Basil is the most perfect herb — especially when summer rolls around. I generously sprinkle it over caprese salads, top pasta with it, muddle it into Bloody Marys, and make sweet basil syrup for my sliced summer strawberries. And don’t even get me started about how liberally I toss freshly chopped basil on my pizza; I know I’m not alone here.
But those packages or bundles of basil at the grocery store can really add up. Fun fact: It’s way less expensive to buy an established basil plant and focus your energy on growing your own leaves. Plus, it doesn’t get much fresher than basil you freshly picked two seconds ago!
What is Basil?
Despite its popularity in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, basil is actually native to the South Pacific islands and southern Asia. It is a member of the mint family and grows as an annual. It is also quick-growing – from seed to harvest in just about 3 – 4 weeks – which makes this a rewarding herb to grow! If you haven’t grown herbs before, basil is a great one to start with.
Popular Types of Basil
There are multiple varieties of basil – each with its own unique characteristic and flavor.
- Sweet Basil – Sweet basil is one of the most common varieties. Popular in salads, pastas, pestos and more, most of the basil you will find in a grocery store is sweet basil. It has a rounded leaf that is cup-shaped and medium green in color.
- Purple Basil – The gorgeous hue of purple basil is what makes it special. More of a deep burgundy than a bright purple, it is not as sweet as other varieties. It has somewhat of a clove taste to it and is great to steep in oil or vinegar. Purple basil adds a striking contrast as a garnish in prepared dishes.
- Thai Sweet Basil – Dark, smaller leaves with a hint of a licorice flavor, Thai sweet basil keeps its flavor even after cooked. It is often used in Asian dishes.
- Lemon Basil – An increasingly popular variety, lemon basil is easily found in nurseries. A wonderful addition to poultry and fish dishes, it is also nice with veggies or as a tea.
- Spicy Globe Basil – A dwarf basil variety, spicy globe basil has a peppery, strong flavor with leaves small enough to use whole. It is great for containers, as it forms a tight, small clump when growing.
- Cinnamon Basil – Fragrant and full of spice, cinnamon basil has thin, small serrated leaves and tight, contrasting dark purplish flowers. It is as pretty as it is fun to use in the kitchen. With its mild flavor, it pairs nicely in Asian meals and with fruit or grilled vegetables.
How to Plant Basil
- Where:Basil is a wonderful addition to a container garden. It thrives in well-drained soil, positioned in a sunny window. In a larger garden, plant basil among your tomatoes. It’s a one-stop shop for your next caprese salad.
- When:Basil is easy to sow from seed and is relatively quick to germinate. When planting from seed, plant seeds about six weeks before the last frost. Basil is super sensitive to the cold, so whether you are transplanting seedlings from indoors or have plants in the ground, watch the early spring temperatures and cover if necessary. If you are planting a cutting or transplanting a seedling or smaller plant, make sure the ground temperature is at least 70°F.
- Propagation:In addition to sowing basil from seed, a cutting of basil will easily root when placed in water. Select a four-inch section of basil that has not yet flowered. Roots will form within a week. Transplant the basil directly into the garden or container once a healthy root system is apparent.
How to cultivate basil?
If you are keen on knowing how to grow basil, then you must have the following points marked in your mind that will clear your doubts regarding its growth and cultivation:
The soil: For basil to grow properly, it is a must that the soil chosen as potting must be well moisturized or well drained. It must have a neutral pH which can be added when you treat it with compost, preferably organic. However, try not to add too much of compost that will make the soil richer. This will ultimately affect the flavor of the basil leaves that will loose much of their aroma.
One of the beauties of basil is there isn’t a real, definitive harvest time – just pick what you need as you need it. And the best part is the more you harvest, the more a basil plant will produce. Regular harvesting will keep plants full and round. Harvest before the plant goes to seed, or “bolts.” When basil goes to seed, the leaves will often have a bitter flavor.
- How to harvest basil – Once the basil plant is about 6 – 8 inches tall, begin to harvest as needed. Snip as much basil as you want, right above the point where two bigger leaves meet. Harvesting evenly around the entire plant will ensure even growth.
- How to store basil – Basil can be used right off the plant. It can also be stored for later use. Drying the leaves, freezing them or preserving them in vinegar are all options for storing basil. Flavoring oil is another wonderful use. And, of course, don’t forget about making pesto! Fresh basil leaves will last a few days in water if they are stored in the refrigerator.