Types of Basil for Cooking: Appearance, Varieties & More

Basil is said to have been brought to Europe by spice dealers during the Tudor period. Basil is native to India and southeast Asia. Basil is sometimes referred to as the “tomato herb” due to the fact that it pairs so well with dishes that feature tomatoes. Despite the fact that a number of studies have shown that the taste of tomatoes is not adversely affected when basil is grown in close proximity to them,

In places where English is the primary language, you could hear it referred to as St. Joseph’s Wort. When the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine, traveled to the Holy Land in the year 326 A.D., legend has it that she saw holy basil (also known as Ocimum tenuiflorum, which is distinct from sweet basil) growing on the cross where Jesus was crucified. This is the reason why the Greek Orthodox Church (and numerous other Orthodox Churches) use basil while preparing or sprinkling holy water, and also why they place pots of basil below their altars as a decoration.

It is customary to use basil as a herb in Italian cooking (for example, in pesto and tomato-based sauces), as well as in cuisines from South East Asia. When compared to dried basil leaves, the flavor of fresh basil is noticeably different and maybe even more lively. When used fresh, it is often thrown in at the very last minute since the taste profile changes quite a little after being cooked for a longer period of time. Take three to five basil leaves, wrap them into a pretty compact tiny cylinder, and then use a very sharp knife to slice through the layers of the cylinder while drawing the knife toward you as you cut. This is a novel technique to cut fresh basil that will prevent it from turning brown.

The many types of basil all have their own distinctive aromas and tastes due to the essential oils that are contained inside them. The aroma of cloves may be detected in common sweet basil since it contains eugenol. The essential oils limonene and citral, which may also be found in lemon peels, are present in lemon basil. Because it contains anethole, licorice basil has a fragrance that is reminiscent of licorice.

The Asian species are often more pungent than their Mediterranean counterparts, with holy basil standing out as an especially remarkable example of this trait. Holy basil, sometimes referred to as tulsi, is a plant that is held in high regard and is commonly cultivated in the homes of people in India, Nepal, and China. Sweet basil tends to lose its taste more quickly at higher temperatures and when it is cooked for a longer period of time than Thai basil does.


The sweet basil plant may reach a height of approximately 2 feet and has leaves that are big, oval in shape, and range in color from medium to light green. With the middle of summer, tall spikes covered in white flowers emerge at the very tip of the stalks. The bush variety of basil is more manageable in size, reaching a maximum height of around 12 inches. In comparison to sweet basil, its leaves are more diminutive, but there are more of them overall. As the name suggests, this particular plant is much more dense and bushy than others of its kind. Both of these basils have a very strong scent.


The two most common types of basil are known as sweet basil and bush basil. However, there are so many additional kinds that we won’t even try to list them all here (if you want a list of more than one hundred different kinds of basil, check visit Ramona’s Garden). There are a few of them that diverge from the others to the point that they are regarded as distinct species or subspecies. The following is a list of some of the additional types and species of basil that you could discover at garden stores or in seed catalogs: basil thyme basil ocimum basilicum basilicum basil

  • Globe basil, dwarf basil, French basil (Ocimum basilicum var. ‘Minimum’)
  • Lettuce leaf basil (Ocimum basilicum var. ‘Crispum’)
  • Purple basil (Ocimum basilicum var. ‘Purpurescens’)
  • Ocimum basilicum var. ‘Cinnamon,’ often known as cinnamon basil.
  • Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum, formerly known a O. sanctum)
  • Lemon basil (Ocimum americanum)
  • Thai basil (Ocimum basilicum var. ‘Horapha’)


The seed of basil may be easily multiplied by sowing it in a tray of potting soil in the months of March or April and then covering it with a plastic bag or a sheet of glass. A warm window sill is an excellent site to begin growing basil, and the seed will often germinate within a week of being planted there. Once the soil has reached the appropriate temperature, planting may begin. This step has to be carried out with extreme caution, and the just planted basil should be doused with a substantial amount of water. It is possible to plant basil seeds outside, but you should wait until early June, when the threat of frost has completely gone, to make the effort. When the seedlings have reached a height of around 2 centimeters, then space them out to approximately 8 centimeters.


Basil is an annual. If you put it in soil that is pretty rich and that has been warmed by the sun, it will do very well. It does well in a shady location, ideally one that is guarded by a wall or a hedge. The plant grows quite fast but must have a significant amount of water. A layer of mulch made of compost should be applied around the plant if the soil has a propensity to dry up rapidly, as it does in many city gardens. Because of its extreme sensitivity to cold temperatures, it must not be planted outdoors until after all risk of frost has gone.

Pests and Problems

Basil plants sometimes have a scraggly or lanky appearance due to their growth pattern. Cut off the top sprout of the plant when it is around 6 inches high to avoid this from happening. If you cut off the flower heads as soon as they begin to develop, you will end up with a plant that is more dense.

The soil-borne fungus known as fusarium wilt is responsible for the death of early sprouts and plants. Along with procuring seed from sources that are known to be free of Fusarium, starting seeds or cuttings in soil that has been sterilized is a crucial step in preventing the spread of this disease.

Foliar diseases such as downy mildew, black spot, and gray mold are able to spread quickly and may infect significant regions of basil crops. Both the home gardener and the grower of commercial basil crops may face substantial challenges as a result of their presence.

Harvesting and Storing

Basil leaves are always available to be harvested and utilized in their fresh form. When the tops are collected early in the season, they may be utilized in cooking after being cut up. Basil is seldom dried since most people prefer the taste of the fresh leaves after becoming acclimated to them. However, they may be dried if they are selected before drying and either set out on a screen or hung up by their stems in a warm spot with enough ventilation. The leaves of basil may also be frozen by first blanching them in water that has been brought to a boil, which takes just a few seconds, and then freezing them in ice cube trays.

Indoor or Patio Growing

Planting basil in a container and placing it in a greenhouse or on a sunny window sill can allow it to thrive. The compost mixture should be rather rich in the pots, which should have a width of at least three inches. If you have basil growing in the garden, you should transplant a few of the roots into pots and bring them inside in the beginning of September. After that, you will be able to tend to the plants until the end of November. Basil thrives in full light and the best place to cultivate it is in a window box or patio planter that faces south (in the northern hemisphere).

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