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Sweet Basil

( Originally Published 1933 )


Labiatae Annual

The basils are almost the most delightful of all seasoning herbs. Most of them are native to India. Bailey says there are from fifty to sixty species in the warmer parts of the world. They are neat little shrubs, fragrant and pleasant to the palate, each differing a little from the other in looks and flavor. The sweet basil is a small, green, bushy plant, eighteen inches to two feet high.

Root. It has a main central root from which numerous side branches shoot off.

Stem. The stem is hairy, stiff, rounded, a little ridged and slightly branched.

Leaf. The leaves are pointed, yellow-green, slightly serrated, and, as in all basils, look as if some one had taken them between his fingers and pinched them together along the central vein, and as if they had remained with the two sides partially folded, turning their backs to the world. The leaves are opposite, each pair at right angles to the pair above, and covered with a bloom, yet glisten on both sides with the dots of the oil glands. They are slightly downy on the under surface. They taste of liquorice, and spice when fresh, and when dried there is a lemony quality to the fragrance, also something of anise, resin, and spice.

Flower. The flowers come at the end of July and August, and are greenish-white, labiate, less than half an inch long, inconspicuous, in pairs of opposite clusters which give the impression of a whorl. The whorls one above the other form a leafy raceme. A few open at a time.

Seed. The seed is small, roundish, and black and covered with a mucilaginous substance which expands in water. The germinating power, according to Vilmorin, lasts eight years.

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