Basil makes a lovely addition to your garden — and your pesto

With more than 60 colorful, textural varieties, this popular herb is pretty, delicious and nutritious. Here’s how to grow and harvest it.

BASIL IS ASSOCIATED with great taste, romance and fine dining. It’s a key ingredient in Italian, Indian and Asian cuisine. And it’s one of the most popular herbs grown in Northwest gardens.

It hasn’t, however, always been held in such high esteem. Joseph de Tournefort, a 17th-century botanist, wrote the following about basil: “A gentleman of Siena was wont very frequently to dry the herb and snuff it up his nose, but he soon turn’d mad and died; and his head being opened by surgeons, there was found a nest of scorpions in his brain.” Just to be safe, maybe you shouldn’t “snuff” it, but you can feel good about eating it. Basil is packed with disease-fighting antioxidants, is high in vitamins and is a good source of calcium.

Delicious as it is, basil is good for more than cooking. There are more than 60 varieties, and many have colorful leaves and interesting textures, making them great additions in container designs or mixed borders.

For a blast of dark purple, it’s hard to beat ‘Red Rubin’. This basil maintains its dark color all season and has intense, spicy flavor that adds zest to tomato sauce. Even darker in color are the wavy leaves of ‘Purple Ruffles’. They are stunningly beautiful in container and garden combinations, or as colorful additions to salads, adding a clove-licorice flavor.

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One of the most attractive and hardiest varieties of basil is ‘African Blue’, which features lavender-streaked foliage and pink blossoms on long, purple stalks. This variety also is known for its somewhat overpowering, love-it-or-hate-it flavor. You might not care to eat it, but you’ll definitely want to grow it as an ornamental. The storehouse of oils that make it so flavorful volatilizes on warm, sunny…

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