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A to Z herbs: Balm of Gilead and African Blue Basil

Balm of Gilead is a native of the Canary Islands. It has a pink, attractive bloom and makes for an unusual addition to any garden. The flowers and leaves are infused to help with colds and sore throats. This plant needs to be in a 9 x 9 cm. pot and be planted down 8 cm. 


The leaves smell quite similar to eucalyptus and balsam. Bees love this plant and it is self-seeding. This plant will grow anywhere from 60-100 cm. It is considered “half hardy.” It needs full or mostly full sun and the soil needs to be a little more alkaline, than not and the flower color is pink. The flowering period would be from June to August.


Basil - African Blue (ocimum basilicum): This plant is considered a tender perennial, with large purple aromatic leaves. It has the same culinary uses as a common basil with the advantage it can be overwintered with enough warmth. This, too, needs a 9 x 9 cm. pot and needs to be planted 8 cm. deep. When used as an herb, it should be used fresh. There are many varieties of basil and this showy, purple-leaved type grows well in pots and is slightly more robust than others. Again, this African Basil’s heights will grow from 60-100 cm.; it is a tender plant that needs mostly sun with a slightly alkaline soil.


The flower color is white/blue and the flowering occurs from June to October. This beautiful, aromatic basil, sadly, although a perennial, is still as tender as all other varieties and must be kept above 12 degrees centigrade in order to survive. So, the best months outside are between mid-May and the end of August when the night temperatures are higher. It grows quite well in a heated conservatory, or if not too large, on a sunny window sill. When young and small, basil should be watered carefully and drained properly, no sitting in saucers of water. Once established and growing fast in the summer, they will guzzle water and like all herbs in pots will need a weekly feed to keep them steadfast. Punch out the tips to eat rather than pull the leaves off the stems. That way the basil will remain “bushy.”


The leaves of African Blue Basil are a little fleshier than more traditional basils, but the flavor is just as good and can be used in the same way for pestos, pasta sauces, tomato dishes, soups and salads, and fruit dishes, especially with strawberries. This particular basil produces masses of blue/purple flowers on long stems which bees can’t resist. Basil oil is used as a commercial flavoring and in the perfume industry.

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