Basil, also called great basil, is a culinary herb of the family Lamiaceae. The botanical name of basil is Ocimum basilicum. It is a tender plant, and is used in cuisines worldwide. In Western cuisine, the generic term "basil" refers to the variety also known as sweet basil or Genovese basil. Basil is native to tropical regions from Central Africa to Southeast Asia.
Basil leaves are glossy and oval-shaped, with smooth or slightly toothed edges that typically cup slightly; the leaves are arranged oppositely along the square stems. The small flowers are borne in terminal clusters and range in colour from white to magenta. The plant is extremely frost-sensitive and grows best in warm climates.
Table of Contents
12 - 24 inches
12 - 24 inches
5.1 - 8.5
Growth Nutrition of Basil
Like most plants, basil also benefit from a nutrient boost. Feed your basil plants with a good organic fertilizer every four to six weeks for indoor plants and every 2-3 weeks for outdoor. A well-balanced fertilizer with equal amounts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate, will help to boost leaf production.
Types of Basil
The characteristic feature of Genovese basil is the flatter and pointier leaves. Also, the more aromatic and spicy flavor makes it a great ingredient in several Italian dishes and pesto recipes. This variety is a bit cold tolerant and loves 6-8 hours of direct sun. Well-draining soil with neutral soil pH is best for it.
Popular in the cuisines of Southeast Asia — Thai basil has a touch of licorice with a strong flavor. The purplish stems and flowers make it a showy plant. However, with time it loses its aroma if preserved, so use it fresh. This plant is very susceptible to frost damage, so move it indoors at the first sign of frost. This is also a sun-loving plant and requires moderate watering.
Originating from Naples (Itay), its extraordinarily large leaves are used for wrapping poultry, fish, and cheese. Add it to soups, sauces, fish, and meat dishes, as it’s a bit spicier than a few other sweet basil varieties. It can grow up to two feet tall. It needs full sun to flourish. In the growing season, apply a balanced fertilizer once a month. A loamy potting medium is suitable for planting.
Dark Opal Basil
This basil is unique because of its dark coloring. You may have never considered adding herbs to your flower arrangements, but after reading this article, hopefully, your mind will change. Because this variety of basil is a great one to use in a flower arrangement to add some color.
The wonderful Christmas basil is a mix of Thai and Genovese cultivars. Plants produce large, glossy leaves with a unique, fruity aroma. The taste is said to be like wine with a slight hint of pine. Use it in classic basil recipes or teas and drinks. In the summer, soft white and pink flowers sit atop deep burgundy flower stems.
Purple Ruffles Basil
Not to be confused with the dark opal basil, they both look somewhat similar but are different when it comes to leaves as this one has ruffled foliage. It is one of the best basils for garnishing and adding color to the platter.
Lemon basil is becoming a popular basil variety and is increasingly found in local nurseries and garden centers. Lemon basil grows between 12 and 18 inches tall with lighter green leaves.
Crush a leaf between your fingertips and inhale the wonderful lemony scent of this variety. There is nothing quite like fresh lemon basil. Use lemon basil in fish or poultry marinades, grilled vegetables, desserts, and teas.
Lime basil has a sweet, mild but bright citrus flavor. The leaves are bright green with a narrow shape. Lime basil grows between 16 and 24 inches tall.
While not quite of popular as lemon basil, some gardeners grow both together in the herb garden. The two make an excellent pair when cooking, bringing out the lemon & lime flavors for a tantalizing combination. Use it in sauces, desserts, and teas.
Lettuce Leaf Basil
The large wrinkled leaves of this basil resemble lettuce and are used broadly in salads and fresh dishes due to the mild and less aromatic flavor. Ideal for a lettuce wrap because the leaves are large, around 3-5 inches in size.
Green Ruffles Basil has curled leaves making it a lovely basil to grow in the garden. The flavor is mild and delicate is especially good in pasta dishes. The ruffled leaves also make this a great basil to use in salads.
Green Ruffles Basil is larger than its cousin the sweet basil growing up to 24 inches tall. The leaves are also quite big at four to six inches long. It can be harvested as early as 70 days.
Holy Basil is highly fragrant with a spicy, sweet musky scent. The flavor is best when cooked since eaten raw it can be slightly bitter. Holy basil is used in Indian cuisine, especially in meat curries.
Holy basil is also known as tulsi which means the incomparable one in South Asia. It is a sacred plant in Hinduism. There are many medicinal as well as religious uses for Holy Basil. Holy Basil is used to treat stomach ailments, the kidneys and promote blood circulation.
Cinnamon Basil is a spicy, fragrant variety of basil. The cinnamon basil plant is another beauty in the herb garden. The stems are a reddish, purple color with pink flowers at maturity. Mexican spicy basil is another name of this herb.
Cinnamon Basil has a milder basil flavor and pairs well with fruit contributing a slight zing with the cinnamon flavor. It is also a favorite herb in Asian cooking. Use it in Asian marinades, fried rice, noodle salads, or tossed with grilled vegetables.
One of the shortest basil varieties is named after a sauce made using basil, garlic, and olive oil known as Pistou sauce. Although small, its evenly shaped leaves are still packed with flavor and are perfect for garnishing.
African Blue Basil
African Blue Basil is a tall variety growing up to four feet tall. This basil is stunning in floral arrangements. African Blue Basil has a strong scent of peppers, cloves, mint, and camphor. Culinary uses include vegetable, rice, and meat dishes. Unlike most basil varieties, African Blue is a perennial as long as it doesn’t freeze.
A beauty in the ornamental garden, the Cardinal Basil may be the most striking of the basil varieties. It is easily identified by its mass of tightly clustered cardinal red blooms. Growing two and a half feet tall on sturdy stems, they are a good choice for the back of the herb garden. The Cardinal Basil has a strong spicy scent which makes it a good choice in flavoring vinegar and oils.
Greek basil is one of the smallest varieties growing to only 8 inches tall. It has a compact form with small pointed leaves. Greek basil is often used to spice up salads or in soups or meat dishes. A sprig of Greek basil can also make an excellent garnish.
Greek basil is easy to grow in a pot. It can be enjoyed for its culinary uses or combined with ornamentals in the flower garden. It can be very attractive when located in the front of the border with other low-growing plants such as pansies or violas.
Spicy Globe Basil
Spicy globe is another dwarf basil variety. True to its name it has a strong, spicy flavor with smaller leaves that are excellent served whole in soups salads, and pasta. It is also called Spicy Bush or Boxwood Basil and forms a tight clump when growing. The shape is similar to a dwarf boxwood with a rounded top.
As the name suggests, this basil is bestowed with serrated leaves which are saber-like and ornamental. Just a couple of leaves are enough to add a spicy note to many Asian gourmets. You can rely on this basil even late in the season as it remains productive.
Italian Large Leaf Basil
This not-so-common basil smells and tastes a bit sweeter than the other varieties. If you like a hint of sweetness in your recipes that use basil as an ingredient, then this makes for a perfect pick.
Also popular as African basil, Tree basil, East Indian basil, and Himalayan basil, it has, like its name, a strong clove-like aroma. It is widely used in soups, stews, and also used as tea.
How to Plant Basil
Basil is a warm-weather herb, so it is often planted from nursery transplants that have been started in greenhouse conditions. If you grow basil from seeds, you will need to start them indoors about six weeks before your last spring frost. Basil is ready to start harvesting in about 60 to 90 days from seeding.
Prevent your basil from blooming for as long as possible by harvesting or pinching off the top sets of leaves as soon as the plant reaches about 6 inches in height. If the plant sets flowers, it is on its way to going to seed and will not grow bushy and fill out with a lot of tasty leaves.
The size of your plant will depend on the variety, the growing conditions, and how much you harvest. Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) can reach 6 feet tall but typically grows to about 18 to 24 inches—or even shorter, since its height is kept in check if you're harvesting regularly and not letting the plant flower. Continually pinching and using your basil will coax it into becoming bushy, with more leaves. There are also short 6-inch dwarf varieties, which work especially well in pots.
How to Grow Basil in Pots
Basil works in almost any type of pot or container, even a kiddie pool. But there are two rules for success: keeping the soil moist and not crowding the plants. The easiest way to follow both rules is to plant in large, deep pots, which means more soil for moisture retention and more real estate for spreading out multiple plants and ensuring adequate air circulation. You can plant them as close as 6 to 8 inches apart if you desire a full look to your containers, but spacing them 12 to 18 inches apart is better for air circulation. Overcrowded plants are vulnerable to fungal problems.
To make sure your container plants are properly hydrated, check the soil daily by sticking your finger in to the second knuckle, and water when the soil feels dry at this depth. Use a quality potting soil that drains well so the roots do not sit in water. Also, make sure the container has drainage holes. If the soil is not premixed with fertilizer, add some organic plant food and mix it in well when filling the pot. Thereafter, feed the plants every two weeks with diluted liquid fertilizer.
Basil grows best with six to eight hours of full sun each day. Ample sun also means fewer disease problems and sturdier plants. This is the case except in the hottest climates, where basil prefers part shade.
Basil does best in moist, rich, well-draining soil. It's a good idea to amend your soil with compost or other nutrient-rich mulch.
Water basil deeply on a regular basis, but be sure its soil is well-drained. Use mulch to help keep moisture in.
Temperature and Humidity
Basil is a heat lover. Don't bother planting it until the daytime temperatures remain in the 70s and night temperatures are above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Basil is very sensitive to frost and will be one of the first plants to die in the fall. You can extend the season slightly by covering your plants with row covers when frost is threatened. Don't let the row cover touch the leaves—frost on the outside of the row cover is enough to damage the tender leaves, likely turning them black.
If you live in a frost-free area, you might want to allow some basil plants to set flowers and self-seed in your garden. Not all varieties will do this successfully.
Because you will be harvesting leaves from your basil plants, you may need to fertilize them often. An all-purpose fertilizer works well and helps ensure that new leaves will grow continuously.
Basil is a plant that starts out with one central stem so you want begin pruning fairly early, when it is 6 to 8 inches tall and has 3 to 4 sets of opposite leaves. It can be tempting to harvest those early green leaves, but pruning too early can rob the plant of the energy it needs to grow. Snipping or pinching back the central stem to 1/4 inch above the first set of leaves will create two new branches. As the plant begins to bush out with multiple stems, you can prune up to half of each stem. Be sure to always pinch or cut just above a set of leaves. Harvest any leaves on the portion of stem you have pruned off. To encourage additional branching and more leaves, you will need to prune your basil regularly throughout the growing season. This herb will grow quickly during warm weather and should be checked daily when temperatures approach 80 degrees. When grown from seed, sweet basil will reach maturity at 65 to 70 days and flowering will increase. Pinch back flower buds as they form as part of your pruning regimen. The best time to harvest most aromatic herbs, which include basil, is in the morning after dew has dried or in the early evening before dew has fallen. The essential oils that give the herb fragrance and flavor are at their peak concentration during these times. Since pruning your basil will include harvesting, these times are also best for pruning tasks.
How to Harvest Basil
Start picking the leaves of basil as soon as the plants are 6 to 8 inches tall.
Once temperatures hit 80°F (27°C), basil will really start leafing out.
Harvest in the early morning, when leaves are at their juiciest.
Make sure to pick the leaves regularly to encourage growth throughout the summer.
Even if you don’t need to leaves, pick them to keep the plant going. Store them for later use!
If you pick regularly, twelve basil plants can produce 4 to 6 cups of leaves per week.
How to Store Basil
The best method for storing basil is freezing. Freezing will prevent the plant from losing a good portion of its flavor. To quick-freeze basil, package whole or chopped leaves in airtight, resealable plastic bags, then place in the freezer.
Another storage method is drying the basil (although some of the flavor will be lost). Pinch off the leaves at the stem and place them in a well-ventilated and shady area. After 3 to 4 days, if the plants are not completely dry, place them in the oven on the lowest heat setting with the door slightly open. Remember to turn the leaves (for equal drying) and check them frequently.
Pests and Plant Diseases
Aphids are the biggest basil pest, especially with plants grown indoors. Beetles and slugs also can be a nuisance outdoors, creating holes in the leaves. Cover your entire plant with a soap solution of 2 teaspoons of dishwashing liquid to a full gallon of water to eradicate these pests.
Basil is susceptible to powdery mildew, which can be controlled by providing plenty of space between plants to improve air circulation, and avoiding overhead watering, which can splash fungal spores onto the plants. Severely affected leaves should be picked off and discarded.
Benefits of Basil
Basil reduces oxidative stress
Basil is a powerhouse of antioxidants (free-radical scavengers). These compounds, as the name suggests, combat free radicals found in your body. Free radicals are notorious atoms that cause significant damage to the cells and put you at an increased risk of many health complications, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis.
Also, basil has got flavonoids, which boost your immune system, slow down the effects of aging, and protect your cellular structure from damage.
Basil helps in preventing cancer
Although holy basil is quite different from sweet basil (what we use in most of our recipes), it contains phytochemicals. These are bioactive plant compounds that shield you from various cancers, such as skin cancer, lung cancer, oral cancer, and liver cancer.
Basil benefits digestion
Sweet basil contains eugenol. This chemical compound has anti-inflammatory properties that ensure that your digestive tract is healthy. Basil benefits your digestive and nervous system while ensuring that you have optimal digestion and a proper pH balance in your body.
Basil offers excellent skin benefits
Basil contains powerful and healing essential oils that cleanse your skin from deep inside. And, if you have oily skin, it is a savior for you. Besides cleansing, basil also removes impurities, dirt, and grease that happen to clog your pores. All you need to do is make a thick paste with a handful of basil leaves, sandalwood powder, and rose water. Apply this pack on your face and neck, wait for 15 to 20 minutes, and wash it with cold water.
If you have an acne problem, the antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties of basil will also help you prevent it.
Basil helps in diabetes management
Consumption of basil could result in slow release of sugar in the blood, which is very essential for diabetics. The herb has very low glycemic load. The essential oil present in basil also helps cut down triglyceride and cholesterol levels, which is a persistent risk factor amongst diabetics.
Basil helps fight inflammation in the body
As basil has got potent anti-inflammatory properties and essential oils, such as citronellol, linalool, and eugenol, it helps cure a range of health conditions, including inflammatory bowel conditions, heart ailments, and rheumatoid arthritis. Moreover, consuming basil can also help treat headaches, fever, cold and cough, flu, and sore throat.
Basil helps you deal with depression
Basil contains adaptogen, an anti-stress substance. It helps deal with anxiety and depression while stimulating neurotransmitters that control energy and happiness-inducing hormones. So, sip a hot cup of tea with holy basil and sage brewed to perfection and see the difference.
Basil has got detoxifying properties
Basil is a wonder herb for your liver, one of the most vital organs of your body. It detoxifies your liver and plays a crucial role in preventing fat deposition in your liver. Basil benefits your liver while taking care of your overall health, too.
Basil helps prevent heart ailments
You already know that basil contains eugenol. This chemical compound aids in blocking the calcium channels, thus lowering your blood pressure. Also, the essential oils in basil reduce the level of triglycerides and cholesterol in your body. It is not all. You will also find magnesium in this herb that improves blood circulation and allows your blood vessels and muscles to relax, preventing muscle cramps.
Basil prevents infections
Apart from all the goodness basil possesses, its antibacterial properties are among the most noted ones. It helps fight a range of infections, including skin allergies, urinary infections, respiratory and abdominal infections.
Basil is used for cooking, such as in tomato sauce, pesto, or vinegars.
Basil is also used to make a tea.
In Chinese cuisine, fresh or dried basils are used in soups and other foods.
Basil (most commonly Thai basil) is commonly steeped in cream or milk to create an interesting flavor in ice cream or chocolates (such as truffles).
The leaves are not the only part of basil used in culinary applications, the flower buds have a more subtle flavor and they are edible.
When soaked in water, the seeds of several basil varieties become gelatinous, and are used in Asian drinks and desserts.
Basil has religious significance in the Greek Orthodox Church, where it is used to sprinkle holy water.