Abundant Basil

Is it possible to have too much of this flavorful herb? We asked two Southern gardeners for their thoughts.
Edwin Marty
 Abundant Basil
The botanical name of basil, Ocimum basilicum, is derived from Greek words meaning "the king of smell." This gardener is finding out why.
Van Chaplin

It's the end of summer. The kids head back to school, the nights get the first hint of autumn, and the basil keeps arriving by the truckload. How do you handle the inevitable surplus?

Pete Madsen, owner of Pete's Herbs in Charleston, South Carolina, feels the answer is simple. "Think pesto for Christmas. Think pesto for Valentine's Day. It's the summer's abundance that makes winter bearable."

Besides squirreling away jars of pesto in every nook and cranny of the kitchen, Pete suggests trading fresh basil for meals at local Italian restaurants. "Chefs are always looking for a source of good fresh herbs. It's a win-win situation for everyone."

Pete goes on to describe the importance of proper post-harvesting techniques. "Basil really needs to be cool and dry to last long. Its leaves bruise easily, so it has to be treated carefully. I like the miniature kinds, because their stems are tender and it's easy to use the whole plant. When basil gets too big, the stems can get woody and less useful." Pete has also found that plants usually grow best if he mows them down in late summer, waters and fertilizes them heavily, and then sits back to watch. "A late flush of basil is wonderful," he says. "It will provide enough of a harvest to really stock up for winter."

Randy Harelson, from The Gourd Garden in Seagrove Beach, Florida, has a similar sentiment. "It's really hard to imagine having too much basil. If you get tired of the typical 'Genovese' basil, try a different type such as Thai or 'Cinnamon Basil.' I usually plant about six different kinds so there is always one that's grabbing my attention." Mixing the different selections in a border can also create a striking accent. 'African Blue' and holy basil are two excellent kinds that work well as ornamentals.