With summer just around the corner, now is the perfect time to sow basil seeds.
This wonder plant has been around for over 4,000 years and, throughout history, basil was believed to hold magical powers. It was an antidote for snake bites and thought to give strength when fasting. It was even used as an embalming herb by the Egyptians.
Why grow basil?
Today, basil is still regarded as a valuable addition to any garden. It makes a great companion for tomato plants - on the plate and in the garden - as its pungency helps repel pests and also enhances the flavour of your tomatoes.
Basil is also a companion for other plants, such as beans, eggplants, capsicums, beetroot, potatoes and lettuce.
Letting some of your basil plants go to flower brings in beneficial insects and pollinators for the health of your garden and is also great for the bees. Basil repels mosquitoes, flies, aphids and beetles to name a few.
Why eat basil?
Basil is high in vitamins K and A and contains trace minerals of manganese, calcium and copper. The medicinal benefits of eating basil are fantastic, as it is an anti-inflammatory and an effective pain reliever. It reportedly aids digestion and has many antioxidant properties. It is also antibacterial and antiviral, which makes it great for colds and flu, and is beneficial for the skin. It is recommended however to avoid large quantities in pregnancy.
Top tips for growing basil this summer
To grow basil successfully, choose a sunny spot with free-draining soil. Basil loves 6-8 hours of sun a day and is very sensitive to temperature drops, so avoid planting too early, or keep inside until summer really arrives.
Once planted, apply a thick mulch to help retain the soil's moisture - but keep the mulch away from the stem.
Basil prefers to be watered once a week if planted in the ground, and up to three times a week if in a pot, remembering to water the soil, not the leaves. It also likes regular feeding every 2-3 weeks with a balanced fertiliser of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus to keep producing healthy leaves.
Basil plants need to be regularly picked, harvesting about 20-30% of the plant at a time. If you like to pluck the leaves, make sure the big leaves are harvested first as this enhances growth and vigour to the upcoming leaves.
Did you know that a basil plant loves to be touched? Brushing the leaves with your hands will release volatile oils and improve the pungency of your plant.
Remember to prepare your soil first, plan your planting and companions, and make sure you have some free-draining soil for your delicious summer harvest.