Basil is one of the most loved culinary herbs and one of our favorites. It is easy to grow in the garden or in containers.
Of any herb, basil is probably the one that has been grown by every level of green thumbs. There is an amazing array to choose from in the basil family, and new introductions are revealed almost annually. The fragrant leaves of fresh basil add a delicious flavor to a wide variety of savory and sweet dishes, so it’s no surprise that it is one of the mainstays of cooking today.
Basil grows best in a warm, sheltered location in full sun. The soil should be fertile, moist and well drained. Pinch tips regularly to encourage bushy growth. Remove all flower spikes and fertilize with an organic fertilizer, such as compost tea, and you will soon see a fresh crop of growth emerge.
Starting basil from seed can be a bit of a challenge, but if you are determined to give it a try, start the seed indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the frost date in order to plant the seedlings in the spring after any risk of frost has passed.
Though basil will grow best in a warm spot outdoors in the garden however it can be grown successfully indoors in a pot staged by a bright window to provide you with fresh leaves all year.
‘Sweet Basil’ is probably the most popular variety used in popular pesto, salads, and marinades. It is a medium green color with rounded cup-shaped leaves. It is also known to repel mosquitoes. Next most popular is ‘Genovese’, a classic Italian with leaves flatter than Sweet Basil and a more pointed shape.
‘African Blue’ is a hybrid with a warm, sweet camphor scent and deep green, purple-veined leaves. ‘Cinnamon’ has a clear, spicy aroma with a hint of cinnamon, distinctly veined foliage and purple-stained stems. ‘Compatto’ is a compact form of ‘Genovese’ and both are standard, large-leaf selections and very flavorful. ‘Greek Column’ is a hybrid that grows 24-30 inches tall with an upright habit but it seldom flowers. ‘Spicy Globe’ is uniform basil with larger leaves. Just like the Sweet Basil, ‘Special Select’ is one of the best basils for pesto, bearing upright bright green leaves. The ‘Thai sweet’ is a smaller dark leaved plant and boasts a spicy, licorice flavor. ‘Purple Basil’ has a striking burgundy color that provides excellent contrast in the herb garden. Flavors are not as sweet as some basil varieties with a stronger clove taste. ‘Lemon Basil’ is becoming popular in garden centers. Crush a leaf between your fingertips and inhale the wonderful lemony scent. This is great for teas, desserts, grilled vegetables, fish and poultry marinades. Not quite as popular as the Lemon is ‘Lime Basil’, mild but a bright citrus flavor. The Lemon and Lime can pair together for a wonderful flavor in teas, sauces and desserts. There are many more varieties – all are good!
The basils are very prevalent in certain cuisines including Thai and Mediterranean; in cosmetics and medical uses are possible, but limited.
You may not find all these varieties at the store, so grow your own! You don’t need a green thumb: basil is easily grown in a pot, content in a sunny spot and pretty forgiving. Plus, having your own plant means you get fresh herbs whenever, without the waste of wilted sprigs.
If you grow only one type of herb in your garden, Basil is a good choice. There are so many types of Basil it is hard to choose just one.
Charlene Thornhill is a volunteer citizen columnist, who serves The Daily Advocate readers weekly with her community column Along the Garden Path. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.