Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Decisions, Decisions: Which Kind of Herb?

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Decisions, Decisions: Which Kind of Herb?

Article excerpt

Gardeners who haunt herb nurseries will find quickly that three of the most popular fresh herbs - basil, cilantro and dill - now come in multiple versions.

If this offers gardeners and gourmets beguiling choices, it also makes selecting a single variety of each rather daunting.

Of the three, basil may be the most bewildering. A member of the mint family, it is renowned among horticulturists for its incredible variations.

Today, any well-stocked herb nursery will offer the following basils: lemon, lettuce-leaf, purple, variegated, African, Thai, Mexican, cinnamon, licorice, Genoa, Greek, bush, Napoletano, holy or sacred, ruffled and, of course, common or "sweet" basil. Indeed, entire books have been written on the subject of this beloved culinary herb.

Cilantro and dill have far fewer kinds; but, still decisions must be made by the herb grower regarding these two, especially when space is limited.

Because these and other herbs are easy to grow and suffer few pests or other problems, the overriding consideration in selection should be flavor: Which taste best and are most versatile?

When it comes to basils, most herbalists assert that Genoa or Napoletano are superior in pure basil flavor. My favorite always has been common or sweet basil, which delivers a clean, melodious flavor that is very pleasant but not assertive. It has neither a cloying nor a bitter undertone, a fault I find in some variations.

The major drawback of common basil is a relatively small leaf and an eagerness to bloom quickly: By mid-June, the plant has bolted past its prime. You may want to put out another sowing for continued harvest.

Ruffled or lettuce-leaf basils have the same understated aroma as sweet basil but boast much larger leaves and are slower to bolt. They are difficult to find in garden centers, but herb nurseries carry them.

Beyond conventional basil, I always grow Thai basil for Asian dishes; nothing else quite matches the particular cinnamon scent underlying it. …

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