Basil Bumper Crop

Late summer is Basil time around my house. After growing all summer in my veggie garden, it is full and bushy, even though I am using it regularly in cooking. Heat and sun loving, this summer has been both, and the Basil this year is loving it! The hydroponic stuff you buy in the grocery store doesn’t compare with sun warmed fresh cut Basil from the garden.

Downy Mildew

Basil, one of my top herb favorites, has become a little more difficult to grow in the mid-Atlantic region. Normally a cinch to grow, Basil has been plagued by fatal downy mildew, which makes it unsightly and unusable.

Downy mildew disfigures the entire plant
Downy mildew disfigures the entire plant

Appearing in the last couple of years, downy Mildew is sweeping through the country like wildfire. It starts with leaf yellowing, which looks like a nutritional deficiency and then spots appear and can make the entire plant inedible. Under the right weather conditions (wet, warm weather), Basil downy mildew can spread rapidly and result in complete loss of all your Basil plants. Although Peronospora belbahrii, the pathogen that causes Basil downy mildew, cannot survive our mid-Atlantic winters, it can be reintroduced on infected seed or transplants or by windblown spores. So, it is here to stay.

Mildew disfigures the entire basil plant
Mildew disfigures the entire Basil plant
Some good looking basil showing signs of downy mildew

Disfiguring my Basil plants by late spring/early summer, I despaired of growing this stalwart of my kitchen for pesto ever again.

Try Resistant Amazel Basil

I was delighted to find a new cultivar of Basil called Amazel, a game changing plant, which is resistant to Downy Mildew. Amazel is a hunky vigorous plant  and I am back in the green with Amazel Basil from Proven Winners.

Amazel has excellent resistance to Downy Mildew, which will keep plants growing and producing for home gardeners throughout the entire season. Unlike typical Basil, Amazel is seed sterile and therefore continues to produce leaves and shoots even after starting to flower unlike other Basil varieties that focus most or all of their energy into seed production.

A healthy hydroponic basil plant
A healthy hydroponic basil plant

Basil is an excellent source of vitamin K and manganese, copper, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids such as beta-carotene), and vitamin C; and a good source of calcium, iron, folate, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. I had no idea this tasty herb was so good for you!

Amazel Basil
Amazel Basil from Proven Winners

Pesto

For simple Pesto to use up all that extra basil:

Place in your food processor or blender, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup water, 1/4 cup raw pine nuts, 3 cloves of garlic, chopped coarsely, and 4 cups of basil leaves, 1 cup of parsley, chopped coarsely and packed lightly into the measuring cup.

Wash and strip off the basil leaves
Blend all the leaves together

Blend well, stirring large bits back into the mixture and re-blending as needed. Transfer the mixture into a bowl and stir in 3/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Add a sprinkling of grated black pepper.

Blend in the pine nuts

And sit back and enjoy this concoction on your pasta or my favorite- grilled salmon ! You can keep this in the fridge with a layer of olive oil on top for a couple of weeks or freeze it. I freeze it in ice-cube containers for ease of removing throughout the winter.

Slather pesto on top of salmon on the grill

Loving Basil

Amazel Basil

Basil, one of my top herb favorites, is getting some bad knocks lately. Normally a cinch to grow, Basil has been plagued by fatal downy mildew, which makes it unusable.

Downy mildew disfigures the entire plant
Downy mildew disfigures the entire plant

The latest malady to hit ornamental and food plants is Basil Downy Mildew, which has appeared in the last couple of years and is sweeping through the country like wildfire. It starts with leaf yellowing, which looks like a nutritional deficiency and then spots appear and can make the entire plant inedible. Under the right weather conditions (wet, warm weather), Basil downy mildew can spread rapidly and result in complete loss of all your Basil plants. Although Peronospora belbahrii, the pathogen that causes Basil downy mildew, cannot survive our mid-Atlantic winters, it can be reintroduced on infected seed or transplants or by windblown spores. So, it is here to stay.

Mildew disfigures the entire basil plant
Mildew disfigures the entire Basil plant

Disfiguring my Basil plants by late spring/early summer, I despaired of growing this stalwart of my kitchen again. See my post African Blue and Downy Mildew for more information on this scourge.

Using Basil in many of my dishes, I always like to have some growing Basil plants on hand, but it can be hard to keep alive indoors.  I had almost given up growing it in any form and was buying the hydroponic plants at the grocery store as needed. Dried Basil is not the same flavor and addition to my cooking that I wanted.

A healthy hydroponic basil plant
A healthy hydroponic basil plant

Basil is an excellent source of vitamin K and manganese, copper, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids such as beta-carotene), and vitamin C; and a good source of calcium, iron, folate, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. I had no idea this tasty herb was so good for you!

I was delighted to find a new cultivar of Basil called Amazel, a game changing plant, which is resistant to Downy Mildew. Growing in my greenhouse now, it will be planted outside as soon as the frosts subside so I can enjoy it fresh from the garden. Amazel is a hunky vigorous plant that I already have cut back twice in my greenhouse since January for pesto. Once I cut it back, fresh shoots sprout up and are ready in about 10 days to use again. I am back in the green with Amazel Basil from Proven Winners!

Amazel has excellent resistance to Downy Mildew, which will keep plants growing and producing for home gardeners throughout the entire season. Unlike typical basil, Amazel is seed sterile and therefore continues to produce leaves and shoots even after starting to flower unlike other basil varieties that focus most or all of their energy into seed production.

Amazel Basil
Amazel Basil from Proven Winners

For other basil varieties that are resistant to Downy Mildew, go to my African Blue Basil post. I am back to pesto making again!

African Blue Basil
African Blue Basil

‘Pesto Party’ Basil-Nutritious Flavor Powerhouse

 

‘Pesto Party’ Basil from Burpee
Whipping up pesto

A highly fragrant plant, Basil’s leaves are used as a seasoning herb for all different types of foods and is a major component of my favorite flavor – pesto. Pesto, a mixture of basil, pine nuts, garlic, and Parmesan cheese, is a versatile mixture that can enhance breads, pastas, and even meats. Try my recipe for African Blue Basil. 

Whipping up a batch of pesto, I always like to have some growing Basil plants on hand, but it can be hard to keep alive indoors. And outdoors my Basil gets disfigured with Basil Mildew which makes it inedible. I had almost given up growing it and instead was buying the hydroponic plants at the grocery store.

Basil is an excellent source of vitamin K and manganese, copper, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids such as beta-carotene), and vitamin C; and a good source of calcium, iron, folate, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. I had no idea!

Basil mildew will disfigure the entire plant quickly

I was delighted to find ‘Pesto Party’ from Burpee which is very resistant to the dreaded mildew.  Where has this Basil been all my life? ‘Party Pesto’ grew nicely into a mounded plant for me and is extremely slow to flower. As an experienced Basil grower knows, you don’t want the herb to flower as it changes the taste (bitter)and it will slowly decline. The inevitable mildew finally appeared in October on ‘Pesto Party’, when most of my plants were slowing down. I had gotten an entire season of harvest from my plant and my moneys worth.

I love Pesto! And with the new ‘Pesto Party’ Basil from Burpee I can make unlimited pesto all summer long. Burpee describes it this way;

Pesto Party’ is the latest-flowering basil from seed, letting you enjoy a preponderance of aromatic fresh-picked leaves deep into the season. Basking prettily in your favorite patio container, well-branching plants produce a continuing flourish of fragrant leaves infused with sweet Italian basil flavor. Late-to-bolt plants are paragons of tolerance to downy mildew—no other basil comes close.

I have to agree with that description- no other basil comes close. And growing it in containers right outside my kitchen door was a perfect solution for this mounding compact plant. Available by seeds or plants from Burpee, I received three plants in the spring and ate off of those plants all summer.

Purple Basil and Cinnamon and Anise flavored Basils aren’t as susceptible to Mildew
The mildew starts with yellowing of the foliage, progressing to blotching of the leaves

Downy mildew of basil is a relatively new, destructive disease that appears to be here to stay. First appearing in the U.S. in 2007, it appeared earlier in Europe. Basil is the leading culinary herb in the U.S. and it is decimating basil crops here. The pathogen can readily spread easily via wind-dispersed spores that it produces abundantly. This is likely the primary way it has spread throughout the eastern USA every summer since 2008.

Requiring a full sun location and well draining soil, easily grown in a container on a back deck or patio, ‘Pesto Party’ is on my short list for next year.

An added benefit of ‘Pesto Party’ is the slowness of bolting into flower

African Blue Basil and Basil Downy Mildew

African Blue Basil

Everyone knows and loves the wonderful basil plant and its many uses, notably pesto. Pungent pesto made from fresh basil is a wonderful accompaniment to pasta, bread, and just about any other food that you can find to slather it on. But African Blue Basil amps up the flavor switch a notch. It has a “licoricey” or almost a camphor or anise flavor that is hard to describe. The added benefit for me is that African Blue is not susceptible to Basil Downy Mildew which is running rampant throughout the United States.

Opal basil showing signs on the lower leaves of Basil downy mildew
Opal basil showing signs on the lower leaves of Basil downy mildew

African Blue Basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum x basilicum ‘Dark Opal’) is an accidental hybrid between an East African basil that is native to Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda that is valued for its exquisite scent, and a garden variety basil called ‘Dark Opal’, known for it eggplant purple coloration. It is a hybrid so it can only be grown from cuttings, not seed.

That is why African Blue has plum undertones and speckles, and has its unique aromatic taste. And contrary to what some people  believe, it is very edible, in fact quite delicious as pesto.

The makings of African Blue pesto
The makings of African Blue pesto

Edible Landscaping

African Blue Basil is a very decorative plant and would fit right in with the craze of edible landscaping; you can eat it –  plus it is beautiful! Every part of the plant is edible-stems, flowers, and leaves. Covered with blooms all summer long, the slender flower spikes of violet buds open to lavender flowers.

Slender wands of flowers decorate the plant all summer long
Slender wands of flowers decorate the plant all summer long

A regimen of nipping the flowering stalks off a basil plant is normal for any other varieties but not African Blue. You want those flowers for garnishes so this is a strictly “leave it alone” plant. The 1- to 2 1/2-inch long leaves are a slightly grayed green hue with amethyst spattering on their undersides. The plant grows up to 2 feet tall  and is much bushier than regular basil varieties. One rooted cutting will supply you with plenty of pesto and edible flowers all season long. Throw the edible flowers into salads for a flavor sensation. Go to my post on Eat Your Flowers! for more ideas.

African Blue Basil
African Blue Basil

Cultivation

Plant African Blue Basil transplants in spring when all danger of frost is gone in a sunny spot and step back and let nature take its course. It will do well in a container and behaves well with other plants. Like all basils, it likes hot, hot sun and good drainage.

Pinching off the tips of basil stems makes the plant branch out laterally. Since this basil is a sterile hybrid, you can only purchase plants, not seeds. When you bring home your young plant,  pinch out its center stem to start this process. I naturally harvest it all season long for pesto and salads so the plant gets very bushy and lush. Don’t be afraid to pinch it to avoid floppiness later.

 

African Blue Pesto Recipe 

Place in your food processor: 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup water, 1/4 cup raw pine nuts, 3 cloves of garlic, chopped coarsely, and 2 cups of basil leaves, stems and flowers, chopped coarsely and packed lightly into the measure. Blend well, stirring large bits back into the mixture and reblending as needed. Transfer the mixture into a bowl and stir in 3/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Add a sprinkling of grated black pepper. And sit back and enjoy this concoction on your pasta! You can keep this in the fridge with a layer of olive oil on top for a couple of weeks or freeze it. I freeze it in ice-cube containers for ease of removing throughout the winter.

Basil Downy Mildew

The latest malady to hit ornamental and food plants is Basil Downy Mildew, which has appeared in the last couple of years and is sweeping through the country like wildfire. It starts with leaf yellowing, which looks like a nutritional deficiency and then spots appear and can make the entire plant unusable. Under the right weather conditions (wet, warm weather), basil downy mildew can spread rapidly and result in complete loss of all your basil plants. Although Peronospora belbahrii, the pathogen that causes basil downy mildew, cannot survive our mid-Atlantic winters, it can be reintroduced on infected seed or transplants or by windblown spores.

Basil leaves infected with basil downy mildew
Basil leaves infected with basil downy mildew
Sweet Basil starting to be infected with Basil Downy Mildew at the base and then it moves up the plant
Sweet Basil starting to be infected with Basil Downy Mildew at the base and then it moves up the plant

It seems like every basil I plant gets the infection soon after planting, but the African Blue one remains immune for me. I love using Basil in cooking and this really upsets me as there is no known cure, other than applications of fungicides which are know to be damaging to bee populations. Even fungicides are not effective when the weather is wet and warm like it has been all spring and summer.

Cardinal Basil – Striking Beauty

The flower bracts are a dark purplish color and the flowers open up one by one
The flower bracts are a dark purplish color and the flowers open up one by one

Do you want to grow an ornamental edible plant that has beautiful dark red-purple flowers that cover the plant all summer long, plus makes a bold statement in your garden? Oh, and how about easy, low maintenance, and draws pollinators?  Try Cardinal Basil and you will be hooked and grow it every year.

The tips of the new leaves have a burgundy coloration
The tips of the new leaves have a burgundy coloration

Basils are plants that constantly surprise me with their usefulness and diversity. See African Blue Basil for my post on this extraordinary plant and how you can use it in the kitchen, primarily a wonderful tasting pesto! Cardinal Basil like African Blue Basil, has a spicy pungent fragrance and when crushed leaves a lingering odor on your hands. Decorated with with these incredible celosia-like tightly packed flowers that hang on all summer long, the flowers keep getting larger and darker in hue. Arranged in a pyramid shape of dark-colored flower bracts, the “flowers” are simply specialized leaf structures.

Culture

cardinal basil

Cardinal Basil is an easy herb to grow as long as you follow several important rules:

  1. Don’t plant it too early in the spring. I planted mine too early in chilly weather and it languished for a long time. Thinking it was dead, I cut the  whole thing back and when warmer weather came it sprang back and formed a bushy plant in no time.

  2. Wait until the night temperatures consistently stay above 50 degrees F. It will tolerate lower temperatures, but it will not thrive and can have real trouble bouncing back from an extended cool period.

  3. If you notice dark spots forming on the leaves, it is probably due to cold water from the hose. Try watering in the cool of the day to remedy this problem.

  4. Plant in full sun; if in partial shade this plant will suffer and become straggly.

    Usually with basils, you nip the flowers off so that the plant branches out and produces more foliage to use in pesto, but with this basil, I leave all the flowers and bracts on to enjoy and use. The plant naturally forms a shrubby well branched plant about 24″ high and 18″ wide. The leaves can be used like other basils and the stems are a lovely burgundy color.Cardinal Basil

 For more information on lots more basil varieties, go to http://ramonasbasilgarden.com/basil-list/. There are hundreds of them!… and I am still finding and growing more.

Uses

Use the leaves, flowers, and bracts in pestos, salads, garnishes for soups and anything that you would use regular basil for. It just gives a whole new dimension in taste because of its pungency. I love using the colored bracts because of the zing of color that it adds to food. Go to my post on edible flowers at Edible Flower Palette to see other edible flowers that you can use in cooking.

Next year, I will try it in containers as I think it would create a beautiful focal point used alone or maybe with one other plant, like a burgundy colored coleus.

A garnish of Cardinal Basil topping roasted green beans
A garnish of Cardinal Basil topping roasted green beans