Saturday, September 28, 2013

Smelly Plant of the Month: Thai Basil

I've been growing Thai basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora) from seed for two years now. It's similar to sweet basil, the usual kind we can buy in pots in grocery stores, but it has a delicious, minty-licorice kick. It's a native of SE Asia and is used in many Asian cuisines, not just Thai. Here's some hiding in my garden next to much showier gold dust plants and vinca:
Thai basil on the lower right, looking modest.
And here you can see the difference between the usual Sweet basil of Western cuisine, and Thai basil:
Left: Sweet basil, Right: Thai basil (Wikimedia Commons, but it looks like my yard!)
Thai basil has purple stems and smaller leaves. At first, I used it only in Asian dishes. Then I didn't have enough mint for a Middle Eastern dish. Thai basil worked! Then I tried it with a traditional mojito (the unsweet kind) because we have no yerba buena up here, and, yes, everyone loved it. Then I tried it in a traditional Italian pasta recipe with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Delizioso! Then it went straight into salads, onto sandwiches, you name it, it's become somewhat ubiquitous around here....

Thai basil is very easy to grow from seed. It germinates within a few days, and is very tough and resistant to pests and fungi (unlike Sweet basil, which is attacked by everything, it seems). I start mine in the late spring, harvest through summer, and then, by late fall, it's gone. Annuals make me sad when they leave after a few short months, but I save seed from the flower heads and start again the next spring. It's worth a spot in an herb garden whether the cook likes Thai food or not.

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