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Basil

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Preview of Basil

Available

July 15 - October 1

Harvest Period

July 15 - September 15

Basil has long been revered and has even been the stuff of legends. In ancient Rome, the name for the herb, basilescus, referred to Basilisk, the fire-breathing dragon. The Greeks also had great respect for basil, and their word, basilikohn, meant royal or kingly. In Romania, basil took a more romantic turn. There, when a lad accepted a sprig of basil from a maiden, he was officially engaged. In India, basil was cherished as an icon of hospitality, while in Italy it was a symbol of love.

What to Look For

The leaves of fresh basil should look vibrant and be deep green in color. They should be free from dark spots or yellowing.

Cleaning and Preparation

Basil needs only to be rinsed and the leaves removed from the stems.

Storage

Fresh basil should be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. It may also be frozen, either whole or chopped, in airtight containers. Since basil is an abundant producer, you can freeze it in ice cube trays covered with either water or stock that can later be popped into soups or stews. Dried basil should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for about six months.

Nutritional Information

Research studies on basil have shown unique health-protecting effects from flavenoids and volatile oils that appear to protect cell structure and chromosomes from radiation and oxygen-based damage.

In addition, basil is a very good source of vitamins K and A, magnesium, iron, and calcium.

How to Use

The spiciness of basil is the perfect complement to ripe red tomatoes and soft cheeses such as fresh mozzarella and brie. Even the tiny flowers, which appear on slender spikes extending high above the plants, are edible. Sprinkled over salad or pasta, these flowers give a concentrated flavour and a spark of color. In addition to its widespread use in Italian dishes, basil is found in Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian cuisines.

Basil is sometimes used with fresh fruit and in fruit jams and sauces—in particular with strawberries, raspberries, and plums.

Since the oils in basil are highly volatile, it is best to add the herb near the end of the cooking process, so it will retain its maximum essence and flavour.

Varieties

Sweet basil and its close relative Genoa basil are the most familiar varieties. However, Thai, cinnamon, purple ruffles, dark opal, lemon, and bush varieties are also easy to find in the farmers' market or grow yourself.