USES. The entire plant is used, with the seeds, leaves, and flowers employed most often. The fresh or dried leaves are essential ingredients in tomato-based sauces and as a seasoning for vegetables, meats, and stuffings. A tea made from the leaves produces a warm, restorative feeling; itchy insect bites can be soothed by rubbing fresh leaves over the skin. Basil is said to aid digestion, relax cramps and muscle aches, and reduce fevers. In companion plantings, such as with tomatoes and peppers, it helps repel aphids.
PRESERVE FOR LATER. Fresh basil should not be placed in the refrigerator but rather in water on a windowsill. To dry basil, harvest clean, dry leaves (don’t wash the leaves); tie in small bunches and hang upside down in a warm, dark place for 2 to 4 weeks. Alternatively, you could spread the leaves in a single layer on a cookie sheet and dry them in the oven on the lowest possible temperature for a few days. You could also freeze basil, although the leaves will turn black.
PART OF PLANT USED: Entire plant
CULINARY COMPANIONS: Garlic, onion, peppers, tomatoes
USE TIP: Add fresh basil at the end of cooking for best flavor.
Excerpted from The Beginner's Guide to Edible Herbs with permission from Storey Publishing (c) 2010. Photography (c) by Saxon Holt.