ABOUT THE PLANT:
Description: Holy basil is a small perennial shrub (in warm climates) growing up to 2 or more feet in height. It has a unique fragrance and a sweet, pungent taste. Depending on the variety, the leaves can be green/ purple or green, and grow opposite one another on a square hairy stem. Flowers are small and tubular-shaped, arranged in a spikelet, and can be either purple or white. Numerous seeds are produced in small nutlet-like fruits.
Origin: Holy basil is native to the Indian subcontinent which includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Nepal, and grows throughout Southeast Asia.
Usage: It is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, the traditional Indian medicine system. Oils, poultices, and teas are made to treat stress and anxiety, diabetes, high cholesterol, and several other conditions, though there is no scientific evidence supporting cures for or relief from these ailments.
Holy basil is used in Thai cuisines such as stir-fried dishes, curries, salads, soups, and desserts. It is used in hot teas and to make refreshing herbal drinks. It has many nutrients, including vitamin A, iron, calcium, and zinc.
Interesting facts: Holy basil, also called tulsi or tulasi is sacred in Hindu tradition. It is thought to be the manifestation of the goddess, Tulasi. It is cultivated at many temples and rosary beads are made from the woody stems of plants that have died.
To help elevate the souls of the dying, a drink of Holy basil leaves infused in water is given.
It is thought that by adding Holy basil twigs to funeral pyres the deceased will be liberated from the cycle of rebirth.
HOW TO GROW:
General requirements: Basil prefers warm weather, without the threat of frost. Plant in warm, rich, loose, and well-draining soil. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Plant in full sun. Prune the plant as it grows to ensure healthy development. To prune the plant, remove the top few leaves on each stem, carefully leaving at least three sets of leaves on the bottom of each stem. In regions with a short growing season, you can plant seeds indoors 3-4 weeks before the last frost date.
In the garden: Sew directly in the spring after the last frost. You will see the best germination rates at temperatures between 65-70 F with nighttime temperatures not falling below 50 F. Enrich the soil before planting with some compost or well-aged manure instead of fertilizing later. Plant the seeds less than 1/4 inch deep, 1 inch apart in rows 18 inches apart. Thin to 12 inches apart after 2 or 3 sets of true leaves appear. This herb prefers full sun, at least six hours or more of direct sunlight each day. It can survive in partial sun, but the herb may grow leggier and produce fewer leaves in lower light conditions. Pinch stems back to encourage bushier growth. You can easily do this any time you need a few leaves. Just cut them off right above a leaf node and the plant will send out new branches. They should germinate within 10-15 days.
In containers: Choose well-draining containers and a mix of three parts peat moss, one part compost, and one part perlite. Or use a commercial potting soil mix. Depending on the pot size, plant 4-6 seeds, 1/4 inch or less deep, and place them in a warm sunny window. They will germinate in 10-15 days. Thin to 1-2 plants after true sets of leaves appear. If containers are going to be moved outside, wait until daytime temperatures have reached 65 degrees F with nighttime temperatures not going below 50 degrees F. Place in full sun for at least 6-8 hours.
Transplanting: Basil seeds are tiny so it will be easier to start them in a nursery flat and transplant them later. Use commercial seed starting soil and scatter the basil seeds across the surface. Cover them with a 1/4-inch or less layer of soil, firm the soil with your hand, then gently mist. Basil seeds germinate best at 65-70 degrees F with bright light. Place the nursery flat near a bright window and on a seed propagation heat mat if you have one. Once the seeds have germinated, remove the heat mat. Thin them to 2-3 inches apart once true leaves have appeared and wait until 2 or 3 sets of true leaves have appeared before transplanting.
Basil must be hardened off, or acclimated before moving them to a permanent place outside. . Wait until daytime temperatures have reached 65 degrees F with nighttime temperatures not going below 50 degrees F. Place the flat in an area that is sheltered from sun and wind for a few hours each day. Gradually increase the amount of sunlight they receive each day. This may take a week or so before they can tolerate the midday sun. Also, decrease the amount of water they receive...the goal is to let the soil dry out a little beneath the surface without the plant wilting. Finally, place the flat in the garden in the spot where they will be transplanted and leave it for 2 or 3 days and nights. Handle the plants gently when transplanting as they are tender and bruise easily. Transplant the seedlings during the cool morning hours, spacing them 15-18 inches apart keeping them at the same depth they grew in the nursery flat. Water well to settle the soil around the roots.
Leaves: Harvest early in the cool morning. Use clean scissors to snip off a portion of the leaves and stems from the plant. Always harvest before the onset of flowers to have the best flavor. Otherwise, the taste becomes more and more bitter. Be sure to leave at least 1/2 of the plant so it can regrow additional leaves and you can continue to harvest in a few more weeks.
You can store fresh basil that you are not using immediately by placing the freshly cut stems in a container of water and setting it on a kitchen counter for a couple of days. Do not store it in the refrigerator as the leaves will turn black.
You can store Holy basil for later use by drying or freezing it. To dry, tie several stem bunches together and hang them upside down in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated area. Once dry, you can strip the leaves from the stem and store them in a plastic storage container. It will keep for around a year. To freeze for later use, strip the leaves from the stems and place them in a food processor. Chop them briefly then add a little water or oil to the mixture. Pour the mixture into ice cube trays and freeze. This method will provide convenient individual servings for future use. It will keep for around a year.
Seeds: Seeds will develop when the flowers have faded. Collect the spikes of flower heads after they have turned brown and dry by snipping them with scissors and drying them further in a protected area away from direct sunlight. Thresh the heads into a bag to remove the seeds. Separate the seeds from debris with a mesh screen. Store seeds in a cool, dry place.
Common names: Holy basil, tulsi, tulasi
Latin Name: Ocimum tenuiflorum
Growth habit: Holy basil is an upright, multi-branched bushy plant reaching a height of 2 ft or more.
USDА Zones: Perennial in zones 11-12; annual in others
Seeds per Ounce: Approx. 21,000