lucidum. (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…)