Thomas J. Story
Sometimes referred to as the king of herbs (the name is derived from basileus, which is Greek for king), basil has fragrant, bright green leaves on 6-inch- to 2-foot-tall plants. Annual. All zones.
BEST CULINARY VARIETIES: 'Finissino Verde A Palla' bush basil, 'Italian Pesto', 'Lettuce Leaf', 'Mammoth Sweet', 'Mrs. Burns' Lemon Basil', 'Profuma di Genova', 'Red Rubin', 'Sweet Basil'.
GROWING TIP: Basil thrives when the soil is warm and nighttime temperatures are above 60°, so don't rush springtime planting. To encourage branching on young seedlings, cut back stems to just above the first set of leaves when plants have developed three pairs of leaves.
HARVEST TIP: Prune often to avoid flower formation. When a stem has developed four pairs of leaves, cut each stem down to just above the first set. Continue cutting plants back throughout the summer, or set out new seedlings in succession a month or so apart and harvest the entire plant for pesto.
USES: Eggs, fish, marinades, meats, pastas, pestos, salads, soups, stews, and tomatoes.