- 9 Weird and Wonderful Types of Basil
- Learn about 18 Types of Basil that you can grow in your garden and containers for their appearance, aroma, and culinary and medicinal uses!
- 1. Sweet Basil
- 2. Genovese Basil
- 3. Thai Basil
- 4. Napoletano Basil
- 5. Dark Opal Basil
- 6. Christmas Basil
- 7. Lemon Basil
- 8. Lettuce Leaf Basil
- 9. Lime Basil
- 10. Cinnamon Basil
- 11. Holy Basil
- 12. Cardinal Basil
- 13. Green Ruffles
- 14. Greek Basil
- 15. Pistou Basil
- 16. Spicy Saber (Serrata)
- 17. African Blue Basil
- 18. Spicy Bush Basil
- Sweet Basil
- Thai Basil
- Purple Basil
- Lemon Basil
- Holy Basil
- Genovese Basil
- Mammoth Basil
- Cinnamon Basil
- Licorice Basil
- Greek Basil
- Dwarf Basil
- African Blue Basil
- Tips For Growing Basil
- How To Use Basil
- How to Care for Basil Plants
- How Many Basil Plants Do I Need?
- 18 Various Basil Varieties You Need to Try
- Basil Varieties
- citriodorum & x citriodorum
- On Researching the Many Basil Varieties
- Cinnamon Basil Vs. Thai Basil: SPICEography Showdown
- How does cinnamon basil differ from Thai basil?
- Can you use cinnamon basil in place of Thai basil and vice versa?
- When should I use cinnamon basil and when should I use Thai basil?
- Basils: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties
9 Weird and Wonderful Types of Basil
6. African Blue Basil
African Blue basil, used in skin care products because of its high content of camphor, is another type of perennial basil. It is a hybrid of East African basil with the garden variety called Dark Opal. The leaves of this basil start off as deep bluish purple, but turn bright green as they mature. We like to put the African Blue basil plant right on the dinner table, and pick the leaves off as we eat. It looks gorgeous, so it acts as a decoration too.
7. Spicy Globe Basil
Spicy Globe basil, used to add a fiery hint in any dish, is shaped like a spherical bush (hence the name). It has smaller leaves than the more common types of basil, and this hybrid has both a savory and zesty flavor.
8. Licorice Basil
Licorice basil, a healthy alternative to licorice candy, has an intense anise flavor. The leaves of this variety are slightly pointed, and the plant is native to India and ancient Persia. With a little bit of honey and some hot water, a cup of licorice basil tea could be the delicious replacement for anyone with a sweet tooth.
9. Dwarf Greek Basil
Dwarf Greek basil, interestingly used an an insect repellent, has very small leaves, and also grows into a spherical shaped bush. It is also called bush basil, and has a savory flavor. Since this type of basil has such small leaves, it is easily dried and tastes excellent sprinkled on garlic bread or in a soup or stew.
At Íko, we’re eager to be part of the movement toward artisan cooking, and the growing desire to experiment with exotic and delicious culinary herbs. It coincides with our passions of nature integrated into design, and design as art. There are so many unique and flavorful varieties of basil that you can grow in your Íko one day. Soon, you’ll have the opportunity to grow many other rare herbs and incorporate them into your health routine and lifestyle. And basil is just the start.
Learn about 18 Types of Basil that you can grow in your garden and containers for their appearance, aroma, and culinary and medicinal uses!
If you’re a basil lover, you’ll love to grow these basil varieties. All of them are edible and perfect for growing in containers.
1. Sweet Basil
It is among the most popular basil varieties to grow and is used widely in cooking its tender, aromatic foliage. Ranging from green to purple the herb can attain a height of 12-18 inches. Read these basil growing tips.
Use fertile soil that is rich in organic matter. Grow it in a sunny spot and keep it well watered. It does not tolerate harsh cold weather.
2. Genovese 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 prefers 6-8 hours of direct sun. Well-draining soil with neutral soil pH is best for it.
3. Thai Basil
Popular in the cuisines of Southeast Asia–Thai basil has a touch of licorice with a strong flavor. The purplish stems and purple-veined leaves make it a showy plant. With time it loses its aroma, 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.
Also Read: How To Grow Licorice (Mulethi)
4. Napoletano Basil
Originating from the regions of Naples (Itay), its extraordinarily large leaves are used for wrapping poultry, fish or cheese. Add it to soups, sauces, fish and meat dishes as its a bit more spicier than a few other sweet basil varieties. It can grow up to two feet tall.
Needs full sun to flourish. In the growing season apply balanced fertilizer once a month. A light potting medium is suitable for planting.
5. Dark Opal Basil
Bored with the similar display of green foliage herbs? This exotic looking dark purple foliage basil can enhance the beauty of your landscape. Apart from regular culinary uses, you can steep it in vinegar or oil to add color and aroma to the dishes.
Place the pot nearby a sunny windowsill so that it can enjoy in the direct sun. Keep the soil evenly moist in the initial stage when the plant is establishing.
6. Christmas Basil
It’s a mix of Thai and Genovese basil. The fruity aromatic flavor of this basil is somewhat like wine with a tinge of pine. Work it into pesto, sauces, salads, herbal dishes as well as in drinks and teas.
Ample watering with mulching around the base is what it needs. 65 to 85 Degrees F is the optimum growing temperature. Japanese beetles can skeletonize the whole plant, be on a lookout for them.
7. Lemon Basil
Foliage is tender light green and plant grows 20-24 inches in height. It’s not as ornamental as other basil varieties but forms beautiful white spikes that are tall and appealing. Add lemon basil to the ice tea for warm lemon flavor and to it make it an invigorating drink.
Add a phosphorus-rich fertilizer in the first week of planting. Water daily but not so much that the soil becomes soggy. Prune it time to time to improve air circulation. Check out our herb pruning tips to learn more.
8. 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.
Also Read: How to Grow Lettuce
Beware of frost if you plant this basil outdoors. Sow the seeds 0.25 inches deep and space them 10 inches apart. Avoid using the fertilizer with high nitrogen content.
9. Lime Basil
Just like the lemon basil, it is also one of the types of basil that is citrus flavored. Although, it is not as common as lemon basil. You can grow a combination of both lemon and lime basils as they make a great pair. It’s a flavorful cooking herb and you’ll many lime basil uses on the web.
Also Read: Lemon Scented Flowers
Choose a spot which receives around six of direct sun. Don’t overwater the plant. Install support such as stake if the plant gets too heavy.
10. Cinnamon Basil
Mexican spicy basil is another name of this basil. Growing around 25 inches tall, shiny leaves and small pinkish-lavender and mauve color flowers make it an excellent choice for flower arrangements. Because of its spicy flavor and fragrant aroma, it goes well in fruit salads and garnishes.
Rich, moist and slightly acidic soil is optimum for planting. Space the plants 6-12 inches apart. Water routinely and avoid the soil from drying out completely.
11. Holy Basil
Also known as Tulsi, it is revered in the Hindu religion for its medicinal and spiritual characteristics. The leaves splashed with purple and green give this plant an appealing look. If that was not enough having it daily in the tea or chai will boost your immune system. Here are some of its fantastic health benefits! Learn how to grow it here.
Grow it in a sunny spot. Unlike other basils, it tolerates drought and poor soil. However, for the optimum growth, water regularly and use light and well-drained soil.
12. Cardinal Basil
The noticeable feature of cardinal basil is its striking red flowers and spicy scent. That’s why it earns a well-deserved position in the ornamental gardens. It looks like celosia but still, you can use it in your kitchen in recipes.
Avoid planting it too early in the springs. Maintain moisture in the soil during the growing season. It prefers a warm climate and becomes a beautiful container plant.
13. Green Ruffles
This list of types of basil can’t end without adding this basil variety. The ruffled and fringed leaves of this basil are very engaging. It bears spikes of large purple flowers, which make it well suited as the border plant. It can be used in salads, noodles, and pasta because of the mild flavor.
It can tolerate a bit shady spot but still need part sun. Water persistently and mulch around the base so that soil retains moisture.
14. Greek Basil
Growing only up to 8 inches, it’s a small bushy variety of basil that is native to Southeast Asia. This type of basil is a nice option for those with a lack of space. The leaves are pointed and can be used in garnishes, salads, meat dishes or soups, and tomato dishes.
Exposure to direct sun or fluorescent light is necessary for optimum growth. During the dry spells keep the plant well-watered. In hot climates, keep it in part sun.
Also Read: How to Grow Asian Pears
15. Pistou Basil
One of the best short basil varieties named after a sauce made by 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 dishes.
Water moderately to keep the soil evenly moist. Move outdoors only after the last frost has passed. To encourage branching, pinch terminal shoots.
16. Spicy Saber (Serrata)
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 the Asian gourmets. You can rely on this basil even late in the season as it remains productive.
Sow the seeds indoors and transplant after the passage of frost or sow directly in the garden when the temperature is warm enough. Provide plenty of light and water.
17. African Blue Basil
If there is a variety of basil which stands out among other basil varieties, this is the one. It grows up to four feet tall and has a fragrant, spicy aroma that wafts in wet wind. The enchanting beauty of this variety and its edible merits make it must-have basil.
Propagate it from cuttings. Remove dead stems and foliage and debris after the growing season. Beware of aphids, flea beetles, Japanese beetles, snails, and slugs.
18. Spicy Bush Basil
This is a compact variety of basil which grows in a bushy form as the name suggests. The leaves are intensely flavored, which its addition makes the soups and sauces more flavorful.
Plant in a good quality well-draining soil. Like other basil varieties, it also needs plenty of sunlight to thrive. To help it flourish you need to pinch it back.
It may be hard to believe, but there was a time when I hated basil. I found it overly pungent, and it always seemed to overpower any dish. Thinking back on it, I might have been tasting bad quality basil — either basil that was past its prime or grown in stressed conditions. Today, I enjoy growing fresh basil and adding it to a myriad of dishes.
Think basil is just for making Italian foods like pasta and pizza? Think again. There are a wide variety of basil types, and all can be tools in your culinary kit. Here are 12 of my favorite basil varieties that I think you should consider growing in your garden — indoors or out.
Leigha Staffenhagen / Insteading
- Sun requirements: Full sun. A sunny windowsill will do in most cases.
- Moisture needs: Well-drained soil.
- Best for: Nearly anything.
You may never have heard it referred to as sweet basil, but the stuff you buy in the grocery store is often this variety. It looks very similar to Genovese basil.
- Sun requirements: Full sun. Loves hot weather.
- Moisture needs: Don’t overwater but avoid allowing the soil to dry out.
- Best for: Cooking Thai dishes.
I’m growing a variety of Thai basil in my garden at the moment, and it seems to be one of the last to bolt. The slender leaves and purple flowers are a characteristic of Thai basil. So is the pungent, spicy flavor.
Will Power / Flickr (Creative Commons)
- Sun requirements: Full sun.
- Moisture needs: Well-drained soil.
- Best for: Adding color to dishes as an ingredient or garnish.
There are a few different kinds of purple basil out there, but they’re all somewhat similar in taste and texture.
Related Post: Growing Basil
What makes this type of basil stand out is its purple hue. Some varieties of purple basil are more pungent than others.
- Sun requirements: At least six hours of sun.
- Moisture needs: Water when topsoil is dry.
- Best for: Adding a citrus-kick to basil-infused dishes.
This type of basil has a distinct lemon flavor. Of course, it still tastes like basil, but citrus undertones make this a truly unique basil to grow and add to dishes.
- Sun requirements: Full sun, thrives in the heat.
- Moisture needs: Well-drained soil.
- Best for: Medicinal treatment of headaches and stress.
This type of basil is native to India. It’s actually a perennial and has a host of medicinal properties.
View this post on Instagram
We’re eating lots of pesto these days. #pesto #pestopasta #basil #genovesebasil #hometerroir
- Sun requirements: Heat-loving, needs full sun.
- Moisture needs: Well-drained soil, but water well in the heat of the summer.
- Best for: Cooking and garnishing traditional Italian dishes.
One of the most common types of basil, and one that I often grow in my garden, is Genovese basil.
Related Post: Everything Basil
This Italian variety pairs well with a variety of dishes and has smooth, bright green foliage.
- Sun requirements: Full sun.
- Moisture needs: Well-drained soil.
- Best for: Any dish where you might use sweet or Genovese basil.
This type of Italian basil produces very large basil leaves that look almost like lettuce leaf — which is why mammoth basil is sometimes also known as lettuce basil.
- Sun requirements: At least six hours of sun per day.
- Moisture needs: Well-drained soil.
- Best for: Making a variety of sweet dishes.
My least favorite type of basil, but one that some people really enjoy, is cinnamon basil. I find it unpleasant, but perhaps that’s because I’m not a fan of actual cinnamon. It has its place in certain desserts but quickly overpowers a dish if used incorrectly. It’s sometimes called Mexican basil.
- Sun requirements: Full sun.
- Moisture needs: Well-drained soil.
- Best for: Replacing anise in recipes and dishes when you’re out. Use it in desserts, or make teas with it.
This type of basil may be an acquired taste for some because of its strong anise flavor. If you don’t like licorice, find another basil variety to grow.
knackeredhack / Flickr (Creative Commons)
- Sun requirements: Full sun.
- Moisture needs: Regular watering.
- Best for: Garnishing dishes and growing in containers.
A compact variety that doesn’t get much taller than about 8 inches. The leaves are tiny, too. Pick a few small leaves to garnish or flavor dishes.
- Sun requirements: Needs a sunny spot.
- Moisture needs: Moist but not waterlogged soil.
- Best for: Garnishing dishes and drying. Grows well in containers.
I have a few different types of basil growing in my garden at the moment, but dwarf basil is one of my favorites. This year is the first time I tried growing a compact type basil, and I may never go back to regular varietals ever again. I love that it takes up little space and looks so attractive thanks to its tight cropped growing habit.
African Blue Basil
View this post on Instagram
African blue basil! (Not cinnamon basil as I initially thought, thank you plant community).🌿 My container plants have been killing it. We initially got this dude to attract pollinators, 🐝 but he smells delicious. Falling in love has layers, y’all. #africanbluebasil
- Sun requirements: Full sun.
- Moisture needs: Well-drained soil.
- Best for: As an ingredient in beauty products, as an ornamental plant, or for cooking.
This gorgeous basil varietal isn’t just for show. Because it contains high quantities of camphor, it’s often used in skincare and beauty products. I’m particularly fond of the purple blooms on this basil plant.
Tips For Growing Basil
Ever since I started out as a gardener, I grew basil. It’s one of the most popular herbs to grow because it’s used in so many dishes. However, growing basil isn’t always a cakewalk. The plant is finicky and particular about its living conditions.
Related Post: Growing Herbs Indoors
Why put in the effort to grow basil, then? Because harvesting it from your homegrown plant is SO MUCH cheaper than buying bunches of fresh basil at the grocery store. Grow more than you need, and share it with others, or dry it for use during the winter.
Markus Spiske / Unsplash
In general, basil prefers sunny conditions. Never plant basil in an area where the soil is waterlogged. The soil should drain well and not puddle after heavy rainfall. Avoid growing basil in containers that are too small.
People tend to kill their basil plants because they keep them in store-bought containers that eventually suffocate the plant’s roots. Basil should be watered, but not too frequently. It’s better to let the soil dry out than keep it moist throughout the plant’s lifetime. Don’t bother fertilizing basil. Too much fertilizer can compromise the aroma and flavor of basil leaves.
Remember to pick your plant leaves frequently. This will encourage bushy growth and prevent the basil from flowering and going to seed.
How To Use Basil
If you find yourself in the fortunate position of having a ton of basil, check out these uses for the tasty herb.
Obviously, the most popular way to use basil is to cook with it. Toss it into a pasta dish, add it atop pizza, or create a delicious fragrant pesto.
The strong scent of basil can actually ward off pesky insects in the garden which is why basil is a frequently used companion plant for garden vegetables. Use basil as part of your natural bug spray recipe to help ward off troublesome pests.
Add a few drops of basil essential oil to water and create a fresh-smelling room spray. Add to bathwater for a soothing, anxiety-reducing bath. For some, the scent of basil helps to relieve headaches.
Basil has a few medicinal uses like aiding in digestion and reducing fatigue. For medicinal use, it’s often made into a tea for drinking. Basil also has antibacterial properties. Used topically, it can treat skin flare-ups like acne.
Basil plants are some of the easiest herbs to grow. Even better, there are many wonderful varieties to select from for use in various culinary dishes. With so many great options, choosing a variety can be a bit difficult. You may find around 40 different kinds at your local garden centers, or even more unique varieties you can grow from seed. Which to choose?! Read on to discover 18 beauties you might enjoy.
How to Care for Basil Plants
Caring for basil plants is simple, no matter which variety you choose. It’s also the same whether you plant indoors or out.
These plants grow quickly when planted in well-draining, moist soil that has a neutral pH balance. Make sure the soil isn’t too wet, and water the plants from the base when the soil becomes dry to the touch. Make sure the environment remains warm (above 50 degrees F) and that they receive no less than six hours of full sunlight each day.
If you live in a hot location, your basil plants will benefit from afternoon shade.
Plant basil in the spring or summer, after there’s no chance of frost. If you live in a colder environment, you may consider protecting your basil plants. They’re very sensitive to frost. Each variety will require different spaces between the seedlings if you plant from seed as well, so make sure to pay attention to planting instructions based on the type you select.
You can also grow this herb indoors. Just note that potted basil needs 10 hours of fluorescent lighting each day, or to be placed in a sunny, south-facing window.
How Many Basil Plants Do I Need?
For a family of four, all you need is around two or three of your favorite basil plants. However, if you enjoy making sauces such as pesto from scratch, or freezing part of your harvest of year-round use, consider growing a dozen or more plants.
If you have a small yard, live in an apartment, or plan to grow an indoor herb garden, a smaller variety may work best for your needs. Tiny basil varieties are great for containers, and you can quickly move them outdoors during the hot summer months or indoors for protection during the freezing temperatures.
Some gardeners like to select one variety to plant, while others enjoy mixing a few different types of basil in a flower bed. Not only does this allow you versatility in the flavors you introduce to your meals, but various types of basil also appear great when paired together in an outdoor bed or container garden.
18 Various Basil Varieties You Need to Try
Use the following list of 18 tasty varieties to help determine the right basil plants for your needs. Your choice will depend on the types of food and drink you enjoy making with this herb. Some types are also great when used to brew herbal teas for medicinal purposes, or when planted to create stunning herb gardens around the home.
Sweet basil is a popular choice for making Italian sauces such as pesto or soups. It comes in multiple varieties, all of which will grow from around 14 to 30 inches tall in hot, sunny spots. Common variety names include Napolitano, Genovese, Lettuce Leaf, and Italian Large Leaf.
2. Sweet Thai Basil
Via Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Unlike sweet basil, this is an Asian variety with a spicy flavor. It’s a must-have if you enjoy cooking Asian cuisine at home, and sweet Thai basil adds both great fragrance and pop of color in your herb garden. The green leaves remain small, while the purple stems and blooms reach up to 16 inches.
3. Christmas Basil
Via Thompson and Morgan
This variety is distinguishable by its 2-inch-long glossy leaves contrasted with deep purple flowers. It’s often used to make salads and drinks due to its fruity flavor. Best of all, these basil plants can grow up to about 20 inches tall which makes them look stunning when planted in a border garden.
4. Pistou Basil
Dwarf basil varieties such as Pistou basil are compact plants that feature tiny little leaves. They’re wonderful when planted in containers or as small garden borders, as the plants will only reach up to 8 inches tall and have a glorious aroma. This variety is also delicious when used in sauces and garnishes, and is used to create the popular pistou sauce: a French variation on pesto.
Dark opal basil is a must-have for basil lovers. It’s a dark purple shade from stem to flowers, and its leaves look great in wreaths and other floral arrangements. Pair it alongside summer flowers as contrast, or amid brighter plants in an herb garden. It’s a spicy addition to a salad, used as a garnish, or made into a pesto sauce.
6. Corsican Basil
The Corsican variety is adored for a wide range of uses, from culinary to medicinal. It’s a lush purple and green color and is often raised from seed. Both the fragrance and flavor are mild, and are ideal if you’re new to cooking with this wonderful herb.
7. Ajaka Basil
Via Morningsun Herb Farm
Ajaka basil is a German variety with lush foliage, and reddish-purple flowers that will bloom during the late summer. The sweet-yet-spicy flavor makes it perfect for cooking, and this variety is even tolerant of cold and disease. As such, it’s perfect for beginners living in colder areas.
8. Lime Basil
Via Grow Joy
Small leaves and white flowers encompass this compact variety, and you can expect it to grow from 12 to 16 inches. As the name suggests, this plant has a lime-like scent and flavor that makes it great with either chicken or fish recipes. Add it to teas or margaritas, and try it as a unique addition to your indoor kitchen herb garden.
9. Lemon Basil
A light green plant spotted with white flowers, this basil variety will grow to around 24-inches-tall. It tastes great when used to make salads or in fish recipes thanks to the lemon flavor, and many people enjoy adding a spring of it to a refreshing glass of iced tea on a hot summer’s day.
Via Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
As the name suggests, this basil variety comes with a spicy flavor and strong aroma. The purple stems can grow to around 30-inches-tall, and it’s framed with purple flowers. It’s perfect for fruit salads or used as a garnish.
This variety is also known as “sacred basil”, and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. Its leaves make an herbal tea to aid your body’s immune system, and the mottled green and slightly purple, smaller leaves are beautiful in a garden. It grows to around 14 inches tall and is easy to grow in containers as well.
12. Spicy Bush Basil
This small, cute basil variety has tiny leaves and will only grow to around 8-10-inches-tall. As a result, it’s perfect for containers, or for an herb garden border.
That said, don’t let the tiny leaves mislead you. They pack a punch of intense flavor, which is why spicy bush basil is often used to add flavor to soups and sauces.
13. Purple Ruffles
Via Specialty Produce
This variety is very similar to Dark Opal in both appearance and flavor. In fact, the Purple Ruffles variety is often used to make the same dishes. The difference lies in the leaves, which are more feathery in appearance.
Greek basil is another compact variety that’s perfect for a container herb garden, or for small growing spaces. The plants will only grow to around 8-inches-tall, and the green leaves are tiny. It’s often used in soups, meat dishes, salads, or used as an ornamental.
15. Summerlong Basil
Summerlong basil is a dwarf variety that’s also perfect for container gardens. It will mature earlier than any other type of basil, and is also slower to bolt. You can expect production around 30-60 days from the time you plant.
16. African Blue Basil
Via North Carolina Farms
This variety of basil stands out among others thanks to its bright blue hue and its stunning height. This plant will grow up to 4 feet tall, but it’s also a perennial unlike other varieties of basil. As a result, you can expect it to return every year as long as the plants don’t freeze. It’s perfect for flower arrangements, as well as rice, vegetable, or meat recipes.
This variety works equally as well in cooking as it does in flower arrangements. The sweet, distinct flavor offers slight hints of licorice though, which may not be right for everyone.
18. Cardinal Basil
Cardinal basil offers stunning red flowers that look wonderful as an ornamental. This plant’s spicy flavor pairs well with oil and vinegar in a range of dishes.
Each of these varieties offers something unique, and they’re all easy to cultivate. You’ll be able to harvest tons of it to cook with, or just enjoy their lush, green beauty. However you choose to revel in their beauty, happy gardening!
Potted Basil Plant
Now and again, I see people visiting Our Herb Garden who are looking for information on the different basil varieties available. I started out in the naive belief that I would need around half a day to put something together. Order, family, genus, species, cultivar – terms I hadn’t used since high school. How hard could it be to write about the different varieties of basil?
Oh, was I in for a rude awakening.
Species, variety and cultivar appear to be used with reckless abandon even by folks who should know better. It seems there are somewhere around 33 species of basil and as many as 200 varieties or cultivars of basil. There are annuals, perennials and shrubs. There are sweet basil varieties, spicy, fruity and licorice flavored varieties of basil. The leaves can be tiny or as big as lettuce leaves. The flowers range from bright white to purples that are almost black. Basil plants can have green leaves, purple leaves and even red leaves.
Basil apparently cross-pollinates easily – one scientific paper referred to it as “promiscuous.” Some of the species and cultivar names are being used interchangeably and I suspect more than a few sites are providing inaccurate information. Even scholarly sources seem to contradict themselves. And, just in case there wasn’t enough confusion, some portions of the genus have been reclassified in recent years.
I thought I would start at the beginning.
Let’s get the really easy one out of the way, we are talking about living organisms from the Kingdom of Plantae – i.e., plants.
Basils are in the order Lamiales – flowering plants, whose first leaves or seed leaves grow as a pair (known by the scientific term dicotyledons). Other well-known garden plants in this order include jasmine, lavender, lilac, mint, olive, rosemary and snapdragon.
Lamiaceae or Labiatae is the mint or deadnettle family of plants. This group includes basil, hyssop, lavender, marjoram, mint, oregano, sage, thyme and rosemary.
Now we are to the basils – genus Ocimum.
There’s a shorthand and method to how cultivars are named. The best article I found that explains how it all works together is on the Floridata website. The naming of species is a bit of first come, first named for. When a name is accepted but later considered to be what amounts to a duplicate, it is reclassified as a synonym. But, unlike the words ‘pretty’ and ‘lovely’ the two scientific names are not interchangeable. The accepted name is the only one that should be used.
When discussing the various species, scientists will often abbreviate the genus name with the first letter. Ocimum basilicum becomes O. basilicum.
I was able to find information on 11 of the basil species. In time, this page will link to more detailed information about a selection of basil cultivars and where you can buy seeds and plants.
Ocimum americanum is also known as American, lemon basil, wild basil and “hoary” basil. The origins of this species of basil are tropical Africa and Asia. They generally grow 1-3 feet tall and are somewhat bushy. One historic work described the growth habit as looking like a broom. This species tends to prefer sunny, wind-sheltered conditions. Small leaves grow in pairs with larger separations along the stem than some of the other basil varieties. The leaves have an intense lemon scent. Flowers are typically white to whitish lilac.
Cultivars include lime basil.
It seems these tender perennials which require protection in colder climates.
Ocimum basilicum is the species of basil that is most commonly used in cooking. It is also called sweet basil, common basil and sometimes Thai basil. Most commercially sold cultivars are sweet basil.
O. basilicum generally blooms from June to frost. The flowers are described as magenta. These annual herbs like full sun and well-drained soil with regular watering.
Cultivars include: lime basil, boxwood, horapha (anise basil), napolatano, genovese, lettuce leaf, nufar, purple ruffles, queen of sheba, sweet dani, sweet large leaf Italian, Thai Siam queen and Well-sweep miniature purple. At least one site recommended Sweet Genoese/Genovese Profumitissima as being the the variety with the truest basil flavor.
Ocimum campechianum is not actually a basil, as we know them, despite being listed in the Ocimum genus. (I did mention all of this is confusing, right?) This Amazon native has essential oils that are comparable to the essential oils of common basil and thyme. It is also known as Amazonian basil, wild sweet basil, wild mosquito plant, least basil, Peruvian basil, spice basil, alfavaca-do-campo, manjericao and estoraque.
Plants generally grow only up to 18 inches tall. Flowers are pinkish-lavender or white. It has naturalized in South America and the southernmost portions of Florida. (It is considered endangered in Florida.)
Some cultures use O. campechianum as a cooling tea or mosquito deterrent but it not generally considered a true culinary herb, though some cultures use it to flavor soups and stews. It is used in Central American folk medicine for colds, stomach disturbances, parasitic infestations and dysentery.
Also known as camphor, hoary or hairy basil. A sweetly-scented, perennial basil from Asia. Generally smaller plants that grow 6 to 24 inches tall with leaves ½ -1 ½ inches long. The flowers are white. The few references I found to this species were from the 1800s. It does, however, seem to be actively grown in India for its medicinal properties.
citriodorum & x citriodorum
These terms are being used interchangeably to refer to the same group of basil varieties. Since Our Herb Garden is about home gardening and not a scientific journal, I’m just going to assume they are one and the same and not actually two different things. I suspect ‘x citiodorum’ is the correct version and folks just drop the ‘x’.
This species is actually a hybrid between O. basilicum (common basil) and O. americicanum (African basil). It can also be referred to as lemon basil, Thai lemon basil or Lao basil. While this type of basil is a mainstay in Laos and Indonesia, it is somewhat new to American kitchens.
Both the seeds and the leaves are treasured for their lemon-flavor. The seeds are soaked in water and often used in sweet desserts. This species flowers from June to October. Plants grow to around 18 inches tall and 12 inches wide. They like full sun to dappled shade but will not grow if in an overly shady spot.
One of the more popular cultivars of O. citriodorum appears to be “Perpetual Pesto.”
Generally grows 8-12 inches tall, branching from a woody base. Appears to be a native of the African continent.
Ocimum gratissimum is a species of basil that is also sometimes known as African basil (yes, O. americicanum is also often called African basil), African curry, clove basil, tree basil and wild basil (in Hawaii). As the name implies, this species is a herbaceous perennial grass. It is woody at its base with fuzzy, lime-green leaves. It likes wet conditions and is often found along roadsides. It is considered an invasive species in some parts of the world, particularly in New Caledonia and the Cook Islands.
In Nigeria, many eat the leaves as a vegetable.
Also known as hoary basil but unlike O. canum this one is from Africa. One popular cultivar is African Blue. The flavor is quite strong and camphorous. Recipes from Africa will often require this type of basil to obtain an authentic flavor. They are tender perennials. Their longer-growing nature makes them ideal to be crossed with sweeter basils to take advantage of the perennial nature of one while obtaining the sweeter flavor of the other.
Sachets made from the camphor-scented leaves are often used to protect woolens. The leaves are also made into a tea as a treatment for upset stomach.
A dwarf bush species used much like sweet basil. Can be grown in containers. Native of Ceylon.
This species is also known as Greek basil. It’s fine leaves and pungent aroma make it a favorite for commercial growers offering dried basil leaves. The relatively compact size makes it a good choice for containers.
A number of seed companies are referring to Greek basil as O. basilicum minimum but my research indicated that may be an incorrect classification.
The species ocimum tenuiflorum is similar to common basil (O. basilicum) but is considered a short-lived perennial and has smaller flowers. It can grow up to 3 feet tall. They are “hairy” and often purplish with pale purple flowers. In Asia, it is often known as clove basil, holy basil, tulsi and tulasi. It is spiritually important in Hinduism and was often grown in large vessels near the entrances to Hindu forts and temples. They also use the wood of the plants to make beads for their rosaries.
Here’s where the naming stuff goes awry again. Some sites are listing Ocimum sanctum as a synonym of O. tenuiflorum and others are listing O. tenuiflorum as the synonym of O. sanctum and others are using both separately. I’m guessing references to holy ___ or sacred ____ cultivars are all of the species O. tenuiflorum.
On Researching the Many Basil Varieties
It was easier to find lists of language translations of the different species than information on the plants themselves. Older sources used highly scientific descriptions that us mere mortals would never hope to understand. Plant origins seemed to matter more than growing habits and physical characteristics.
Two scientists compared 37 different cultivars of basil, primarily O. basilicum. While not the goal of their research, it certainly showed that basil varieties, even in the same species vary greatly. Flowers took 16 to 64 days to bloom. The quickest bloomers were Blue Spice and Sweet Dani; the slowest Fino Verde, Magical Michael and Purple Ruffles. Fino Verde produced the highest fresh weight and dry weight yields (could slower to flower varieties mean more tasty leaves to harvest?). Heights varied too – Spicy Bush was the smallest and Sweet Dani was the tallest.
The differences in basil species appear to be determined at the chemical level. Leaf size, color, scent and taste do not always provide reliable clues to identification. But, in the end, does it matter what each basil species or basil variety is called? What matters is if it will grow in Our Herb Garden and provide the basil taste we hunger for.
Cinnamon Basil Vs. Thai Basil: SPICEography Showdown
Cinnamon and Thai basil both belong to the same family that includes regular basil (AKA sweet basil or Mediterranean basil) and mint. One factor that can make a comparison between these two tricky is that some people refer to cinnamon basil as Thai basil. Both cinnamon basil and Thai basil are common ingredients in Thai cooking. The Thai basil that most people from the West know is a separate plant that is also called horapha. These two herbs clearly have a lot in common but there are also some major differences that we will cover in the SPICEography Showdown below.
How does cinnamon basil differ from Thai basil?
As its name suggests, cinnamon basil gives a cinnamon-like flavor to your food in addition to some of the notes that you would expect from basil. The cinnamon flavor comes from a compound called methyl cinnamate.
In comparison, the flavor that Thai basil brings to food is closer to the anise or licorice flavor than it is to that of cinnamon. Thai basil also has an intense camphor note. You should note that cinnamon basil is just one of multiple herbs that are sometimes called Thai basil. Holy Thai basil is also known as kra phao is among them.
Cinnamon basil does not handle being cooked very well. Its flavor profile is not as robust as that of Thai basil, which is basically made for high-heat dishes. Thai basil’s flavor profile blooms in Southeast Asian wok-preparations.
Can you use cinnamon basil in place of Thai basil and vice versa?
Cinnamon basil can work as a substitute for Thai basil. Since Thai cooks use both, neither herb has a flavor profile that will seem out of place in a Thai dish. Both are pungent, which means that either will work if all you want is an intensely aromatic herb with a basil note. The two herbs are also nutritionally similar.
That said, cinnamon basil and Thai basil will not give you exactly the same flavor profile. Both the Holy Thai basil and horapha varieties of Thai basil deliver a spicy intensity that verges on being peppery. That intensity (as well as the strong camphor note) are among the characteristics that set them apart from cinnamon basil. If you are trying to get a flavor similar to that of Thai basil, there are better options than cinnamon basil even though cinnamon basil is not a bad substitute.
When should I use cinnamon basil and when should I use Thai basil?
Aside from its use in Thai cooking, you can use cinnamon basil in sweet dishes where it can stand in for sweet basil and for cinnamon. Use it in seasonal fall dishes that feature squash or pumpkin. You can use it in place of mint as well. Alternatively, you can use cinnamon basil to give traditional basil dishes a new flavor twist. Like sweet basil, cinnamon basil goes well with tomatoes. It is a particularly good partner for stewed tomatoes and other forms of cooked tomatoes. Cinnamon basil is also great a tea herb.
Use Thai basil in Thai stir-fried dishes and other cooked applications since its flavor does not fade as quickly when compared to other basil varieties. It stands out in salads where it can provide a flavor profile that is zestier and brighter when you compare it to that of regular sweet basil.
It seems so many people can’t differentiate these two kinds of herbs, Holy Thai Basil (Krapow) and Sweet Thai Basil (Horapa). Besides, many restaurants also use the wrong type of basil in their cooking. Baan Ying Singapore with the vision of serving great Thai taste and flavours would seek to share the world of the two commonly used basils in Thai cuisine.
Holy Thai Basil (Krapow) and Sweet Thai Basil (Horapa) are members of the mint family. There are more than 40 basil variations, including lemon, cinnamon and Thai basil. Basil plants can be grown in a home garden.
Since their appearance is very similar, they are actually different in many ways. The leaves of Holy Thai Basil (Krapow) are grey-green in color, coarse to the touch, and have rigged edges. While the Sweet Thai Basil (Horapa) leaves are deep green and tend to be smooth with smooth edges.
Holy Thai Basil (Krapow) has a spicy aroma, and Sweet Thai Basil (Horapa) has a sweet fragrance. Holy Thai Basil and Sweet Thai Basil tend to have sharp flavors when raw, which is similar to other varieties of greens. Holy Thai basil (Krapow) varieties all have strong flavor and aroma, and leaves will bruise and emit scent easily.
Both Holy Thai Basil (Krapow) and Sweet Thai Basil (Horapa) contain large of the benefits. The majority of the great benefits of Holy Thai Basil (Krapow) can be attributed to its volatile oils and flavonoids – powerful, plant-based antioxidants that reduce inflammation, help fight aging, and promote healthy arteries whereas Sweet Thai Basil (Horapa) helps your body adapt to stress and promotes mental balance. Sweet Thai Basil (Horapa) also provides vitamin A and C, calcium, zinc, iron, chlorophyll.
Holy Thai Basil (Krapow) and Sweet Thai Basil (Horapa) can be cooked or served raw in similar styles. Grind up raw basil in a food processor with pine nuts, garlic and olive oil to make homemade pesto sauce for pasta. Add torn leaves to a soup, stir fry or casserole to add a strong fragrance and fresh, herbal flavor.
Baan Ying Singapore proudly serves dishes with those two authentic ingredients, Holy Thai Basil (Krapow) and Sweet Thai Basil (Horapa), in the sense of real Thai dishes, and these are some recommendations:
- Holy Thai Basil (Krapow) Menu
1. Thai Basil Stir-fired Chicken/Pork (Pad Krapow Gai/Moo)
2. Tender Pork Rib in Spicy Broth ( Tom Zap Kra Dook Moo)
- Sweet Thai Basil (Horapa) menu
1. Green Curry with Chicken (Gang Kiew Wan Gai)
2.. Stir-fried Eggplant With Minced Pork, Garlic and Chili (Pad Ma Kue Yao)
3. Spicy Clams Stir-fried With Chili Paste (Hoi Lai Pad Prik Pao)
Thank you: https://www.hunker.com/12532651/the-difference-between-basil-holy-basil
Western sweet basil: Also dubbed Mediterranean basil for its popularity across that region. It is most famously used in Italian pesto and as a frequent sidekick for tomatoes and olive oil in various dishes. Many cultivars with different leaf sizes and shapes exist. Shown here is the type most commonly sold here, with fleshy stems and soft, slightly cup-shaped green leaves that can reach 10 to 12cm in length. It has a sweet, almost floral aroma with distinct clove notes. Its aroma changes and is attenuated in the dried herb, becoming more hay-like and less sweet. Fresh sweet basil can be blended into a paste with some oil and frozen in an airtight container for storage.
Thai sweet basil: Called bai horapa in Thai, this has purple stems, green leaves and dark purple flower spikes. It has strong anise and liquorice notes and, when cooked, is more spicy and forward than Western sweet basil. Add to stir-fries, curries, soups and stews right at the end of cooking. It releases its fragrance as it wilts in the heat. In Thailand, it is also eaten raw as part of a vegetable platter served with nam prik relishes. In Taiwan and China, a basil cultivar with a similar aroma profile is used in recipes such as san bei ji (three cup chicken) and also in Hakka dishes such as lei cha, pestle-pounded mixed herb tea.
Holy basil: Called bai krapao in Thai, this is sharp and peppery – hot to the taste when very fresh. Its piercing aroma, which intensifies when the herb is heated or very lightly cooked, has subtle camphor and allspice notes. Thai groceries may sell two types. The purple type (above) has dark purple stems and purple-flushed green leaves and is a bit stronger in character. It is a good partner for meats and chilli-hot dishes. The “white” type (below) has green leaves on pale green and pale purple stems, and its slightly milder nature suits white meats and seafood. Called tulsi in Hindi, holy basil has few if any culinary applications in India, but is used for devotional purposes and in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
Lemon basil: Shown here are two types. One is a Western variety (above) with wide, pale green leaves and zesty lemon accents layered atop sweet basil’s clove scent. The other is Thai lemon basil (below), called bai maenglak in Thailand and daun kemangi in Malaysia and Indonesia. It has slightly slimmer and darker green leaves, soft and faintly fuzzy stems, and a gentle but pervasive scent hinting at lemongrass, lemon and lime. Both kinds complement seafood, mild curries and soups very well and should be very lightly cooked, if at all.
Cinnamon basil: Bearing serrated-edged green leaves on reddish-purple-tinged stems, this plant has a heady cinnamon character besides a sweet basil aroma profile. Its unique fragrance makes it amenable to savoury dishes, such as stews, braises, soups and salads, as well as sweet dishes, such as fruit compotes and salads, ice cream and sauces. Try it in fruity beverages such as sangria or a Pimms Cup.
Purple basil: Several cultivars exist around the world, differing in leaf shapes and shades. Shown here is one with serrated-edged, teardrop-shaped leaves with a purple-green top and grape-purple underside. Purple basil has an assertive sweet basil aroma. Infuse it in white vinegar to obtain a fragrant, purple-tinted condiment.
Storing basil: Lemon basil and holy basil are fragile and wilt soon after picking, especially in warm conditions, so use them as soon as possible. Swaddle the other types in paper towels, place in plastic bags, gently press out all the air, seal and store in the fridge vegetable drawer for a couple of days. Supermarket potted basil will last for several days if kept well watered, but re-pot it with more compost to keep it going for longer.
Text and photos: Chris Tan
Basils: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties
If you do any Italian cooking at all, you’ll want to include basil in the herb garden. Basil can’t be planted until after the last frost date, but in the heat of summer it will produce abundantly.
There are several types of basil to choose from. The most common is bush or sweet basil, a compact plant growing to 18 inches or so during the season. Purple basil adds a splendid burgundy color to the garden. It can be used like common basil, though it’s a little less sweet. The purple leaves create a beautiful color when steeped in white vinegar. Recently rediscovered by many cooks, lemon basil adds a lemony basil fragrance to both the garden and the kitchen. Thai basil adds a licorice flavor and tastes great in Asian cooking. Basil is a heat-loving annual herb.
Choosing a site to grow basils
Plant in full sun in moist, well-drained soil.
Start seeds indoors six weeks before the last frost date or seed directly in the garden (about 1/4 inch deep) after the last frost date when soil is warm. Set transplants or thin seedlings to stand at least 10 to 12 inches apart; more room (16 to 24 inches apart) will encourage low, bushy plants to develop.
Pinch off the center shoot of the basil plant after it has grown for 6 weeks to force side growth and prevent early flowering. If flower stalks do develop, cut them off. Mulch is recommended in hot areas since basil likes a steady moisture supply. Basil is generally pest-free. Early cold weather can ruin a maturing crop, so be sure to harvest if temperatures are expected to dip below 40 degrees F.
How to harvest basils
Basil is at its most pungent when fresh. The best time to harvest is just as the plant starts to bud, well before flowers bloom. Snip leaves or branches at this time and pinch off flower buds to keep the plant productive. You also can cut the entire plant about 6 to 8 inches above ground, leaving at least one node with two young shoots intact. The plant should produce a second but smaller harvest several weeks later.
Since the leaves lose some of their flavor when dried, freezing is the best method for winter storage. To quick-freeze basil, dry whole sprigs and pack them in plastic bags with the air pressed out. To dry basil, pinch off the leaves at the stem and dry them in a shady, well-ventilated area. Check in 3 or 4 days, and if they are not totally dry, finish drying in the oven, otherwise the leaves may turn brown or black. Use the lowest heat possible with the door slightly open, turn leaves for even drying, and check frequently.