"A Modern Herbal"
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Rita's Big Secret :-)
"Herbs too, she knew, and well of each could speak
That in her garden sippd the silvry dew;
The tufted basil, pun-provoking thyme,
Fresh balm, and mary-gold of cheerful hue."
Where did we ever come up with the idea that January 1st should be the start of the new year? It makes no sense to me, but then again more and more about our society seems to make any sense to me these days. In any event I wish you all a bountiful garden this coming year.
Well, the seeds catalogs should start appearing in your mailboxes and the nurseries are starting to get all their bareroot fruit, nut and berries, guess you could say that is the sign of new beginnings. All the garden magazines are full of articles about what is new and exciting in the world of plants, cant say anything has jumped out and caught my attention. Although I was glad to see the International Herb Association has named basil the herb of the year.
I love this herb! My mother is Sicilian so I grew up with this herb but even if I hadnt who could not love it. It smells great, it looks great and its so easy to grow. There are short ones, tall ones, green ones and purple ones there is even a blue basil from Africa. In all there are somewhere around 100 varieties available to gardeners most are annuals but some are tender perennials growing over 5 feet tall that can be over wintered here with some protection.
Its pretty enough to grow for its foliage and because its leaves can be purple or green or some combination of the two colors it makes an interesting foliage plant in the ornamental garden. The low growing variety called holy basil makes a great edge plant. It grow 6inches tall and forms a perfect little globe shape, planted 8 inches or so apart it creates a cute and aromatic little hedge around your garden beds. But if you are like me you fell in love with basil because of what it does for food. Chopped fresh in salads, added to tomato gravy (sauce for you non-Italians) sprinkled over eggs but especially as the star ingredient in Pesto! If you are interested in some of the out of the ordinary varieties try the Richters catalog at richters.com. or the Chiltern seed catalog at chilternseeds.co.uk.
Basil is native to India where it is called Tulsi and worshipped as the beloved of the Lord Vishnu and is a popular Ayurvedic medicine. There are stories of the herb in ancient Indian scriptures giving it at he supreme place among all the medicinal herbs. It is told that a beautiful princess fell in love with Lord Vishnu and was cursed by the jealous Lord Rudra. The princess was turned into the Tulsi plant, a common "weed" that grows in the countryside. Another story, the one I prefer, tells of a beautiful devotee who incarnates as the Tulsi plant to be offered in worship and service to her beloved Lord Vishnu. She is called the mother of medicine in India. According to Ayurvedic legend, medicine was introduced into society as a religious ritual. Tulsi is planted in every home garden or pots are kept on the veranda. In many homes are special alters where a pot of Tulsi is kept and as part of the families daily routine the women, every morning and every evening perform a ritual prayer to the plant, the protector of life. Upon death a leaf from the Tulsi is placed on the breast as passage to paradise.
Tulsi is called the elixir of life, the incomparable one, it aids meditation, and purifies the air. Basil is a great plant to include in your winter indoor herb garden. Just throw some seeds in a pot and put the pot in a sunny window. Soon you will have fresh basil, whether you use it to season food or just to have around you are sure to benefit from it.
Medicinally it has a dizzying array of benefits. Are you ready? It is antispasmodic, antidepressant, antiseptic, stimulating, antibacterial, diaphoretic, a general tonic, a nervine, appetizer and a bunch of other stuff too. It is also a febrifuge, which means it will help bring a fever down. In addition to all these wonderful attributes it can be used as a natural mosquito and bug repellant. When the British colonized India they began tearing things down, including the gardens around the temples and buildings. The Brits were suffering so from mosquitoes and malaria that an Indian worker took pity on them and advised that they plant Tulsi around their dwellings. It is said that this did the trick. In the meantime Tulsi was used to treat those suffering from malaria.
Myths and legends of the wonderful plant sprang up wherever it was introduced. In many places it is said to "cause sympathy between humans beings" and is used in love potions. Maybe we should all send some to Bush and the pentagon and all the other "leaders" in the world. That would really make it herb of the year!
Im about to reveal to you an ancient family recipe, the famous Pesto recipe created by my crazy grandmothers grandmother and handed down through the ages. Im even going to let you in on the secret ingredient, so here goes. Take one and a half cups of basil as much garlic as you can stand, a half-cup of pine nuts or chopped walnuts, and about three quarters of a cup of good parmesan or romano cheese. Here it is, the secret ingredient, cayenne pepper. I swear to whatever diety you like, this makes the Pesto! Add just a pinch to start with or if you a re like me and you like things spicy, add a quarter teaspoon. I use a cusinart but the traditional way of blending all the ingredients is to use a mortar and pestle to smash everything to a paste. As you are blending or smashing drizzle in a little bit of good olive oil, enough to create a smooth paste like consistency. Thats it! Now use it on macaroni, or rice or whatever and you will know heaven!