Whether it’s plated on a gorgeous caprese salad drizzled with olive oil, used in pesto in a delicious feast, or garnish on a pizza, basil is a staple in the kitchen. Did you know that basil is also a valuable herb in an herbalists kitchen or medicine woman's cabinet. Often used to cleanse the blood or treat nervous irritability, basil has a lot of beneficial uses.
Of course, it is easily available to buy in a grocery store, but it is just as easy to grow in your garden and indoors year round. Growing our own basil offers the experience of enjoying fresh herbs, having them readily available for cooking or your health, and saves you money.
Let me share how to grow fresh basil outside or indoors and some ways to use it medicinally.
How to Grow Basil
If you choose to only grow outside, to begin, make sure you are growing in the ideal season. Typically, basil grows really well after the last frost. We are in Memphis so the last frost is normally in the middle of April. The growing season can then last anywhere between three and six months so well into fall.
Some people choose to grow basil either in a raised bed or in a pot, if that is your preferred method, make sure to use good soil. The soil should be pH balanced and contains both perlite and peat. When arranging the pot, be sure to place a layer of gravel at the bottom of the pot to make sure it is draining properly.
Yes, you can grow basil from seed, sure you can. You can also buy a seedling from your local nursery or big box stores like Home Depot, Lowes, or Walmart. I normally go with a seedling to make sure I have a greater chance of an abundant harvest.
Basil loves sunlight and needs an ample of amount of it to grow well. It needs to be placed where it can get at six hours of sunlight. So, if you grow it indoors be sure to place it in a windowsill that gets sufficient light.
When basil gets going or should I say growing, it takes off. As the plant grows, it will start to form pairs of leaves. Once the plant is about a foot tall, it will grow more and more pairs. It is ideal to start harvesting the plant when there are at least four sets of leaves, and you can remove the leaves by simply pinching them off the main stem of the plant.
Be sure to prune your basil as it grows. Simply pinch off the flowers that form at the top of the stem and removing dead or poorly growing branches from the plant.
How to Use Basil Medicinally
As someone who has studied herbalism for a while, I think basil is one of the most underutilized herbs. Historically in African medicine, basil is used for nervous irritability, stomach cramps, and indigestion. But, it can be used for so much more.
I have studied basil and used it in my private practice from an African healing approach. Many types of basil were brought from Africa, including African blue basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum), African basil (Ocimum viride), and tulsi basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), and it was a sacred plant to enslaved Africans. Everyone’s grandmother knew how to heal from plants in their own backyards like basil because access to healthcare was limited by structural racism.
Many of the medicine women in our neighborhoods used basil for many things. Midwives and mothers used basil to help increase milk production and a herb used during recovery after a hysterectomy.
Basil was used and still used topically to soothe itching and pain from insect bites. The juice of the leaves can relieve the discomfort of insect bites and stings pulling the poison out.
Another great use is as a potent heart tonic and lung and chest decongestant.
Two of its greatest traditional uses are as a mild sedative and energetic cleansing. Basil has a kind of detoxing effect on the mind and energies. It helps to bring clarity to a clouded mind and usher in a calming effect. Traditional medicine women used it to treat those with a "hot head". Simply, prepare it as a tonic water after rinsing it with rose water.
Basil can also be prepared as a tea for medicinal uses. Soak a heap of dried or fresh basil leaves in boiling hot water for at least 10 minutes. Strain. If taken orally, drink it as a herbal tea. If used as a compress for insect bites or to soothe a migraine or energetically, soak a compress in the tea and then use.
Growing and using herbs in your day to day lifestyle doesn't have to be expensive and over the top. You don't need much. Good seeds or seedlings, nutritious soil, sunlight, and a humble and appreciative approach to herbalism.