A non-profit organization dedicated to education with regard to the culture and use of herbs
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 MHS 2012-2014 Herb of the Year   
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MHS Herb
of the Year
- Basil

Cooking with Basil
From the August 2012 MHS Newsletter
By Bonnie Kulke

Basil is certainly grown and appreciated as a culinary herb, but its delicious aroma is sometimes taken for granted. Yet we all know that taste sensations are almost equally what the tongue senses as well as what the nose smells. This unique combination of taste and aroma is what most people fall in love with in basil.

Tasting of Basil
There is a little chemical factory (as Tom DeBaggio refers to the essential oils on basil) growing on all parts of the plant. These little microscopic sacs burst when brushed or chewed and release flavors that are rather difficult to pinpoint.

Chemists and botanists have studied and identified half a dozen chemical constituents.

As lay people who love basil because it tastes good, we are really not all that interested in the percentages of chemicals present in the essential oils of the different basils. We can appreciate the fact that each variety has two or three in varying amounts which give the flavor of one type a pronounced anise flavor, another a nice lemony taste and another a flowery spice fragrance. I think its safe to say that despite scientific facts and studies, most of us will let our taste buds decide which basils we want to grow and cook with the most.

Basil with Pasta and More
Last time I shared a pesto recipe and a popular appetizer. Probably the next most frequent use of basil in cooking is with pasta. Whether you prefer a typical marinara sauce with tomatoes or use basil and oil to flavor your favorite spaghetti, pasta seems very happy tossed with basil. Don’t forget Thai basil will be delicious in an Asian version of pasta—Thai noodles with peanut sauce, a delightful addition to anyone’s cooking repertoire.

Then there are the vegetable pairings that go far beyond tomatoes. Try basil with eggplant, corn, red peppers, green beans and just tossing some leaves in your favorite green salad!

Flavoring butter, mayo, vinegar, oils and jellies with basil prolong the season. We often forget that basils make great partners with other herbs for herbal teas, too.

Desserts are a part of the meal we sometimes forget can use basil for great taste and complexity. Some delicious dessert ideas using basil include basil cream pudding, basil sorbet, basil sprinkled on peaches or strawberries or a basil butter cookie. Start collecting those interesting dessert recipes to include basil now.

Baking up a batch of lemon basil biscotti with the fresh herb will lengthen your season of enjoyment. Biscotti and other cookies freeze really well and are so much more delicious using the fresh herb than the dried version later.

Cosmetic Uses of Basil
Basil is classified as a stimulating herb so adding it to your bath herb mix before going out on the town will be a good thing. It also is reputed to bring luster to hair so making a strong herb tea infusion and using in your last hair rinse will leave hair shining. Because it has an invigorating scent, the cosmetic industry uses basil in many of its lotions, shampoos, perfumes, soaps and toilet waters. A fun summer activity with a friend is to pick out several cosmetic recipes from the Internet or a magazine and have a day of pampering your hands or face with herbal soaks. Using basil with mints, rose petals and lavenders will be an interesting project to try!

Next time: Final harvests, storage and a recipe for potpourri

Growing Basil from Seed

Garden Companions of Basil

Cooking with Basil



2011 - Mint
Labiatae (aka Lamiaceae)

2010 - Dill
Anethem graveolens

2009 - Bay Laurel
Laurus nobilus

2008 - Scented Geraniums and Edible Flowers
Scented Geraniums - Pelargonium

2007 - Herbs de Provence
Herbs de Provence
Lavender - In Your Kitchen and Throughout Your Home

2006 - Rosemary
For centuries, rosemary has been used as a symbol of friendship, love, loyalty, and remembrance.

2005 - Oregano/Marjoram
There are 36 different species of Origonum, which includes many fragrant and ornamental herbs.

2004 - Lemon Herbs
For the 2004 Madison Herb Society Herb of the Year, we’re revisiting Lemon Herbs. There are many and they come from a variety of herb families.

 2003 - The Alliums
The Alliums - an Introduction - learn the basics of edible alliums Onions, Onions, Onions - Culiinary uses for and growing onions.
Garlic - a culinary favorite, growing and harvesting garlic
Chives - an overview of this tastyherb

2002 Herb of the Year - Dill
Dill - Anethum graveolens
(a-ne thum gra ve o lenz) - is a member of the carrot (Umbellelliferae or Apiaceae) family that also includes parsley, fennel, and caraway.