Basil

Origin & Names

Just as black pepper is called the ‘king of spices’ so basil is given the name 'king of herbs'. While the name given to black pepper is largely due its importance in terms of global consumption for basil it is due to its original name. Basileus which is the Latin name for basil comes from the same Greek word meaning king.   

Basil belongs to the plant family Lamiaceae to which many of the aromatic herbs we use in our cooking also belong. The closest translation for  Lamiaceae is mint and the other herbs included in this family include; mint, rosemary, sage, marjoram & oregano among others.

Geography and Cultivation

Basil, like with so many herbs and spices was originally cultivated in India over 3,000 years ago and found its way to Europe through the spice trade.

Since then there have been many different types of bail variety that have been bred for culinary and climate adaptation. Commercial basil varieties readily available today include; Greek, Thai, cinnamon, sweet, purple, lemon & holy.

 

Homegrown purple basil at Hill & Vale HQ 

Basil is best cultivated in warm temperate or Mediterranean like conditions which is fitting considering Europe is the largest consumer of basil in the world. Global production of basil is concentrated around the Mediterranean with Italy, Turkey & Egypt among the largest. Although at Hill & Vale we are not yet selling individual herbs, the basil which we buy and use in our blends comes from Egypt.   

Basil is a popular herb for cultivation in all of these countries due to its growing season mirroring that of wheat which allows for a good secondary farmer income.  

Basil is a great herb to grow at home as it grows very well indoors or on the windowsill. Now in the UK is a great time to be planting the basil outside as the threat from frost is now behind us lets hope, and just warm summer months ahead  

Homegrown lemon basil at Hill & Vale HQ 

Food & Medicinal Uses

Basil is the quintessential summer herb. The sweet basil variety, the most consumed in the UK, is sweet, warm and peppery. The other commonly available fresh basil you can buy in the supermarket is Thai basil which has flavours of anise, clove and liquorice so make sure you choose carefully depending on what you are cooking.  

Sweet basil is perhaps best known for it’s ability to pair with tomatoes, goats cheese or mozzarella. It also goes very well with summer fruits such as raspberries or strawberries. If pairing with vegetables basil gives a great added flavour to courgettes, lettuce, mushrooms & peas and if cooking meat basil works better with dark or red meat than with white.

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