Grow your own basil

11:30 AM

italian basil in India

If you do a lot of continental cuisine, it pays off to have your own herb garden at home. Worry not, they aren't hard to keep, and they really don't take a lot of space either. All you really need for herbs to grow are a few pots, and a spot of sunshine. Said spot can be as small as a window ledge.

Italian basil is the herb I use the most in my cooking. Be it in pasta sauce, flavoured butters or on top of salads and pizza. In Switzerland you won't find loose basil leaves often if at all. Supermarkets took to sell it in the vegetable section in pots for you to take home and keep growing. That is because once cut, the leaf will start spoiling really fast.
This has been a big problem I faced in India, for years. Basil is sold in packs of cut leaves and once you open it at home you find that about half of them have brown spots and a terrible flavour. The odd bit is that Italian basil belong to the same family as tulsi, a well known and revered plant in India. It is not uncommon for tulsi to be called "holy basil" while its Italian cousin is called "sweet basil". Both have their very distinctive taste and uses.
Tulsi has a sharp peppery taste and is used in medicinal preparation and added to masala chai (tea) to give it more flavour. Italian basil has a more subtle taste, though have the same peppery note, it taste a bit sweeter, and is used more as an aromatic herb than anything. Both plants share some of the same properties thoug, they can both be used to treat a cold, and more notoriously they both repel mosquitoes. Needless to say it is good to have both Tulsi and Sweet Basil at home.

italian basil aka Sweet basil

In the past, I had a pack of seeds I brought back from Switzerland to grow it in pots. Those seeds got over a couple of years ago, and No matter where I searched and who I asked I was not able to find any in Mumbai. I even tried growing some using a cut stem (total failure, the one sold in the market is not fresh enough to grow back roots).
This was until Earlier this year. I found out that Amazon started selling all kind of seeds, among them the Italian basil I was looking for.

I bought them in April and panted them immediately as in India you can really plant them year round if you live in a temperate area. They need a lot of sunlight in the initial weeks though, so find them a nice spot.
My flat is oriented North East / North West. My balcony and utility area get plenty of sunshine in the morning as a result.
It takes around 4-5 days for them to sprout and a week or two more to start having little saplings. I planted them directly into a pot full of fresh soil and gently watered them daily. You want the soil to stay moist and warm while the seeds are germinating. Do not pour water from a glass over the seeds though, this will spoil them. Gently sprinkle water with your hands over the soil or use a watering can with a sprinkler head if you have one (I don't).

You'll have consumable basil seeds within a month of planting them and if you keep watering the plants regularly it will last you a very long time. I am not the greenest thumb on the block, and I have been able to keep basil plants growing for 6-7 months at a time. The pictures in this post have been taken today, as you can see it has been growing since April, so I am already 4 months of basil growth. And, I use it very regularly.

Once the monsoon is over, I plan to start growing more herbs. Since seedlings need plenty of sunlight, I can't really start growing them now though. My plan is to start growing mint, rosemary, oregano and parsley since I use them but not enough to justify wasting half a pack of cut stalks each time I need 3-4 leaves.

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  1. Wow! Amazon sells seeds in India? I have to check that out.
    I usually bring back a lot of seeds when I go to the US.
    Recently I made a friends with a Malaysian expat lady. She has a Thai/Malay herb garden at her house in Kathmandu- she gave me cuttings from her garden so now I have all sorts of fresh herbs growing rom lemongrass to kaffir limes.

    1. Yes they do! They started earlier this year I think. They sell all kind of flower seeds, herb seeds and fruit and vegetable seeds.

  2. Anonymous10:54 AM

    Does look like tulsi at first glance but tulsi leaves even the bigger varieties are conical in shape and not glossy like basil. Do you know that there is black tulsi also known as "ShayamaTulsi" or Krishna tulisi as krishna was said to be dusky, Shyam being another name of Krishna.

    Dark tulsi is rare, I think is more of a wild variety to find but it is said to be more potent against cough and cold and other ailments more than the green tulsi.

    The krishan devotees also wear tulsi around their necks as beads, it is supposed to bring calm to the wearer.

    There are ofcourse all sorts of Dos and Don't with tulsi. You cannot touch the plant without taking bath, cannot pluck the leaves at night etc etc. It is a useful plant but you have to be very careful with it. It is definitely not any other plant for hindus. Many a times in old bollywood movies, the good bahu is shown to wake up the entire household in the morning with her sweet devotional songs while worshipping Tulsi in the courtyard.

    These are some of the beliefs related to tulsi


    1. Those Do's and Don't seem to be more of the domain of personal belief than of science. Probably something to make people respect the plant that has so many benefits and properties.
      DH and I really don't do anything special with our Tulsi.

      With Italian basil there is apparently an old tradition that when a girl in a household was ready to be married, a pot of basil was put on the window to announce her eligibility to all. It was like an advertisement saying "Bride available here".
      I have no idea how true this once was. But sweet basil is as important to Italians as Tulsi is to Indians.


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