Ocimum basilicum - Basil
Native of Pacific Islands
Appearance: Basil grows into a bushy plant 6 inches to several feet
high. It has opposite, oval leaves with pointed tips and spikes of small white
or pink flowers.
Growing Know-How: For best results, plant basil outdoors in a sunny
site, but it will tolerate light shade. Give it moist but well-drained, fertile
soil. Fertilize with a water-soluble, organic fertilizer each time you harvest.
Pinch off the growing tips to make the plant bushier; remove all flower spikes
to prolong harvest. The plants will die with the first fall frost unless you
bring them indoors.
Propagation: Grow basil from seed or cuttings. For a head
start on the growing season, start seedlings indoors 4 to 6 weeks before
the last spring frost.
Varieties and Cultivars: Many cultivars of basil are now
readily available. Below are several of the most popular ones.
Sweet basil varieties have glossy leaves and full basil flavor. One
excellent cultivar is 'Genovese'.
Lettuce-leaf basil (O. b. var. crispum)
Lettuce-leaf basil has extra-broad leaves. Cultivars include 'Mammoth',
slow-bolting 'Napoletano', and much-ruffled 'Green Ruffles'.
Bush basils, which make good edgings, range from 3 to 12 inches high.
They include 'Spicy Globe', 'Bush', 'Tiny Leaf Purple', 'Green Bouquet',
and 'Piccolo Fine Verde'.
Lemon basil 'Citriodorum'
Lemon basil 'Citriodorum' has light green leaves and a lemony fragrance.
Direct-sow this basil seed so you don't disturb the sensitive roots. The
leaves are great in vinegars, potpourri, fruit salad, fish, poultry, and
Purple basil has purple foliage and pink flowers. It brings a lot of
color to the herb garden and makes a wonderful red herbal vinegar. Some
cultivars include 'Purpurascens', much-ruffled 'Purple Ruffles', 'Opal',
and dwarf 'Minimum Purpurascens'.
Fragrant basils for special kinds of cooking and potpourri include
purple-stemmed anise basil, cinnamon basil, and Thai basil.
Thai basil (O. citriodorum 'Thai') is an annual native to
Thailand and Burma. It has a darker leaf than common basil and a slight
anise flavor. It is used extensively in Thai and Indian cooking.
Potential Problems: Japanese beetles can be a pest. Handpick
beetles and put them into a container of soapy water and leave overnight
Harvesting and Using: Cut off the branch tips every few weeks
and use the leaves fresh, frozen, or dried with meat, tomatoes, beans,
eggs, eggplant, onions, potatoes, salads, cornbread, butters, vinegars,
pesto, pasta, or potpourri. Dry the flower heads for wreaths. If you
can't use all the basil you harvested right away, place the stems in
water on the kitchen counter for a day or two. It doesn't refrigerate
Related Herbs: Holy basil (O. sanctum) has narrower
oval leaves and pink flowers with a perfumed fragrance that's nice in
potpourri. It gets to be about 18 inches high.