Basil plants are some of the easiest herbs to grow. Even better, there are many wonderful varieties to select from for use in various culinary dishes. With so many great options, choosing a variety can be a bit difficult. You may find around 40 different kinds at your local garden centers, or even more unique varieties you can grow from seed. Which to choose?! Read on to discover 18 beauties you might enjoy.
How to Care for Basil Plants
Caring for basil plants is simple, no matter which variety you choose. It’s also the same whether you plant indoors or out.
These plants grow quickly when planted in well-draining, moist soil that has a neutral pH balance. Make sure the soil isn’t too wet, and water the plants from the base when the soil becomes dry to the touch. Make sure the environment remains warm (above 50 degrees F) and that they receive no less than six hours of full sunlight each day.
If you live in a hot location, your basil plants will benefit from afternoon shade.
Plant basil in the spring or summer, after there’s no chance of frost. If you live in a colder environment, you may consider protecting your basil plants. They’re very sensitive to frost. Each variety will require different spaces between the seedlings if you plant from seed as well, so make sure to pay attention to planting instructions based on the type you select.
You can also grow this herb indoors. Just note that potted basil needs 10 hours of fluorescent lighting each day, or to be placed in a sunny, south-facing window.
How Many Basil Plants Do I Need?
For a family of four, all you need is around two or three of your favorite basil plants. However, if you enjoy making sauces such as pesto from scratch, or freezing part of your harvest of year-round use, consider growing a dozen or more plants.
If you have a small yard, live in an apartment, or plan to grow an indoor herb garden, a smaller variety may work best for your needs. Tiny basil varieties are great for containers, and you can quickly move them outdoors during the hot summer months or indoors for protection during the freezing temperatures.
Some gardeners like to select one variety to plant, while others enjoy mixing a few different types of basil in a flower bed. Not only does this allow you versatility in the flavors you introduce to your meals, but various types of basil also appear great when paired together in an outdoor bed or container garden.
18 Various Basil Varieties You Need to Try
Use the following list of 18 tasty varieties to help determine the right basil plants for your needs. Your choice will depend on the types of food and drink you enjoy making with this herb. Some types are also great when used to brew herbal teas for medicinal purposes, or when planted to create stunning herb gardens around the home.
1. Sweet Basil
Sweet basil is a popular choice for making Italian sauces such as pesto or soups. It comes in multiple varieties, all of which will grow from around 14 to 30 inches tall in hot, sunny spots. Common variety names include Napolitano, Genovese, Lettuce Leaf, and Italian Large Leaf.
2. Sweet Thai Basil
Unlike sweet basil, this is an Asian variety with a spicy flavor. It’s a must-have if you enjoy cooking Asian cuisine at home, and sweet Thai basil adds both great fragrance and pop of color in your herb garden. The green leaves remain small, while the purple stems and blooms reach up to 16 inches.
3. Christmas Basil
This variety is distinguishable by its 2-inch-long glossy leaves contrasted with deep purple flowers. It’s often used to make salads and drinks due to its fruity flavor. Best of all, these basil plants can grow up to about 20 inches tall which makes them look stunning when planted in a border garden.
4. Pistou Basil
Dwarf basil varieties such as Pistou basil are compact plants that feature tiny little leaves. They’re wonderful when planted in containers or as small garden borders, as the plants will only reach up to 8 inches tall and have a glorious aroma. This variety is also delicious when used in sauces and garnishes, and is used to create the popular pistou sauce: a French variation on pesto.
5. Dark Opal Basil
Dark opal basil is a must-have for basil lovers. It’s a dark purple shade from stem to flowers, and its leaves look great in wreaths and other floral arrangements. Pair it alongside summer flowers as contrast, or amid brighter plants in an herb garden. It’s a spicy addition to a salad, used as a garnish, or made into a pesto sauce.
6. Corsican Basil
The Corsican variety is adored for a wide range of uses, from culinary to medicinal. It’s a lush purple and green color and is often raised from seed. Both the fragrance and flavor are mild, and are ideal if you’re new to cooking with this wonderful herb.
7. Ajaka Basil
Ajaka basil is a German variety with lush foliage, and reddish-purple flowers that will bloom during the late summer. The sweet-yet-spicy flavor makes it perfect for cooking, and this variety is even tolerant of cold and disease. As such, it’s perfect for beginners living in colder areas.
8. Lime Basil
Small leaves and white flowers encompass this compact variety, and you can expect it to grow from 12 to 16 inches. As the name suggests, this plant has a lime-like scent and flavor that makes it great with either chicken or fish recipes. Add it to teas or margaritas, and try it as a unique addition to your indoor kitchen herb garden.
9. Lemon Basil
A light green plant spotted with white flowers, this basil variety will grow to around 24-inches-tall. It tastes great when used to make salads or in fish recipes thanks to the lemon flavor, and many people enjoy adding a spring of it to a refreshing glass of iced tea on a hot summer’s day.
10. Cinnamon Basil
As the name suggests, this basil variety comes with a spicy flavor and strong aroma. The purple stems can grow to around 30-inches-tall, and it’s framed with purple flowers. It’s perfect for fruit salads or used as a garnish.
11. Holy Basil
This variety is also known as “sacred basil”, and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. Its leaves make an herbal tea to aid your body’s immune system, and the mottled green and slightly purple, smaller leaves are beautiful in a garden. It grows to around 14 inches tall and is easy to grow in containers as well.
12. Spicy Bush Basil
This small, cute basil variety has tiny leaves and will only grow to around 8-10-inches-tall. As a result, it’s perfect for containers, or for an herb garden border.
That said, don’t let the tiny leaves mislead you. They pack a punch of intense flavor, which is why spicy bush basil is often used to add flavor to soups and sauces.
13. Purple Ruffles
This variety is very similar to Dark Opal in both appearance and flavor. In fact, the Purple Ruffles variety is often used to make the same dishes. The difference lies in the leaves, which are more feathery in appearance.
14. Greek Basil
Greek basil is another compact variety that’s perfect for a container herb garden, or for small growing spaces. The plants will only grow to around 8-inches-tall, and the green leaves are tiny. It’s often used in soups, meat dishes, salads, or used as an ornamental.
15. Summerlong Basil
Summerlong basil is a dwarf variety that’s also perfect for container gardens. It will mature earlier than any other type of basil, and is also slower to bolt. You can expect production around 30-60 days from the time you plant.
16. African Blue Basil
This variety of basil stands out among others thanks to its bright blue hue and its stunning height. This plant will grow up to 4 feet tall, but it’s also a perennial unlike other varieties of basil. As a result, you can expect it to return every year as long as the plants don’t freeze. It’s perfect for flower arrangements, as well as rice, vegetable, or meat recipes.
This variety works equally as well in cooking as it does in flower arrangements. The sweet, distinct flavor offers slight hints of licorice though, which may not be right for everyone.
18. Cardinal Basil
Cardinal basil offers stunning red flowers that look wonderful as an ornamental. This plant’s spicy flavor pairs well with oil and vinegar in a range of dishes.
Each of these varieties offers something unique, and they’re all easy to cultivate. You’ll be able to harvest tons of it to cook with, or just enjoy their lush, green beauty. However you choose to revel in their beauty, happy gardening!