Bountiful Basil

basil-trio_renees garden_1

Basil comes in over 150 varieties. Here is a trio grown in Renee’s Garden. Photo courtesy of Renee’s Garden Seeds.


by Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D.

Summertime is basil-time in the Old Pueblo. As the nights turn to their sultry summer phase, the sun provides light for hours on end, and the soil temperatures become toasty warm – in other words, we enter our tropical phase of the year – and basil is truly delighted. Originally native to India, basil is genetically a tropical plant, even though it is now grown around the globe wherever (and whenever) it is warm enough.

basil lemon mrs burns famous nss

Mrs. Burn’s Famous Lemon Basil is a lemony flavored basil that grows well indeed in our climate. Photo courtesy of Native Seeds/SEARCH.

Basil is a real taste treat. It can be used in Italian cooking (like the pesto recipe below), fresh, in green salads, and it even has a reputation as a medicinal herb.

basil-saladleaf_renees garden

Salad leaf basil features large leaves. Not as strongly flavored as other basils, it does taste great in salads. Photo courtesy of Renee’s Garden Seeds.

Basil does grow well in the Tucson area, but it isn’t the easiest herb to grow. It has some very specific preferences if it is to thrive. I will put growing tips up on my Gardening With Soule blog on June 4th. Why wait? Because the 4th of each month is national “You Can Grow That” Day.


I was in Philadelphia and spotted a bunch of basil growing in a raised bed. Ideally, you want to pinch the blooms off to encourage more leafy growth.

The National Institute of Health reports that Americans consume too much salt. Cooking with flavorful herbs like basil could help you reduce your salt use and stay heart healthy.  Here’s an easy to make pesto to get you started.

Basil Pesto

4 oz. fresh basil leaves (a generous double handful)
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, peeled (double amount of onion may be substituted if garlic is an issue)
8 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Rinse basil and pat dry.
2. Toast pine nuts in an ungreased skillet over medium heat until golden. Cool.
3. Place cooled pine nuts, basil, garlic and olive oil in a food processor or blender and puree until creamy.
4. Stir in the cheeses and serve over pasta or rice. Also excellent with quinnoa or toasted tofu. Vegans can omit the cheese or use shredded soy cheese.


JAS avatarAbout Jacqueline Soule

Jacqueline’s latest book “Fruit and Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest” (Cool Springs Press, 2014) is available at Tohono Chul Park and the Tucson Botanical Gardens. It is divided into warm season and cool season growing so you can easily select other plants to grow this summer.

All text and all photos (except where noted) are copyright © 2015 by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

3 thoughts on “Bountiful Basil

  1. Pingback: Flower Pesto | Savor the Southwest:

  2. Thank you for the garlic substitution in the pesto – a friend can’t eat garlic and yours is the first I have seen that offers alternatives.


  3. I think I need to find a new variety. My basil seeds and that is the end of it – every time. I see others with giant lush basil bushes yet I never get there.


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