Saturday, 3 March 2018

All You Need to Know to Grow Basil Eat Gumbo and Grow Baby's Breath

What’s On The Show Today?

A spice used in Cajun cooking in the Spice it Up segment; growing the main ingredient for Pesto in Vegetable Heroes, continuing the series “useful and beautiful” with groundcovers for cool temperate climates in Design Elements plus this flower that convey innocence in Talking Flowers.


File' Powder
(Pronounced feelay)
Ever heard of a spice from the leaf of a tree?
The tree is Sassafras albidum and it originates in America.
File' powder is used a lot in Southern American cooking.
Sassafras albidum: Native to America

Ever heard of gumbo? 
It’s not something you chew but a dish from America’s south and in fact this spice s main attribute is to thicken the dish. I'ts a type of fish soup, very delicious I'm told.
Think New Orleans, Louisiana and Cajun cooking.
Let’s find out about it.

File powder is made from leaves of the sassafras tree. 
When ground, file powder smells like eucalyptus or juicy fruit gum.
File powder is a necessary ingredient for Cajun cuisine, especially Gumbo.
File' powder adds a sort of gummy consistency to the dish but it doesn't thicken in the way that cornflour thickens a dish.
File' powder has a similar effect to Okra, which in itself has no substitute.
Not only does it add an unusual flavor, the powder also acts as a thickener when added to liquid. 
You can use any ingredient you have to hand, not just fish. Chicken would be a good substitute.

Did you know that long before the use of file powder for Creole and Cajun cooking, Choctaw Indians pounded sassafras leaves into powder and added them to soups and stews.

If you have any questions about File' powder, either for me or for Ian, or have some information to share, why not drop us a line to or write in to 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


BASIL: Ocimum basilicum

Would you believe basil is in the mint family?

If you check the stems of Basil plants, they’re square, like other members of the mint family.
Did yo know that the word basil comes from the Greek (basileus), meaning "king?”

Basil is originally native to Iran, India and other tropical regions of Asia and has been in used for the medicinal properties of its leaves and seeds.

Curiously, the Romans thought that basil would only have medicinal properties if it were planted while the sower was cursing.
Basil Types:
There are many varieties of Ocimum basilicum.
The type used in Italian cooking and the one you see most in the supermarket or for sale in garden centres is called sweet basil.

On the other hand Thai basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora), lemon basil (O. X citriodorum) and holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), mainly used in Asian cooking.

Although I must say, lemon basil is pretty fine in just about anything and I’ve made pesto from Thai basil and not felt it was too pungent.

Have you ever wonder why is each variety of basil so different in flavour from each other?

  • The reason is because of the different essential oils that come together in different proportions in each variety. 
  • The strong clove scent of sweet basil is derived from eugenol, the same chemical as in actual cloves. 
  • The citrus scent of lemon basil and lime basil has a higher portion of citral, which is also prominent in lemon mint, and, which gives actual lemon peel its scent. 
  • Licorice basil contains anethole, the same chemical that makes anise smell like licorice, and in fact is sometimes called "anise basil." 
  • If you grow your own, you can choose from the many different basils that you'll never find in the supermarket. 
  • Not just purple leafed basil, or giant lettuce leafed basil, lemon scented basil, aniseed basil, cinnamon basil, intensely fragrant small leafed basil, mild perennial Sacred basil that goes so well in Thai, Vietnamese, or perennial Greek basil. 
My perennial or bush basil has been growing in the same bed since 2006!

What does it look like?

Most of us are familiar with what basil looks like, but just to be sure basils oval shaped, opposite leaves, brown or black seeds (also called nutlets) and flower spikes, but flower colour and the size, shape, and texture of the leaves vary by species.

Leaf textures range from smooth and shiny to curled and hairy, and flowers are white to lavender/purple. Leaf colour can also vary, from green to blue/purple, and plants can grow to from 30cm to 1 ½ metres in height, depending on the species.

When is the best time to grow some basil?

For temperate and cool districts-September through to February, for sub-tropical and Arid zones, August to February, and for Tropical climates-all year round-you win the jackpot.

What do basil plants love?

Have you ever bought Basil from the supermarket and wondered why the leaves go black after about a week in the fridge?

  • That’s because Basil is very sensitive to cold and even in the garden, towards the end of summer if you get a cool spell, your Basil will drop it’s leaves and start to yellow. 
  • Yellow leaves towards the bottom of the plant are an indication that the plant has been stressed; usually this means that it needs more or less water, or less or more fertilizer. 
  • That’s also why gardeners in tropical zones can grow Basil all year, with best growth in hot, dry conditions. 
  • Basil behaves as an annual if there is any chance of a frost. 
  • You can sow Basil straight into the ground but I always find it’s much easier and more reliable to start off in punnets. 
TIP:Also, never throw out your out of date packets of Basil seed, because they’ll come up with a pretty good success rate. This is what I’ve found when starting them off in punnets.
  • Basil seed is tiny and can take several weeks to germinate, so if you grow your basil from seeds, the weeds may grow before the basil does in this weather unless you grow it in a pot of course…for all you savvy balcony gardeners. 
  • When you’re ready to plant out your Basil, find a well-drained spot or grow it in a pot. 
  • In the height of summer, four hours of sunlight is all that’s needed for Basil to grow. 
  • Some shade from the midday sun will stop the sun scorching the leaves. 
  • Give your basil frequent doses of liquid manure throughout the growing season to keep up leaf production because the more you feed the plant the bigger the leaves become, in fact underfed basil is less fragrant. 
  • The more you pick your basil the more you need to feed it. 
  • Basil has a very vigorous root system. 
  • If you grow basil in the garden then the basil roots will go and find what the plant needs. 
So even if the soil is not so great, you can still grow basil.

IMPORTANT: Taking Cuttings

  • TIP: If you’re having trouble getting Basil seed to germinate, you know Basil strikes easily from soft tip cuttings, 
  • One way to take Basil cuttings it to cut short stems and suspend them for two weeks or so in water until roots develop. 
  • The other way is to take a tip cutting off any plant at any time of the year. 
  • Cut off all the leaves except for the tiny ones that are emerging at the top and stick the thing in a pot. 
  • Keep it in partial shade and keep it moist. 
  • Basil cuttings root very quickly. Once the little basil plant is actively growing again you can plant it This is a good way of getting some of the more fancy varieties going, BECAUSE they seed they produce won’t be true to type. 
TIP:Once a stem produces flowers, leaf production stops on that stem, and the stem becomes woody, and essential oil production also declines.
To stop this from happening pinch off any flower stems before they are fully mature. 

One other thing: Pest Repellant
Basil is another herb that can also double as a pest repellent.
The pungent odour the basil leaves give off are what keep pests at bay.
And since all kinds of basil work to keep flies and mosquitoes at bay, feel free to explore and find the right types of basil to mix into your garden.

Why are they good for you?
Apart from the fact the Basil and tomatoes may perfect partners in cooking, Sweet basil is low in calories, has almost no fat, and is a good source of vitamin A and is very rich source of many essential nutrients minerals and vitamins AN D another thing--
Basil seeds, in particular, are high in dietary fibre .
Basil also includes flavonoids and antioxidants.



Useful and Beautiful:Plants that won't let you down.

We’re still doing ground covers but we’re now talking cold climates or cool temperate.
Sometimes these districts have rather harsh winters so you need a utility planting that withstand these conditions.
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides
I'm talking with Peter Nixon Director of  Paradisus Garden Design

Peter mentioned Ceratostigma plumbaginoides which commonly called Plumbago but it’s not the common plumbago.
Ruscus aeculiatus or Butcher’s Broom which can be cut with hedge shears into a shape.
If you have any questions about groundcovers, either for me or for Peter or have some information to share, why not drop us a line to or write in to 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


Gypsophila paniculata: Baby's Breath: Soapwort
Easy to grow perennial.
The name is derived from the fact that all the flowers in this family grow well on soil high in gypsum, a mineral that makes the soil too thick and heavy for many other types of plants.
Will grow in sandy dry soil.
Etymology:The genus name is from the Greek gypsos ("gypsum") and philios ("loving")
These bright white dots symbolize
 Floral meaning:
Gypsophila paniculata: Baby's Breath
Everlasting and undying love, including family, platonic, and romantic bonds-used in wedding bouquets and centrepieces.
Pureness and freedom from outside influences or corruption
Easily grown from seed.
Gypsophila sets off other flowers
 Grow it in full sun or partial shade in alkaline soil.
  • Well suited to xeriscaping.
  • Makes a low-maintenance addition to the perennial garden.
  • Like lavender or catmint, baby’s breath creates a charming, soft look in the garden.
  • Because the plant blooms from early summer toAutumn it’s an excellent filler for hiding other perennials after they’re done flowering.
  • Pair it with delphinium, iris, columbine, poppies, yarrow and other cottage garden flowers.
I’m talking with Mercedes Sarmini of

Video recorded live during the broadcast of Real World Gardener radio show on 2rrr 88.5 fm in Sydney every Wednesday at 5 pm.

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