Sow seeds in early spring. Grows best in full sun in moderately rich and well-drained soil kept well watered. Space large-leafed cultivars (such as 'Thai Magic') 1 1/2' apart and mulch to retain moisture. Pinch out centers to encourage bushy growth. As frost approaches, root cuttings in water and pot for winter use.
Basil is a native of Africa and Asia. Tradition has it that basil was found growing around Christ's tomb after the Resurrection, and consequently, some Greek Orthodox churches use it to prepare holy water and pots of basil are set below church altars. In India, basil was believed to be imbued with a divine essence, and oaths were sworn upon it in courts. A number of varieties exist today, ranging from a tiny-leafed Greek basil to robust 2-foot-high plants with large succulent leaves. Some varieties have deep purple leaves. While flowers are typically small and whitish, some can be pink to brilliant magenta. Leaves can be dried for later use. Basil is extremely frost sensitive.
Basil may be skeletonized by Japanese beetles. To control, remove beetles by hand.
As a seasoning herb in many vegetable and meat dishes, or as a key ingredient of pesto and other condiments.