Cooking with new varieties of basil is fun. Each variety has its own delicate nuances and is easy to pair with your favorite food. I like to make kitchen staples, such as infused salt and vinegar, using basil so that I have that great basil flavor handy in the kitchen year-round. However, basil can be used to make body products, as well. Basil essential oil purchased from an aromatherapy-supply retailer or herb shop is useful in making bath products and cosmetics, but for the home gardener, there are many ways to extract oils directly from the plants for fragrance and aromatherapy purposes.
These five projects featuring basil will help you to find new uses for this garden herb.
Use a mortar and pestle to pound together 1/4 cup basil leaves and 1/2 cup salt until basil is broken down. Spread on plate to dry for a few days. Store in covered glass container at room temperature for up to 8 months.
Applications: Sprinkle on vegetables, fish, chicken or meats. It's also delicious on fresh, sliced tomatoes.
Fill a quart jar with clean, patted-dry basil leaves. Cover with white-wine vinegar. Let sit at room temperature for one week. Strain and discard spent leaves. Repeat the steeping process using fresh leaves for a stronger flavor. Strain into bottle with clean sprig of basil for identification. You can make a variety of herbal vinegars, using a different basil in each.
Applications: Lemon- or lime-basil vinegar is wonderful in fruit salads or over greens; opal- or cinnamon-basil vinegar is a tasty finisher in sauces or soups.
Basil Simple Syrup
Bring 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water to boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add 1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves and simmer 2 minutes. Turn off heat and let infuse for 30 minutes. Strain and store in refrigerator. Use within one month.
Applications: Use cinnamon-basil syrup in fruit cups, tea and seltzer; lemon-basil syrup in tea, lemonade, seltzer and vodka; and lime-basil syrup in margaritas, tea and limeade.
Basil Sugar Scrub
This sugar-based scrub makes a gentle exfoliant for hands at the kitchen sink. Basil is thought to have antibacterial properties, helping with skin breakouts and minor cuts and scrapes; its scent also has stress-relieving benefits.
In mini food processor, blend 1/2 cup packed basil leaves (I use cinnamon basil) and 1/2 cup sugar together until finely ground. Add 2 tablespoons oil (jojoba, safflower or another oil of your choice), and process for a few seconds to blend. Store in covered jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, unless using an oil that doesn't go rancid quickly, such as jojoba, in which case it'll keep for up to 6 weeks at room temperature.
To use, wet skin and apply 1 teaspoon scrub, massaging as you go. Rinse with warm water.
Basil Vodka Perfume
You can make a homemade perfume with your favorite basil variety. In a jar, combine one part basil leaves to three parts vodka. Cover and shake. Steep for 4 to 6 weeks at room temperature, shaking every few days. The alcohol will extract the essential oils from the basil. Strain out herbs, pressing on the leaves to get as much “juice” as possible. Pass liquid though a coffee filter into a dark bottle. It will keep three to five years in a cool, dry area.
This article was excerpted from Patricia Lehnhardt's "Bend It Like Basil" in the May/June 2013 issue of Hobby Farm Home.