Basil's leaves give many classic Mediterranean dishes their sweet, fresh taste. The herb sits on window sills across America, ready for cooks to rip off a few leaves to add flavor to a range of dishes. Most people throw away basil stems and flowers, once leaves are stripped. While they're not as useful as chopped leaves, both have their uses -- from the traditional and mystical, to the modern and practical.
Young basil stems contain flavor and a little extra crunch. In older plants the stalks turn tougher and more bitter. However, slender young stems chopped up finely make a suitable addition to Italian pasta dishes, or sprinkled on the top of salads. Similarly, though the flowers have less of the distinctive basil taste, they're good with pesto, tomatoes, or any dish that already contains basil. In some basil species, flowers taste bitter, so ensure you mix them with fresh basil leaves.
Dried basil flowers, seed heads and stems have a spicy, herbal scent ideal for potpourri. These are small bowls of dried flowers and herbs designed to release an aromatic smell into the home. Sewn into a small silk purse or pillow, basil potpourri can freshen up a sock drawer or cupboard. Bouquets of dried flowers with a few basil flowers still attached to their stems also make a pretty home decoration.
Historical Flower Use
In her book "Flowers That Heal," Judy Griffin describes historical uses of basil flowers, including as an insect repellent and healing liquid. High camphor content in the flowers means it makes a pungent oil or liquor. When drunk, the flower essence was thought to help digestion, headaches and nausea. It may even help with concentration, alertness and ability to solve problems. However, no medical evidence exists to back up this idea.
Herb gardeners can choose between several different types of basil. The classic green sweet basil is the most common in cooking. For a more varied and striking garden look, the vivid purple stems of Rubin basil liven up a herb plot. When African Blue basil blooms it creates attractive, lilac-colored flowers that look more like small ornamental blossoms. Dotted throughout a vegetable garden, these basil stems and flowers add a bit of personality and color.