Basil is native to Asia, Africa and Central and South America, but is widely believed to have first been cultivated in India. The history of basil extends to ancient Greece, where it was known as “The Herb of Kings”. In Romania, when a man accepted a sprig of basil from a woman, he was officially engaged. The meaning in Greece was not as pleasant– it was a symbol of death and hatred!
With its long a varied history it’s easy to see why this is one of the most popular herbs.
Basil is a versatile herb used in a wide range of dishes. From pasta and tomato-based dishes to vegetables, soups, pesto and cream cheese for sandwiches, there seems to be an unending need for this favorite herb.
Basil has many uses medicinally, which are not as well known. In ancient times it was used as an antidote for poison. Mixed with borage you can make a tea to heighten vitality. There are herbal remedies for diseases related to the brain, heart, lungs, bladder and kidneys. It has been used as a sedative and for promoting the production of breast milk in nursing mothers.
Basil can also be useful in cosmetics. Add a fresh infusion for an invigorating bath. Mixed with coarse sea salt and oil it makes a great toning body rub. Put a drop of essential oil on your sleeve and sniff occasionally to ally mental fatigue.
Even if you have no intention harvesting basil for any of the above uses, they are infinitely useful in the landscape. All basils have gorgeous foliage, most have beautiful blooms, and there is a variety for every situation in the landscape. Miniatures, purples, short and tall, they are wonderful massed in beds, used for edging or in mixed containers.
- African Blue – Beautiful purple flower spikes with purple veined, dark green leaves. Spicy camphor scent with culinary use and exceptional landscape value. 24”.
- Cinnamon – Intense natural cinnamon fragrance and taste. Robust grower. 24-30”.
- Genovese – New Italian strain: excellent flavor for Italian dishes and pesto. Dark green leaves, slow to bolt. Grows 24-30”.
- Green Bouquet – Uniformly compact, small, full flavored leaves. 18-24”
- Italian Large Leaf – The leaves are sweeter and less clove-like than other basils. Leaves are up to 4” long. Slow to bolt. 24-30”.
- Lime – Similar to lemon basil in appearance but with slightly darker leaves and a zesty lime aroma. 12”
- Magic Michael – Compact and very fragrant. Creamy-white and pruple blooms. 18-24”. All American Winner 2002.
- Minette – A perfectly spherical miniature Basil. Small-leaved plants mature to beuautiful compact spheres of absolute uniformity without pinching or pruning. 10”
- Oriental Breeze – Bred for use in containers and also for it’s beautiful 4-6” flower heads that are white with purple bracts. It has a strong spicy fragrance. 12-18”
- Osmin – This basil has the darkest purple leaves and stems of all the purple basils the glossy, slightly ruffled leaves are on a sturdy medium-sized plant with pale lilac flowers. This plant is sweetly scented. Great for garnishes and purple tinged vinegars. Grows to18”
- Sweet – Prolific grower with larger leaves. Very flavorful. 12”
- Sweet Dani Lemon – An intense lemon flavor. This tall, upright plant can have up to 70% more essential oils than other lemon basils. 18-24”
- Thai Magic – Milder and sweeter than other basils, with a hint of anise. Thick succulent leaves are a bright shiny green. Brilliant magenta flower clusters and contrasting foliage are wonderful for ornamental use 18-24”.
- Valentino – Vigorous compact plants with large leaves for fresh or dried use. Grows 12-18”.
- All basil like full sun and a well drained, compost enriched soil.
- It is a warm season plant requiring temperatures above 50 degrees to grow. They love the heat of summer!
- Pinching the terminal shoots will encourage branching and slow down flower production in the plants you wish to harvest.
- Fertilize containers early in the season with a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote or water occasionally with a liquid plant food. In garden beds use Osmocote or Espoma Plant Tone.