Crimson King basil: Useful in the yard and in the kitchen

  • By Norman Winter McClatchy-Tribune News Service
  • Wednesday, October 3, 2012 3:18pm
  • Life

Want to have your cake and eat it too? Start growing Crimson King basil. It will be showy in the landscape, while providing enough for your favorite Italian cuisine.

Crimson King is a Genovese-type basil reaching 18-plus inches in the garden. These types of basils are the culinary aristocrats used in Italian cooking, ideally suited to those favorite pesto and tomato-basil recipes.

They are known for having crinkly turned-in leaves with a rich spicy clove scent.

It would be hard to find a prettier basil for the garden as it is every bit as striking as a coleus in the flower bed.

Whether you pronounce it “bay-zil” or “baah-zil,” you are sure to agree on one thing: Freshly harvested leaves of Crimson King basil mixed with juicy tomatoes, olive oil and garlic is a true feast over hot pasta.

Besides being a culinary delight and a stunning garden plant, Crimson King is incredibly easy to grow. It adds grace to both the herb and vegetable garden. In the landscape the deep dark purple leaves will go with just about any other flower color, actually making them look showier. It is kind of like the way a jeweler places the diamonds on black velvet.

Crimson King basil asks for nothing more in the garden than full sun and well-drained soil. Prepare the soil by spreading 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and 1 pound per 100 square feet of a slow release, 5-10-5 fertilizer, and till to a depth of 8 to 10 inches.

Set transplants 18- to 24-inches apart. They will grow to about 18- to 24-inches tall and wide. Mulching will help conserve moisture and deter weed growth. Crimson King basil thrives in summer and excels in fall plantings as well.

Keep your plants watered and harvested and flower buds pinched for a long crop. Harvest just as the flower buds are forming for the most concentrated oils, flavor and fragrance.

Apply the same fertilizer with small applications every four to six weeks, or after harvest. Cut or pinch Crimson King just above a leaf or pair of leaves, removing no more than one-fourth of the plant at any one time.

This leaves enough foliage to keep the plant healthy and looking good in the landscape.

Simple air-drying produces a bounty of tasty basil for use all winter. Rinse the leaves in cool water and gently shake off extra moisture. When thoroughly dry, tie a handful of stems firmly into a bundle. Place the bundle in a paper bag, gather the top of the bag around the stems and tie again.

Label before hanging the bag in a dry place where the temperature doesn’t get above 80 degrees. After two to four weeks, the herbs should be dry and crumbly.

Once basil is dried, store it in an airtight container in a cool, dark cupboard. Keep the leaves whole if possible to preserve the oils; crush or grind only when using them.

You have to love it when a plant is beautiful in the landscape and yet edible too, and Crimson King basil is one you will want to try.

Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus Ga., and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden.”

More in Life

Beer and cupcakes: Snohomish brewer, baker form unlikely duo

Pacific Northwest Cupcakes uses SnoTown’s brews to make beer-infused sweet treats.

The art and science of weathervanes

They told the direction of the wind and aided in forecasting the, well, weather.

Hundreds of ways to pamper your home and yourself

Find fancy fridges to sparkling jewelry under one roof at home and gift shows in Everett.

This is exactly how a cleaning expert organizes her space in 20 minutes

Try these realistic and attainable tricks to land yourself a cleaner home.

Snohomish brewer flavors beer with chilies from mom’s back yard

Beer of the Week: Smoked rye forms sturdy foundation for SnoTown’s well-balanced Loose Rooster.

Fall is just another blooming season

October can be a time of spectacular colors in your garden.

Woodward Canyon Winery continues to weave masterpieces

Owner Rick Small uses grapes from vines he used when he made wine in his back yard in the 1970s.

Great Plant Pick: Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo,’ purple-leaf ninebark

Grow it with shrub roses and perennials, and it combines with with ornamental grasses.

Beer, wine, spirits: Snohomish County booze calendar

Dash to Diamond Knot: Flying Unicorn Racing is teaming up with Mukilteo’s… Continue reading

Most Read