I’m an Italian-American from Waterbury, so I’d like to think I know a little about basil.
While my pasta sauce and pesto wouldn’t be the same without Genovese basil leaves, basil actually originates from India and has many uses beyond food. In India it’s held in such high esteem that people in courtrooms swear oaths upon it. In Greece and England it was used by kings for therapeutic baths. In Romania eating basil supposedly warded off the fire breathing basilisk dragon. Maybe Harry Potter should have grown basil for his adventures.
But mostly we grow basil to eat. There are more than 40 varieties of basil with different flavors and appearances. Thai basil features a licorice taste. Cinnamon basil is great mixed with fruits. Lemon basil makes a great tea. African blue basil has a camphor scent.
Basil is also an attractive plant. Purple Ruffles has burgundy colored leaves that can be used in flower arrangements.
Although it may seem late to start basil now, plants grow fast in the summer heat. You can still get a good crop before fall, especially if you live along the along the coast. In the hills, plant basil in containers and fertilize with fish emulsion every few weeks to quicken their growth.
Pinch the tops of basil plants to encourage more bushy growth and remove flower stems. Harvest individual leaves for cooking anytime. For pesto making, harvest whole stems back to the main branch to stimulate the growth of larger leaves on the new stems.