Friday, August 17, 2012

Buckeye party on African blue basil

The little butterfly called buckeye, Junonia coenia,  is suddenly very abundant in my community garden plot. As you can see, it's a very photogenic species. It's also not shy: they are easily approached and photographed. There are three big, bushel basket sized plants of the African blue basil in this garden and that's where the buckeyes are. One plant had about a dozen on it this morning.

Although I've had African blue basil in my garden now and then during the last twenty or so years, until this year I didn't know the story behind it. This basil is grown from cuttings (or through some micropropagation technique): you won't find seed offered. According to the Wikipedia entry for the plant, it occurred as a hybrid for  Peter Borchard of Companion Plants in Athens, Ohio in 1983. A three or four inch plant will be a yard wide by mid-summer.

African blue basil has a distinct fragrance, very different from those of typical culinary basils, so it's not usually substituted for them. It has a strong camphor odor, and that's not an odor most of us associate with food.  Years ago a coworker from India prepared a sweet delicacy for me to sample. Many conversations had convinced her that I knew many of the spices used in traditional Indian cooking. So this delicacy was actually a test:  would I be able to identify the spices used? As a matter of fact, I did. Although she did not realize it then, and I never told her the full story, I did identify all the spices. But at the time I hesitated on naming one: I detected a distinct camphor scent, but since the only use for camphor I knew at the time was its use in moth balls, I did not want to insult her by telling her the food tasted like moth balls! So I played dumb and let her confirm that it was indeed camphor.

Camphor or not, African blue makes a great sorbet!

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