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Nothing compares to the aroma of fresh basil, finely chopped on a wooden cutting board. There's something in that fragrance that screams authenticity.
Whether you're sprucing up a salad, making pesto or garnishing a bowl of tomato soup, basil is a vital ingredient in fresh, organic cooking.
Here are five basic basil facts that any basil fanatic should know along with fantastic recipes to help inspire the chef inside you.
1. Basil Has Traveled the Globe
Basil is thought to have originated in Africa, but it was likely brought to Europe by Alexander the Great around the 4th century BCE. The fragrant herb also rapidly spread east through Asia, though it didn't make its way to the New World until the 1600s.
There are now over 60 varieties of basil grown all over the world, and the herb is important to the native cuisines of Italy, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
Get your culinary passport stamped with this vegetarian recipe for Sriracha Tofu with Eggplant and Basil.
2. Fresh Basil Prefers Room Temperatures
Basil grows in warm, humid environments. Even after it’s harvested, fresh basil prefers these conditions.
While some herbs, like parsley and cilantro, can be stored in the fridge, basil should be kept on your countertop with the stems in a small glass of water. Covering the plant and the jar with a plastic bag, keeps in the humidity and helps the leaves stay healthier even longer.
3. You Don’t Have To Use Dried Basil…Ever
If you’re not able to use all of your fresh basil within a week, you have a few options. A lot of people’s first instinct is to dry their herbs, but basil’s distinctive scent and flavor comes from the high concentration of essential oils methyl chavicol and eugenol in its leaves. Dried basil is often significantly less flavorful than fresh basil because the essential oils are lost to evaporation.
Instead, try freezing the leaves in oil or preserving them in salt. The process is really simple. See these instructions for 10 Easy Ways to Preserve Herbs.
4. Organic Basil is Better for You
Basil plants have very tender leaves. If you’re planning on cooking with or eating these leaves, it makes sense to keep them free of synthetic pesticides and herbicides that can leave harmful residues.
Buying organic produce is one of the best ways to make sure your basil is grown far away from potentially dangerous chemicals.
And this recipe for Arugula Caprese Salad with Kale Pesto is one of the most refreshing ways to enjoy your farm-fresh organic produce.
5. Basil Both Repels and Attracts Pests
Basil naturally repels some insects, like flies and mosquitoes, and is often used in natural insect repellents. Unfortunately, the supple plant is also subject to a variety of pests including Japanese beetles, aphids and the fungal disease, Fusarium wilt.
This makes growing basil outdoors on a commercial scale very difficult with organic methods. Fortunately, Doug Coldwell at Happy Valley Organics has built an incredible collection of solar-powered greenhouses on his farm in central Massachusetts where he grows basil and other fragile herbs.
In his greenhouses, Doug is able to create the ideal growing environment for his herbs while protecting the delicate plants from pests and disease without relying on synthetic chemicals. He has to be very careful, however, because one infection could spread rapidly and ruin his entire crop.
We’re so happy Doug is part of our network of New England organic farmers because we get to enjoy farm-fresh organic basil almost all year round!
Who said basil was just a summer herb? If you have access to greenhouse-grown local organic basil, there’s no reason why you can’t make Risotto with Winter Squash, Leeks and Basil in January.