Basil Herb Information

Herb: Basil

Basil, Ocimum basilicum, is a culinary herb used to flavor meats and vegetables.

Basil grows into a fairly tall herb, from 18 to 24 inches tall, unless the tips of the branches are pruned back in which case the plant becomes bushier and more compact. The light green, very smooth leaves release their mouth-watering scent at the slightest touch. Many varieties of basil are available from the red and purple to the sweet and spicy. Basil has small, white to light pink or purple blossoms in whorls at the tips of branches.

Basil Characteristics

  • annual in northern climates, some types perennial in warm climates
  • reaches 1 to 3 feet tall
  • broad oval-shaped leaves in pairs
  • strong anise, licorice, lemon, camphor, or cinnamon scent depending on cultivar
  • white, tubular flowers in interrupted spikes
  • cultivated in gardens for culinary use

Basil Uses

  • culinary
  • gardening

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Growing Basil

Growing conditions: Basil will re-seed itself if allowed to flower and set seed. Basil needs a sunny to partly sunny location with moist soil. Clip off flower heads to keep basil producing its aromatic leaves throughout the growing season.

Light: sun

Height: 24 inches

Spacing: 12 inches

Planting comments: Start seeds indoors to have transplants for an early harvest or seed directly after the danger of frost has passed for your area. Potted plants should be transplanted about 12 inches apart. Transplanting is best done in the lower light of the afternoon, as basil transplants will easily wilt in full sun.

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Basil Images

Basil in the Kitchen
Basil in the Kitchen

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Where to Buy Basil

Basil is available as seeds or plants. Depending on the time of year you may be able to find a plant at your nearby garden center. In case they’re are not available locally, here are some places that offer herb seeds and herb plants.

In case you can’t find what you’re looking for commercially, take a look at some of the online seed swap sites where you can find many unusual plants and common ones, too.

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Chef’s Article: Sweet Basil Varieties with Unique Flavors and Aromas

by Naomi Gallagher

Basil is an herb also known as Sweet Basil and it comes from the Ocimum basilicum plant in the Lamiaceae or Labiatae family. Native to India, Iran and tropical Asia, the herb has been used the world over since ancient times as a culinary herb, a healing herb, an herb for tea and for worship.

The Ocimum genus has dozens of species known as basil, ranging from an annual herb to a perennial shrub. It readily hybridizes so it can be difficult to determine which species a particular plant represents. Culinary basil is typically sweet basil, but in Asia other varieties are important, including a spicy variety known as Thai basil, O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora, a hybrid basil called lemon basil, O. basilicum x O. citriodorum, and a different species called holy basil, Ocimum tenuiflorum.

Each type of basil has a particular cast of chemicals that provide the aroma and its potential healing qualities. Important basil components are 1,8 cineol, linalool, citral, methyl chavicol (estragole), eugenol and methyl cinnamate, but not all of these compounds are present in each variety.

Cultivated varieties of Ocimum basilicum include sweet basil which has small leaves, Italian basil with large heart-shaped leaves (symbol of love in Italy), and lettuce-leaf basil with larger leaves yet. Aroma is stronger in larger leaf varieties and consists of anise, warm, pungent and spicy notes. Ocimum americanum cultivars include lemon basil and lime basil that contain citral and limonene, which give lemons their characteristic flavor.

As an herb the fresh leaves are used to flavor a variety of salads and meat dishes. Basil is often grown as a kitchen herb because the dried herb has a diminished aroma and different taste than fresh basil. Also, the leaves will turn black after being picked and handled, so it’s best to add the green leaves to a dish just before serving it.

Basil is paired with tomato in salads and many other dishes with tomatoes and vegetables. It’s often used in the summertime when it’s plentiful to make pesto sauce. Fresh basil leaves are ground with garlic and nuts in a food processor, along with Parmesan cheese and olive oil, to make a delicious sauce that is excellent on pasta, chicken, potatoes, or a spread for sandwiches and wraps. Add fresh leaves to hot dishes just before serving to retain the anise-like aroma.

Tea made from the leaves supposedly acts as a stimulant, digestive aid and diuretic. The components of basil that give it strong aromatic qualities have been shown in the laboratory to have potent anti-microbial, anti-fungal and insecticidal properties. Indeed, extracts of basil are toxic to mosquitoes. Basil may also have antioxidant, anti-cancer and antiviral properties.

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