On gardening: Aristotle perfect basil for the porch or patio

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceJanuary 13, 2012 

If you have ever had even a fleeting thought on trying a little herb growing for own culinary creations then by all mean remember the name Aristotle. Aristotle is a relatively new compact basil that will thrill with both its ease at growing and its flavor in the kitchen.

In a container or the landscape for that matter, Aristotle basil looks like a 12-inch dwarf evergreen shrub, at least until you brush the aromatic foliage with your hands. As the name might suggest many consider it a-fine Greek basil.

Whether you say “bay-zil” or “baa-zil,” we can agree on one thing. Juicy tomato chunks mixed with olive oil, freshly torn basil and garlic spooned over hot pasta is a true feast.

Besides having extraordinary taste, basil is incredibly easy to grow. Aristotle is perfect for tucking into unused garden corners, displaying among vegetables, edging a flower garden or along a path where they gently release pungent anise aroma when brushed. Since it is a-smaller basil it makes a superb edging for the perennial border, or vegetable garden. But don’t forget the container on the porch, patio or deck.

Basil asks for nothing more in the garden than full sun and well-drained soil. It grows quickly from seed but several varieties of transplants can be found in the herb section at your garden center. Basil thrives in during warm summer weather and excels in fall plantings as well.

Harvest basil just as the flower buds begin to form. The leaves contain the most concentrated oils and provide the best flavor and fragrance at this time. Once the plant begins to expend energy in flower and seed production, it loses some of its potency.

Cut or pinch basil just above a leaf or pair of leaves, removing no more than one fourth the plant. This leaves enough foliage to keep the plant healthy and looking good in the landscape.

Simple air-drying produces tasty basil for use all winter. Rinse the leaves in cool water and gently shake off extra moisture. When thoroughly dry, tie a handful of stems firmly into a bundle. Place the bundle in a paper bag, gather the top of the bag around the stems and tie again.

Label, and hang the bag in a dry place where the temperature doesn’t get above 80 degrees. After two to four weeks, the herbs should be dry and crumbly. Once basil is dried, store it in an airtight container in a cool, dark cupboard. Keep the leaves whole if possible to preserve the oils and crush or grind only when using them.

For the fullest flavor in the kitchen, add fresh basil to dishes within the last 5 or 10 minutes of cooking time. Use fresh in tomato dishes, soups, salads, sauces, and pasta. Its flavor blends well with other herbs like rosemary, oregano, thyme, and sage.

Look for basils and many other fresh herb transplants at your garden center. There are so many basils in the market place you may want to search out Aristotle via specialty seed catalogues and plant your own. For questions on herbs and other compact vegetables write to me at winternaba.org.

Norman Winter, executive director of The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, is author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Contact him at winter@naba.org.

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