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Called the "royal herb" by ancient Greeks, this annual is a member of the mint family. Fresh basil has a pungent flavour that some describe as a cross between licorice and cloves. It's a key herb in Mediterranean cooking, essential to the delicious Italian pesto. Most varieties of basil have green leaves, but one "opal basil" is a beautiful purple color. Lemon basil and cinnamon basil have green leaves but their perfume fragrance and flavour matches their respective names.

Basil is a summer herb but can be grown successfully inside during the winter in a sunny window. It's plentiful during summer months and available year-round. Choose evenly colored leaves with no sign of wilting. Refrigerate basil, wrapped in barely damp paper towels and then in a plastic bag, for up to 4 days. Or store a bunch of basil, stems down, in a glass of water with a plastic bag over the leaves. Refrigerate in this manner for up to a week, changing the water every 2 days.

To preserve fresh basil, wash and dry the leaves and place layers of leaves, then coarse salt, in a container that can be tightly sealed. Alternatively, finely chop the cleaned basil and combine it with a small amount of olive oil. Freeze in tiny portions to flavour sauces, salad dressings.

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