Cynthia Meredith has been gardening with herbs, reading about herbs, gardening with herbs and discussing herb gardening in Texas for more than 20 years. She has owned The Herb Cottage (www.theherbcottage.com) for over 10 years, selling herb plants to people all over our state.
This summer has been exceedingly hot and dry where I live. Plants that seem to have laughed at drought conditions in the past are showing the effects of many weeks without rain. The pastures around our farmhouse are brown and dusty. It's not an uplifting sight. But when I go out to my little herb garden I am met by the bright green leaves of basil plants!
Ah! Cool, green and flavorful. What could be more uplifting than to pick a leaf of sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) just to smell and to rejuvenate the senses? Or how about lemon basil (O. xcitriodorum) with its citrus aroma and flavor that adds so much to a pasta salad or a marinade for chicken?
The purple and red leaved varieties add drama to the garden and a tossed salad.
Then there is cinnamon basil, an unusual and surprising addition to an herbal iced tea. There is even a medicinal basil, holy basil, (Ocimum sanctum) from India. The variety known as 'Red and Green' is very ornamental as well as useful.
A tea prepared with the leaves of the 'Tulsi' variety, as it is known in India, is commonly used to treat coughs, colds and mild indigestion. Basil does so well here in Texas because it loves the heat and humidity. Given ample water and good drainage, basil thrives when the temperatures stay in the 90s or even the 100s during the day, and the mid to upper 70s at night. I have my containerized basil in a partly-shaded area. The roots in any container become so hot during the afternoon that some shade will help protect the roots and conserve moisture. In the herb bed, though, basil can be left in full sun. Just be sure to keep it watered and mulched.
One thing I like about basil is that if it is happy where it is planted, it reseeds itself. If you leave a few flowers on the stalks to go to seed, the seeds will drop around the existing plant. Then, you'll see little baby basil seedlings start to grow.
If you like, you can dig these up and pot them or simply replant them elsewhere in the garden. Basil also attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. In the fall, when lots of basil is flowering in my garden, butterflies are competing with the hummingbirds for the flower nectar.
If you need a pick-me-up this summer, and a break from the heat, look no further than your herb garden and the wonderful, flavorful, aromatic basil plants.
"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."
—Marcus Tullius Cicero