Basil herbs — not without reason called l’herbe royale — these versatile herbs have a great affinity for tomatoes, fish and egg dishes, but are good in almost all savory dishes. It has a mild, sweet flavor.

It is said that basil herbs help control blood pressure and are rich in antioxidants, among other benefits. The herb’s essential oils can help reduce cholesterol and triglycerides. Basil also includes magnesium, which aids blood flow by relaxing muscles and blood vessels.

Serve basil herbs as they do in Italy — where basil is very popular — in a bouquet of sprigs set in water in a small vase. Keep in mind that they darken quickly after cutting.

Ocinum basilicum grows to 2 feet, dries poorly and should never be dried in heat above 110 degrees.

It roots in a few days in water. Make cuttings and pot up before frost in rich soil.

It is worth keeping at least one plant over the winter.

Ocinum minimum, dwarg bush basil, grows to less than one foot tall, and is the sweetest and mildest in flavor , not to mention best for indoor culture.

RECIPE: Basil Herbs Pesto

This uncooked seasoning can be made in advance. Use on pasta or on a baked potato, about 2 Tablespoons to a portion, mixed with equal parts of butter. If you add a Tablespoon or more per portion to Minestrone, as is often done, you arrive at a result close to the Provencial version called Soupe au Pistou.

Pound in a mortar about:
1-1/2 Cups fresh basil leaves.

Add and pound:
2 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup pine nuts

Add, until the mixture forms a thick puree:
About 3/4 cup parmesan cheese

When the mixture is really thick, add very slowly, stirring constantly: About 3/4 cup olive oil until it has the consistency of creamed butter.

Put a film of olive oil over the top. Cover and refrigerate or freeze.

For more recipes, check out our Culinary Herbs Cafe >

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