Sunday, May 2, 2010

Rough and Tumble Basil

Probably the easiest and most common kitchen herb, basil is versatile, pretty, fairly easy to grow, and comes in a variety of species. It’s especially great cooked up with fresh roma tomatoes over whole wheat pasta. And pepper. Lots of pepper. And parmesan cheese.

Wow making myself hungry.

Okay, other stuff about basil. Most of this is from, just to cite my sources.

Basil, or Ocimum basilicum if you like the fancy Latin, belongs to the mint family and is used both in the kitchen and in medicinal treatments. A quick glance in my home remedy book, Jude’s Herbal, indicates that basil is useful for digestive problems, another reason to sprinkle it on your pasta sauce, and helps treat bee stings. Basil planted around barns and house also helps keep flies away.

Basil has a delicate constitution and doesn’t like cold weather so it’s best grown outside after all threat of frost has passed. I usually start it in the house and put it outside in June, though this year it might be earlier since we’re having a relatively warm spring. If the nights do get chilly, you can always bring your basil inside. If you live in warmer climes, the seed can be seeded directly into the garden. Always check your USDA hardiness zones though, to be sure. It can be grown outside or inside, and likes a south-facing exposure, at least in the Northern Hemisphere.

Basil is an annual, meaning you have to replant it every year; it doesn’t re-grow on its own. Keep the plants thinned to 6-10 inches apart. It’s not a social plant, apparently, and doesn’t like to be crowded. As a Mediterranean herb, it likes a quick-draining, light soil, as opposed to the heavier clays common to more northerly areas. Basil wilts quickly in heat, but revives with a good dose of water. Always pinch off the flowers if you want more leaf production, which is the part of the plant used in sauces, teas, and other brews. Basil grows to between 1-2 feet tall, prefers full sun, does well in most any soil pH, and attracts valuable bees and butterflies to the garden. It is vulnerable to whitefly, thrips, aphids, and fusarium as far as pests go, but you’ll have to deal with that yourself as pests, blights, and insects vary by region.

So there’s a dose of plants. Now for a dose of poetry.

Robert W. Service was called the people’s poet. So was Walt Whitman, but since he called himself that, we’ll let it slide. Quoting Service’s 1958 obituary, “ ‘The only society I like,’ he once said, ‘is that which is rough and tough - and the tougher the better. That's where you get down to bedrock and meet human people.’ He found that kind of society in the Yukon gold rush, and he immortalized it” A vagabond poet, Service held a variety of jobs in lots of places, drawing as his interactions with real, working class people and his own experiences as a soldier, cook, reporter, clerk, bank teller, and lots more for his poetry.

I’d like to spend some time with this rough and tumble poet this week, because as we covered in poetry month, there’s a time and place for poetry to be literary, but what’s the use of being literary if no one reads it? Pop fiction gets a bad rep, but guess what? That’s what’s on the beach reads table in the summer and that’s what people buy. Sure, some novels are literary, and they’re beautiful, wonderful works. So are some popular, genre novels. Maybe poets and readers of poetry alike should take note of that.


Anonymous said...

Like the blend of garden/poetry!

Rowenna said...

My basil got some sort of blight last year. I only got one round of pesto out of the plant before it went downhill. Will try again this year!