Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Herb Harvest: Basil Uses, Magical and Mundane

We are in the midst of harvest season now. The Fall Equinox (also known as Mabon, and the 2nd of 3 harvest festivals on the Wiccan Wheel of the Year) is either the 22nd or the 23rd, depending on which calendar you look at. Either way, in most parts of the country, the harvest is in full swing, and most gardens are beginning to slow down as the nights grow cooler and the days grow shorter.

One of my favorite things to harvest at this time of year are herbs, so I've going to do a short series on a few of the ones I use the most. I tend to grow herbs that have multiple purposes: culinary, medicinal, and/or magical. Many herbs fall under this category, and they often have lovely flowers that attract bees and other beneficial insects. They're usually easy to grow, and you can harvest smaller pieces all through the growing season simply by snipping off the amount you need.

One of my basil patches in the garden.
 Basil is one of the herbs that tastes immensely better fresh than it does dried, and although it can be grown in a pot on a windowsill, I've always found it does much better outside. It's very sensitive to frost, so once it gets cold, you need to do something with whatever basil you have left in the garden. For me, that means PESTO!

Pesto is a simple sauce made from a few ingredients. There is no cooking required--just put them all together in a food processor or a blender and whir them together until you get the consistency you like. If you don't have a machine, you can do it by hand, but this involves a lot of chopping...

Pesto freezes extremely well, so you can grow or buy fresh basil, and put up a big batch at the end of the season. When you pull a container out in the middle of winter, it is like having a little bit of summer on your plate.

Basil's magical properties are love, protection, and prosperity, which means that it pairs well with the other ingredients in pesto. The traditional recipe calls for pine nuts, which are actually the seeds from inside a pine cone. (prosperity, love, strength) and they impart a nice creamy taste that helps to cut the strong flavor of the basil. But pine nuts are expensive and can be hard to find, so you can either mix them with or substitute walnuts (protection, intellect). Along with these you will use olive oil (sacred in many cultures, and used for health, peace, and spirit), garlic (protection and health), grated Parmesan cheese, and salt. (I also use a tablespoon or so of lemon juice, although I've never seen a recipe that calls for it. It's my secret ingredient, so shhhh...)

All the other ingredients for pesto. Just add fresh basil.
Various recipes will call for different proportions of these ingredients, but I never measure. I just start off with a lot of basil and a little bit of everything else, then tweak it as desired. If you are working a little love, protection, or prosperity magick with your cooking, remember to focus on bringing out these qualities as you blend and stir.

The finished product, ready to toss with pasta, put on top of little red potatoes, or, anything else your little heart desires.


  1. I've never made my own sauce before, but this post is kind of inspiring me. Too bad my basil met it's maker this year, a gardener I am not. But I'll have to file the idea a way for next time I have some fresh basil on hand.

    1. Try picking some up at a local farmer's market, if you have one near you.