Grow these 6 basil varieties to change the way you cook and live.
As a gardener and cook, I’m always on the lookout for new varieties to grow and basil is no exception. There are an incredible number of cultivars to try, many with names that peak the imagination and with fragrances that delight the senses. Each one gives way to countless opportunities for experimentation in the kitchen.
Basil is dynamic in ways that can be difficult to believe until you begin growing your own. Just imagine a garden filled with ‘Purple Petra,’ ‘Genovese Red Freddy,’ ‘Licorice,’ and ‘Siam Queen Thai.’ Their names alone inspire the imagination, giving way to a cascade of recipe ideas and flavor combinations before a single leaf is picked. These are flavors you’ll never find at the grocery store, but ones you can enjoy when homegrown.
When deciding which varieties to grow, I suggest you begin with just a handful and consider cultivars for their unique flavors as well as contrasting foliage and flowers. I always grow sweet or Italian basil as a staple along with a lemon basil like ‘Mrs. Burns’ and then throw a few others into the mix so there’s room to explore. Some may grow better than others and, when they’re growing just a few steps away, I can easily mix and match flavors and put new, creative twists on my favorite recipes.
Grow Your Own Basil
Grow basil from seed or starts. If growing from seed, start it indoors 4 to 6 weeks before nighttime temperatures reach 50F and plan to transplant starts (store bought or homegrown), again when temperatures reach 50F. Give plants full sun, regular water, and rich, well-draining soil. Space plants based upon their expected size at maturity. I usually give them 4 to 8 inches of room.
6 Basil Varieties to Try Growing Now
‘Cinnamon’ basil smells and tastes exactly as it sounds, like cinnamon! It’s wonderful. It grows in the same conditions as other basils and can be used in the kitchen to add rich, warm tones to salads, roasted vegetables, teas, and baked goods. Try pairing it with peaches or plums in jam or in tomato chutney. Place it near tomatoes and other prized vegetables as a companion plant, it’s fragrance will help deter pests.
Purple basils like ‘Dark Opal,’ ‘Red Rubin,’ and ‘Purple Ruffles’ add playful contrast to an herb or veggie garden. Purple basils are similar in taste to sweet basil and can be used in the same way. However, their fabulous, deep purple color provides a wonderful accent to foods.
Tulsi or holy basil is known for its restorative properties makes a wonderful tea. It can also be used in cooking and provides a sharper flavor than a sweet basil, but is just as complex.
Sweet or ‘Genovese’ basil is a must. What would a garden be without sweet basil? (You may also find it listed as Italian basil.) Like with cinnamon basil, sweet basil performs as a fabulous companion plant, and it’s leaves and flowers can be added to an endless number of recipes. In summer, I add it to nearly everything as it brings out the flavors of other ingredients. Homegrown pesto is always a treat but so too is a lemon basil ice-cream.
Thai basil comes in all shapes and sizes. ‘Siam Queen Thai’ is one. The one featured in the top photo is ‘Queen of Sheba.’ In general, Thai basil speaks of anise or licorice, offering a bold yet warm flavor that combines well in cocktails, tofu dishes, tossed with fresh vegetables, and of course paired with Asian themed dishes. It also boasts beautiful flowers.
‘Mrs Burns’ basil is my all-time favorite lemon basil. For starters, try adding it to a glass or cold water, ice tea, or cocktail on a hot day for the ultimate refreshment. Use it in any dish that benefits for bright, lemony accents. Marinades, salads, grain dishes, jams, baked goods, grilled anything, and pastas are just a few ideas.
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