By Harold Spencer

Sweet basil - also known as Ocimum Basilicum - is a very popular herb. Often called the 'king of herbs,' basil can be grown indoors or out. Basil has one-inch-long leaves, oval in shape, and it has a very distinctive clove-pepper taste and odor. The plant can grow indoors to about a foot, and it becomes a bushy plant. You can use the "Dark Opal" variety for cooking, and for decoration. If basil blooms, it will produce a lot of seeds. Instead, pinch out the plant tops and they will grow into compact little bushes.

Basil is an annula plant growing to 12-24 inches. If you want your plant to be healthy and productive, you need to plant in full sun, in a well nourished soil, and give it enough water without water logging.

You can sprout basil seeds and, at the end of the growing season, the plants can be brought indoors. If you plan to transfer basil inside, make sure you select the strongest plants. Just dig them out before the first frost, and transfer the plants to a pot in which you have previously put fresh soil. Basil can also be grown in pots outdoors and treated the same way when bringing them in for winter. Check for insects and if there is an infestation, spray with a soap and water spray. Gradually reverse the hardening off process by keeping the pots out of direct sunlight for about a week. This will give the plants a chance to get used living indoors in less light. Bring them inside and provide the conditions they need to continue growing.

You will need to provide at least 5 hours of sunlight each day if you hope to preserve the flavor. You might want to rotate plants that live on the window sill to ensure all sides get light. Don't let basil leaves touch the cold glass. You can also keep basil under fluorescent lights during the winter. The lights should be kept about 6 inches away from the plants, and on for 14 hours each day.

There are many cultivars of basil. Many people use "Dark Opal" in the place of sweet basil. O. basilicum 'Citriodorum'- strong lemon scent - nice for tea and with chicken and fish.

In the garden, basil can be planted with tomatoes as it helps to overcome both insects and disease. Basil also repels flies and mosquitoes. Basil is a perfect compliment to many dishes, to include tomato dishes, pesto, sauces, salad dressings, soups, fish dishes, mushroom dishes, egg and rice dishes, mixed with other herbs, omelet's, pasta dishes, vegetables such as carrots, eggplant, cabbage, squash, and zucchini. Use fresh leaves in salads and add fresh leaves to vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. It is widely used fresh, frozen and even dried. Use parsimoniously, since the flavor gets more intense when the leaves are heated.

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