Ocymum basilicum, an annual herb of the Labiatae family, has been cultivated since ancient times. It was once used mainly as an ornamental plant, and occasionally for medicinal purposes.
The Latin term “basilicum” is a translation of the Greek “òkimon basileus”, or “royal herb”; the ancient Greeks cultivated it in ornamental vases, but did not use it in the kitchen.
The Arabs also carefully cultivated basil and learned from the Greeks how to enhance its ornamental appearance and apply its healing properties.
Long ago, the Sicilians referred to it as “basilica” and the Ligurians as “baxeicò”, deriving its name from the Greek term.
Basil is mentioned as an ornamental or medicinal plant, but there is no information about its use as a culinary ingredient. It should be noted, however, that plants that could be cultivated in any garden or in pots would not have been mentioned in cookbooks unless they were absolutely indispensable for the cook. Not even marjoram, parsley or rosemary were acknowledged by recipe makers, since, as wild plants, they lent no prestige to the dish as they cost nothing.
Historically, the original production core in Liguria was limited to the area around Genoa. As favourable market conditions developed and the need arose for new land to increase production and produce seed, local producers moved both eastwards and westwards, making the Liguria region an ideal area for obtaining a particularly typical product.
Basilico Genovese DOP is grown from seeds of the species Ocimum basilicum L. and has the following characteristics: a medium to very tall plant with spreading or cylindrical growth; an elliptical leaf shape with swelling of the blade and without or with very slight edge cuts; flat or convex leaves; and a strong, characteristic smell, with no trace of mint.
The plant can be produced for fresh consumption or for processing, and in either case the organoleptic characteristics must comply with those laid down in the rules.
For fresh consumption, the entire plant is packaged in bunches with between two and four pairs of true leaves. Two types of bunches are available: small bunches and larger ones, called ‘‘bouquets”. A small bunch is composed of three to ten plants complete with roots and wrapped individually in food-safe paper bearing the DOP symbol.
For local or industrial processing, whole plant portions must be used, with up to four pairs of true leaves. During successive harvesting stages, the plants are “trimmed” in order to always use the most tender parts, rich in essential oils and low in fibre. The basil must be sent for processing together with a receipt, which should contain the definition PDO.
Basil for fresh consumption is almost always grown in a sheltered environment, throughout the entire year, in accordance with the rules laid down by the specifications, which require strict control of the soil and climate conditions. Basil intended for processing is mainly grown in open fields during the spring and summer seasons.
The Basilico Genovese DOP production area is only bounded by Tyrrhenian coast in the Region of Liguria administrative area and production is possible throughout the entire year.
Culture tests and analyses of essential oils performed during the PDO recognition procedure have found that the Liguria area possesses particular and clearly recognisable characteristics. These include the combined effect of environmental and climatic factors, and the traditional skills commonly found among the farmers in the region.
The cultivation can be carried out in sheltered environments or, when the weather permits, in open fields. In sheltered environments, the plants may be grown either on pallets or in the ground. The plants may not be grown in inert substrates, and when pallets are used, the percentage of native soil these should contain is specified.
The whole area of Liguria is suited to the cultivation of basil, thanks to its environmental, cultural and human characteristics, which give both the fresh and processed products their uniqueness and typical features, well known and recognised throughout the world.
Over the years, certain varieties of basil have become established in the Liguria region that are suitable for the production of typical Genoese basil. They are characterised by their complete absence of minty odour, very intense and pleasant perfume, and particularly delicate leaf colouring. These features are caused by the particular soil and climatic conditions of Liguria.
This combination of soil characteristics and sunlight, together with a particularly mild climate, in which the sea breeze plays a prominent role, defines the uniqueness of the production area.
Specific technical skills have been developed in Liguria in order to enhance the natural characteristics of the product, ensuring high and consistent standards, regardless of the growing season.Basil represents an important source of income for many farms in the region, where it is grown both in greenhouses and in open fields.
The ability of the local entrepreneurs is not limited exclusively to cultivation methods, but also embraces the subsequent phase of conditioning, which is essential to preserve the unique qualities of the product, through the right combination of historical and new elements, and the application of integrated pest management and organic farming systems.
Curator — Consorzio di Tutela del Basilico Genovese DOP