Redolent with the fragrance of aniseed, Thai Basil, known as Selasih in Malaysia, is easy to grow and maintain. In our temperate climate, it should be treated as an annual. Plant the seeds in spring, October is best, and you should be able to move your plants to their final growing position in November. By the end of summer your plants should be about 45 centimetres tall, and if you have planted them together they will form a pretty little hedge of green and burgundy.
As the plants develop their flowers over summer, remove them. By doing this, you will encourage new leaf growth. Keep removing the flowers, and keep cutting the stems for the kitchen until April. Only then, allow the plants to flower. They will drop their seeds over autumn and early winter before the cold weather kills them off. By allowing this to occur, you permit the possibility of self-seeded plants popping up in late spring. Thai Basil, however, does not ‘pop up’ as readily as its cousin, Lemon Basil.
It is an extremely common herb in the cuisines of Thailand and other South-east Asian countries, where it is used to flavour curries, stir-fries, soups… even fresh spring rolls. However, its use is much more limited in Malaysia and Indonesia, where it is normally used in seafood and shellfish dishes. Apart from the uses mentioned above, we even use our Selasih leaves in place of sweet basil leaves in pasta dishes… For us, Selasih is one of the most important plants in the garden.
Interestingly, I have noticed recipes for refreshing summer drinks, Ais Selasih Bandung and Ais Tingkap which utilise the seeds of this fragrant basil plant… Worth a try on our next visit to Malaysia!