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Basil, Cilantro and Rosemary!

I can hardly say or think Basil without a craving for pesto :)
It is fairly easy to grow given at least a half day of sun and good well drained soil.
Areas in the garden that have some afternoon shade are great for producing nice plump leaves.
I usually allow mine to put on some size and just as the tops start to show the first sign of immature buds start harvesting the tops which makes the bushes branchy and dense. If they do start to set flower or they bolt into seed these parts are equally edible as are the tender leaves. Granted they're a bit stringier and chewier than leaves but spun down in the food processor they will make a nice paste :)
You should be careful not to overwater it especially when young since it is prone to damp off.
Basil orginally came form Africa and Asia like so many of our favorite herbs has a rich history stretching back thousands of years. In India it was considered to contain a divine esscence and was used to swear oath in upon in the court. I'd have surely gone to jail… Yes, your honor, I promise to eat the basil, the whole basil and nothing but the basil! Munch, munch, munch! Hehe…
Basil was also said to be found growing around Christ's tomb after the resurection. As a result some Greek Orthodox churches use it to prepare the holy water and pots of basil are set below the altar. In Haiti it is considered the property of Erzulie who is both love goddess and powerful protector. Rural Mexicans are said to carry sprigs in their pockets to attract money and to keep a lover's eye from roaming :) Oh my darling, give me basil and I'll love you forever! :)

There are many varieties of basil that have come into cultivation over the years.
The most familiar and popular is sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum).
It's the one that is commonly used in soup, salad, sauces, and of course, pesto!
Other large leaved basils include purple basils and lettuce leaved basil which has large curly leaves with good flavor and excellent yield.
There are also "flavored" basil cultivars such as lemon, licorice and cinnamon each having a scent and flavor of basil crossed with whichever name they have. Of these lemon is my personal favorite and I like to dry it with garlic and use it as a salad and sandwich sprinkle. It also makes a good sprinkle over a roast prior to baking especially those that are somewhat fatty. Did someone mention groundhog? :) Nope not me.. :)

There are also small leaved varities like green goddess and green bush often referd to as "Greek basil".
These have a milder flavor and a dense compact habit and will perform better in poor soils than their large leaved cousins.

Medicinal uses include usin basil leaves steeped in wine for several hours as a tonic, Infusing as a tea to aid digestion and esstial oil used as an inhalant to reduce mental fatigue.

The flowers can be used as an infusion in bathwater and plants set on windowsill are used to deter flies.

Cilantro/Coriander - Coriandrum sativum

Basically two herbs in one. The leaves are Cilantro that is used in salsa and the seeds are Coriander.
The nomenclature as cilantro is relatively modern but this plant has a deep and long history of cultivation as Coriander that goes back at least 3000 years. It is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts, Egyptian papyri, in the Tales of the Arabian nights, and in the Bible as well. The ancient Romans brought Coriander north with them as they expanded the empire into Europe. They used it as a preservative by mixing it with cumin and vinegar and rubbing it into meat. The ancient Chinese associated it with immortality while Europeans of the middle ages used it in love potions :) Oh my darling, you have given me Coriander and I shall love you forever! Hehe… :) Medicinally the plant has been used as a digestive tonic and mild sedative as a tea and essential oil for soothing rheumatic joints.

This herb is also rather easy to grow given rich light soil and sun. It does well in containers using any good potting mix. It also bolts to flower quickly so if you use the leaves in salsa watch for the shooting stalk that is inevitable with this plant and get your leaves before they yellow and drop!

An interesting note I ran across while researching this one was a note that said not to plant it near fennel.
That Fennel seems to duffer from exposure to Coriander and that Anise benefits from it..

The root is also edible and can be cooked as vegetable.

Rosemary - Rosemarinus officinalis

Rosemary's popularity as a topiary plant dates back to the time of Shakespeare. One legend of Spanish origin says that Rosemary was the bush that sheltered the virgin Mary on her flight to Egypt and that as her cloak brushed the flowers they turned from white to blue. Rosemary has had a reputation for healing properties over the centuries ranging from strengthening memory to use as a disinfectant. It was burned near the sick to purify the air and tossed about on the floors of law courts to protect the well from the threat of catching "jail fever" (typhoid) from prisoners being tried there. It had been used as a remedy to stimulate circulation ease pain by rubbing it on affected areas of the skin. When eaten it aids in the digestion of fat. It is also used as an antiseptic and as an ingredient in mouthwash.

Rosemary can be slow to grow. Seed sown in November will yield nice little 3" pots by Mother's day.
It likes sun and good well drained soil as is the case with most blue/gray foliage perennials. It's risky to winter outside in Cincinnati but acclimates well as a container plant indoors in a bright window or solarium.

There are several hybrid forms currently cultivated ranging in mature plant height from a trailing form appropriately called "prostrate" Rosemary which grows only several inches tall with a spreading habit to the species of the plant which grows to nearly 6'. Flowers range in color from blue to pink to white.
There is a pine scented cultivars (R. officinalis corsicus "pine scented") as well. One variety "arp" is supposed to be hardier than the rest. This variety may winter well here. I've not tested it :) Feedback from anyone who has is welcome :)

Due to the thick sappy resin that flows through Rosemary's veins it keeps it's scent and flavor very well which makes it ideal for dried arrangements as stalks and dried leaves as a culinary herb.
The dried stems can be burned like incense or tossed in the fire for an aromatic enhancement :)

These 3 herbs along with sage featured in last weeks article were our top picks for winter plants.

The total list is up to about 15 varieties :)
The spring list will be close to 100!

If you like to use dried herbs in crafts or are looking for a source to buy quality oils a new shop has opened up here on Greenhouse row. It's called Nature's gift shop. The proprietor is Jane Staubitz and she is a talented floral designer specializing in dried herbs. She uses only all natural ingredients in her herbal bath body and massage oils as well.
Very nice stuff! She's also well versed in herbal uses from the practical to the spiritual.
Her shop also features gem trees that she makes by hand, stones, woven hemp rope jewelry and macrame' herbal oil bottle holders handmade by her daughter Nicole.
The shop also features oils and pastels from nature artist Susan Runck.
The prices are also quite reasonable. She'll be open this weekend from 9 to 5 Saturday and Sunday.
If you like these types of products check her out. I think you'll be as impressed with the quality and craftsmanship of her products as I was :) The shop is located in the brick house just to left of Osterbrock's driveway and is clearly marked with a large green and white banner sign on the front porch.
The phone number there is 541-3277. Jane is friendly and easy to talk to :)

 

'til next time,

Happy gardening!

Alice