March 13, 2018 9:22 am Leave your thoughts
Basil: it’s a food. It’s a medicine. It’s a religion. It’s not just for the top of your pizzas! With a culinary heritage reaching back as far as ancient times, it’s still one of the most popular and revered herbs in our kitchens today.
Basil (ocimum basilicum) is a member of the large mint (lamiaceae) family – and we eat bushloads of it in this country. It’s what gives pesto its distinctive flavour and colour, and tomato sauces and salads their fresh brightness. It goes surprisingly well with strawberries and black pepper, while people love to stick it in tea, cocktails and ice-cream too.
And it’s revered for more than its taste. Ancient Egyptians used it as an embalming herb, while traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine incorporated it into its healing processes. You’ll find it included in many holistic remedies today, cited for its ability to soothe stomachs, treat acne and generally give our bodies a boost, thanks to its antioxidant, antimicrobial and antiviral properties. In the Greek orthodox tradition, it’s associated with various feast days, sprinkled on holy water and used to decorate crucifixes. If you step into a church in a remote region of Greece, you might well find armfuls of this fragrant herb inside.
This week, to celebrate the arrival of spring, we’re slipping a packet of basil seeds into every order – a little gift from us!
We’ve chosen basil because it’s particularly easy to grow indoors. While it’s still too cold to start gardening properly, indoor growing lets you satisfy those springtime cravings for freshness and the taste of the sun (without having to pull your muddy boots on). Basil grows quickly, too: from seed, on a sunny windowsill, it should be ready to eat in three to four weeks.
How to grow your basil seeds
Here’s how to do it!
You’ll need to get hold of some ‘starter pots’ for growing seeds. These are the black, multi-pot containers, with drainage holes in the bottom, available in every garden centre and supermarket. If you prefer, you can make your own starter pots, from old yoghurt containers or similar (just remember to add drainage holes).
Tip some soil into the pots, almost up to the top, and dampen until it’s nice and moist.
Plant a few of the seeds in each pot and cover them with soil (about a centimetre or so deep). Spray or sprinkle the pots lightly with water.
The best way to encourage growth at this point is to make a little ‘mini-indoor-greenhouse’. You may already possess a seed-growing dome, in which case, put that over the top of the pots. If not, use a large Tupperware or other plastic container. The idea is that the moisture will be contained within the ‘dome’, so that you don’t need to water again until the seeds start to sprout.
Place the mini-greenhouse in a warm location, in the light (rather than, say, in your airing cupboard) and leave alone for a few days. The seeds should start to sprout in about three to five days. As soon as you see the first sprout appear, remove the dome.
It’s a good idea at this point to increase the light that reaches the sprouts: hopefully, we’ll have lots of spring sunshine by this point, so make sure you’ve chosen the sunniest place in the house for the plants (you can of course move them from one windowsill to another, following the sun over the course of the day). If you have a special ‘grow lamp’, angle that towards the seeds too. If not, you might find that an ordinary desk lamp shining on the sprouts works well enough.
You’ll also need to water the sprouts. Watering about twice a week is a good rule of thumb, though if you see the top of the soil looking dry in between times, water a little more. But don’t simply pour water onto the top of the soil! The sprouts take in water through their roots, so the best plan is to place the seed pots in a saucer or bowl of water. Wait until the water has been absorbed up to the top of the soil, then remove the saucer.
Having replicated sunshine and rain indoors, it’s also a good idea to provide your growing plants with a gentle breeze. Wind helps to strengthen the plants and keep them free from mould. You can use a fan to produce a breeze, or can simply brush or blow the seedlings from time to time.
As your plants grow, for best results, you need to prune them. The first sprouting leaves will drop off of their own accord and ‘true leaves’ will then grow through. Once you’ve got three sets of true leaves, snip off the top set – and eat them! When the bottom set have grown about four inches, repeat this process – and keep on doing so.
To keep your growing plant healthy, it also needs a regular change of home. Once you’ve got the true leaves, transplant to a larger pot. When you see roots coming out of the drainage holes of that pot, move again.
For full information, with lots of helpful pictures, see this website: http://howtoculinaryherbgarden.com/grow-basil-from-seed-indoors/.
You can eat your ‘true’ basil leaves whenever you want – you don’t need to wait for the plant to reach a certain height. Remember that the leaves always taste better fresh, or if cooked, should be added at the last minute, to retain their full flavour. If you’ve got a bit of a glut, don’t forget that you can freeze the leaves too.
We’re big fans of basil! Here’s a link to ten super basil recipes: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jul/05/basil-recipes-10-best.basil seeds, herbs, indoor growing, sprouting
This post was written by Yzanne