We Southern white boys are just naturally suspicious of herbs. For starters, we never know how to say it. Is it pronounced “erb,” or “herb”? And then there’s that chick factor. Herbs are something ladies eat at the garden club, not to be confused with real food, like, say, barbecued ribs and baked beans.
Nevertheless, under the graceful and gentle tutelage of my bride – gentle as in “eat this basil and oregano or you’re not getting any tonight” – I have gradually come to appreciate herbs. Our garden is rich with the two herbs that are the ticket to my marital bliss, as well as sage, fennel, parsley, and mint. And if our fall garden succeeds, we’ll soon see chives, more parsley, more fennel, cilantro, and dill. I’ve learned to enjoy them all, although we’re still discovering combinations to savor and avoid.
I draw the line, though, at African blue basil. The taste is vaguely (although not pleasantly) reminiscent of licorice. It’s sharp, pungent, and sweet in a sickening, repulsive sort of way.
But neither of us had any hint about its taste when we received a tiny African blue basil seedling in our Grow Alabama box one week in the early summer. It was healthy when we unpacked it, but by the time we carried it to the farm and got it in the ground it was sickly, so droopy that we figured we were just going through the motions. We expected it to be dead within a week.
Cue the music from Little Shop of Horrors. The African blue basil is by far the most healthy and vibrant plant on Veg Hill, even dominating the mint that has joined it in overtaking the old herb garden. The two are side by side, so when we’re not there to insist on decorum, they trade insults and glare at each other.
Perhaps one of the reasons the African blue basil has done so well is that it knows I detest it. Also might have something to do with the fact that neither of us ever disturbs it; it’s too intimidating. Given half a chance or any encouragement from my bride, I would have taken after it with the clippers, uh, the lopping shears, uh, the chain saw. But no, it has continued its tyranny, and we have allowed it to flourish.
So if I’m so opposed to it, how came the title of this post? Glad you asked, my friend. Here in the fall, the pollinators that are crucial to the success of our garden find less food to sustain them. The squash blossoms are gone, the tomatoes are long finished blooming, and the okra is still bearing but no longer flowering. So the little guys so important to us are looking around for food. Here’s where the African blue basil becomes indispensable. When other plants that attract pollinators are providing nothing, we are grateful for that smelly old stick, and so are the bees.
I’m converted; I’ll never criticize the African blue basil again, or at least if I do I’ll quickly follow with praise. And by the way, men, you can’t go wrong with “herb.” Either way you pronounce it is fine.
I think this is the shortest video ever on Longleaf Breeze, less than 20 seconds. Make sure you watch it in HD and full screen.
Once you get used to that fresh basil on your best summer ‘maters, with a drizzle of olive oil and a speck of fresh black pepper and salt, you won’t go back to Hellman’s.