Basil is one of the most popular herbs to grow and luckily it is quite easy to grow basil! However, most people do not realize there are so many types of basil. Why not experiment with some more exotic varieties that have unique fragrances and flavors. Sizes range from 8 inches to 4 feet, so there are plenty of choices depending on how much space you have. Estimations range from 40-150 types of basil (lots are hybrids).
It is important to note that each basil is unique and has different essential oil compounds and chemical component. Those that want to take advantage of the healing properties of basil can sometimes interchange species of the Ocimum genus. However, it is not easy to do so in the kitchen since the difference in flavors and smells is huge!
Do not plant different types of basil next to each other since they will end up mingling properties. Keep different varieties in pots in the porch or plant them on different sides of your garden.
Types of Basil
Sweet basil is the most common basil in the world and it is exactly what you expect when you think of this herb. This is the type of basil one you usually find in salads, pestos, pizzas, marinades and more. Although it is native to Asia and Africa, it can commonly be found in European gastronomy, especially Italian and Mediterranean.
Sweet basil is an annual herb that is ready to harvest in 60-90 days after seeds are planted. It can also be a biennial plant if grown in hotter climates that are frost free. Many people keep it indoors, usually next to kitchen windows. Since this herb grows between 12 to 18 inches (up to two feet tall) it can easily be planted in a pot.
Leaves are medium green with a slightly ovate shape. Plants will create spikes of bell-shaped flowers that can be white or pink. Remove them as they appear to have a bushier plant and tastier leaves.
This type of basil can repel mosquitos. It is also a natural antibiotic and can be infused in a jar with garlic and honey. A salve made from this plant can improve circulation. Add it to a warm bath to send more blood to your extremities if the weather is cold.
There are several types of sweet basil including Genovese, Napoletano, Italian Large Leaf and Lettuce Leaf. Lettuce leaf has large, wrinkled leaves that are up to 5 inches long and are milder in taste. As it name suggests it is a great replacement for lettuce. Italian large leaf is a bit sweeter than most types of basil. Napoletano basil comes from Naples (Italy) and has huge leaves that can be used for wrapping cheese, fish and chicken. Get sweet basil seeds here.
Genovese basil is known as classic Italian basil. Like sweet basil, it is popular with chefs and can also be used in pesto, salads and olive oils. Genovese basil leaves can be brewed in tea for medicinal purposes.
Leaves are larger, with a darker shade of green. They are also flatter and pointer than sweet basil leaves. It has a stronger flavor than most types of basil, being both bold and sweet. This annual herb can grow between 18 to 24 inches and can be harvest 60-90 days after planting. Get Genovese basil seeds here.
Thai Sweet Basil
Thai sweet basil is heat tolerant and can retain its flavor in high temperatures. Many traditional Thai dishes, including Thai basil chicken and spice sesame noodles include this herb. It has a spicy, licorice taste.
Leaves are deep green, smaller and pointed; contrasting beautifully with the dark purple flowers. Siam Queen is a type of Thai Basil. This basil grows up to 14 inches and takes 60-90 days to mature.
Ayurvedic medicine uses Thai sweet basil as an anti-inflammatory herb. It is also used for treating acne, allergic rashes, arthritis and rheumatism. Get Thai Sweet Basil seeds here.
Some types of basil are not green like this one that is a dark burgundy, as its name suggests. It is not as sweet as other types but it has a stronger clove, making it ideal to add to vinegar. Some chefs use it to decorate dishes since the whole plant is purple, including the leaves and stems. You can also add it to drinks like lemonade.
Purple basil grows between 10-12 inches and can be harvested in 60-90 days. While Dark opal purple basil (about 20% of plants will be green or a mixture of colors) grows up to 18 inches, reaching maturity in 80 days. Purple ruffle basil is a feathery variation of the dark opal and has similar flavors. Plants range from 16-20 inches in height.
Lemon and Lime Basil
One of the tastiest types of basil is lemon basil which is similar to sweet basil but has a lemon or citrus taste. Since it has that traditional basil taste, it is differs from lemon balm which is also part of the mint family. It can be added to fish, salads and garnishes. Many dishes from Malaysia and Thailand include this basil. Lemon basil grows between 12-18 inches and can be picked 60-90 days.
Lime basil is similar to lemon basil but has a mild and bright citrus flavor. This type of basil is less popular than lemon, but some gardeners love to grow both types of basil as they go well together. Use them in salads, desserts, sauces, and even tea. Lime basil grows between 16-24 inches tall.
Use both or one to make infused water by crushing a small handful, squeezing half a lemon or lime into a jar of filtered water. You can also add blackberries, blueberries or strawberries. Let sit for at least half an hour. This will detoxify your body, cleaning toxins and supporting a healthy immune system. Drink this antioxidant and antimicrobial water as a morning cleanse or throughout the day.
Some types of basil have more than one name, such is the case with cinnamon basil which is also known as Mexican basil. This herb has shiny dark green leaves. Cinnamon basil can grow quite big, up to 25-30 inches tall.
It contains a chemical called methyl cinnamate that gives it a warm flavor. Traditionally it is used in desserts, fruit salads, marinades, fried rice, noodle salads or with vegetables. This herb can also be dried out and included in potpourri because it has a strong, barky smell. Get Cinnamon Basil seeds here.
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Some types of basil have medicinal properties such as holy basil which is used to treat headaches, promote blood circulation, treat stomach ailments, kidneys and reduce stress. As an adaptogen, it can help your body recognize and repair imbalances and adapt to stressors. Tulsi can lower blood pressure and blood sure, but use it with caution since it is quite strong. Do not use this herb while pregnant (can cause contractions) or while breastfeeding (reduces milk supply).
Holy basil is native to India, where it is considered a sacred plant and planted around shrines and monuments. It has a spicy, sweet and musky scent. Best if used cooked since raw leaves are a little bitter. It is commonly used in Indian cuisine, especially meat curries. Get Holy Basil (Tulsi) seeds here.
African Blue Basil
This type of basil is specifically sought out for skin care products since it has a high content of camphor. This perennial basil is a combination of East African basil with Dark Opal. It is one of the prettiest visually since it starts with a deep blue purple color, then turns green as the leaves mature. African blue basil grows up to 4 feet tall. Unlike most types of basil, African blue is a perennial – if you live in an area that has no cold season or grow it inside.
It smells like a combination of mint, peppers, cloves, and camphor. African basil is also known as clove basil. It can be used in in dishes that have rice, meat and vegetables. Although, it is used less in the kitchen than other types of basil.
Medicinally, this basil can be brewed into a tea to soothe a tummy after a heave meal, calm colds or cool fevers. It can also be gargled in case of a toothache. It’s strong scent will keep your garden pest free. Get African Blue Basil plants here.
Of all types of basil, licorice lovers may prefer this one since it has a strong anise flavor. Native to India and ancient Persia, this plant has slightly pointed leaves. Drink in a tea with hot water and honey for a sweet treat. Get Licorice Basil here.
Spice Globe Basil
As the name suggests, this basil has a zesty, savory and fiery flavor. Leaves can be added to pasta, salads, and soups. Spice globe basil has smaller leaves than most types of basil. Can be grown in a pot if you have little space since it is a dwarf variety which is shaped as a spherical bush. Get Spice Globe Basil here.
Dwarf Greek Basil
Smaller than most types of basil, this variety grows into a spherical shaped bush. It is also known as bush basil. This type of basil is quite easy to grow in a pot since it only grows up to 8 inches tall. Dwarf Greek basil has very small leaves that can easily be dried and sprinkled in a soup, stew or on top of garlic or tomato bread. Get Greek Dwarf Basil here.
Green ruffles looks totally different than other types of basil since it has curled leaves that grow between 4-6 inches long. It has a mild and delicate flavor which makes it a great addition to pasta dishes and salads. It can grow larger than sweet basil, up to 24 inches tall. Harvest in as little as 70 days.
One of the prettiest types of basil you can grow is cardinal basil since it has a cluster of red blooms. This herb grows about two and a half feet on sturdy stems. It has a strong spicy scent, making it ideal for oils and vinegar. Get Cardinal Basil here.