About this time of year every year I become absurdly fixated on other people's basil plants. Usually they're growing in pretty cramped quarters -- perhaps a pot on a balcony or front porch -- and, leggy and overgrown, they're simply begging to be cut. I have half a mind to start carrying scissors so that I can harvest the fragrant leaves for these inattentive people. That would be wrong, I know, but if I did clandestinely cut a sweet basil stem or two, I'd at least leave an explanatory note behind. This is just what it would say:

Dear basil grower,

It was my professional opinion that your basil plants desperately needed to be cut back, and I should know. (After all, everything I learned about basil came from my stint at one of the first certified organic farms in my area.) Harvesting them regularly happens to be for their own good, you see.

Where your plants were once spindly and tall, you will soon notice them branching to produce even more leaves. And that new growth will be much tidier and more compact. Besides, your basil plants were about to start flowering -- something you really don't want to see, since basil plants in full flower have bitter leaves. Bitter leaves will make a very bitter pesto, and we can't have that.

                Yours,
                S.

I guess there is the remote possibility that the neglected basil plants I come across have been grown merely for decorative purposes, but what foolishness! Basil has such a rich history. It's been grown for centuries because of its multitude of uses.

For my part, I grow sweet basil out in the garden because my honeybees love it, and so do I. I grind the fresh greens into pesto and serve with hot fettuccine. I've also been known to make basil drinks like this one. Basil is said to repel insect pests like flea beetles and aphids, too. That's especially handy since, whether I can chalk it up to global climate change or not, this year's extra hot season has produced a bumper crop.

Story by Susan Brackney. This article originally appeared in Plenty in July 2007.

Copyright Environ Press 2007