Basil is perhaps one of the mostly widely used herbs in cooking, and it’s one I highly recommend for growing yourself, as it comes in handy in so many recipes – and of course for making pesto.
Although it’s most commonly known as a culinary herb and perhaps even a decorative plant, some basil varieties are also used in many cultures for healing and in worship.
While it is difficult to know the exact number of basil varieties due to the many hybrids in existence, there are estimated to be between 100 and 150. All types of basils come from the genus, Ocimum. This is a diverse genus which includes shrubs, annuals and perennials. Due to the ease with which basil cross-breeds, it can be difficult to determine with accuracy the species a given plant belongs to.
With the exception of a few hybrids and cultivars of other basil species, the majority of the culinary basils have been cultivated from Sweet basil, or O. basilicum. Many of these species are quite similar in taste and aroma and have similar benefits and uses. Despite the similarities, the slight variations in taste from one variety to another definitely make experimenting with growing different varieties of basil plants a worthwhile endeavour for herb gardeners that love to cook.
To differentiate between species at a glance, the size and shape of the leaves would be the first point of reference. For example, the Lettuce Leaf basil has large leaves which, as its name suggests, are reminiscent of lettuce in shape. Meanwhile, the Dwarf Bush basil has very small leaves.
The fragrance of the basil plant also provides an indicator of its species. The types and quantities of essential oils vary between species and this affects the smell.
To make it easier for you to determine which type of basil would be best to have in your garden, following is a list which covers the range of benefits and uses of 15 different commonly used basil varieties.
For a more comprehensive listing of basil varieties you can grow in your garden, visit Richter’s Herbs.
15 Varieties of Basil to Grow in Your Garden:
A predominantly purple plant with a splash of green; its spicy flavour makes it perfect in salsas and other Mexican dishes.
As the name suggests, Cinnamon basil has a strong scent and mild taste of cinnamon. This is due to the presence of the chemical, cinnamate. Cinnamon basil is fantastic for baking, adding to hot drinks and tossing through fresh fruit salad.
In Italy, Genovese Basil is thought to augur love. When a woman puts a pot of Genovese on her front windowsill, it is a sign she is ready for a suitor. Genovese Basil is a large leaf variety, and is arguably the best basil for making pesto.
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Tulsi is worshiped in the morning and again in the evening by many Hindus and has been used for many thousands of years in healing. Its medicinal properties range from reducing stress to treating respiratory ailments, fevers, colds and skin conditions.
One of the most popular varieties, Lemon basil is most commonly grown in northern parts of Africa and south Asia. There are a few different hybrids of lemon basil; all have a zesty lemon scent, some subtle, others more intense. It is a popular ingredient in Indonesian, Thai, and Laos dishes and is also ideal for making tea and potpourri.
Lime basil is a lime-scented version of Lemon basil originating from Thailand. It is wonderful to use in Thai cooking and in herbal tea.
Limelight basil is beautifully bright in color with crinkled leaves. It has a unique, peppery flavour making it a great addition to salads. It has the versatility to work in any dish from soups to home-baked breads.
When mature, the mammoth basil plant will stand approximately 12 to 18 inches high. The large, lettuce-like leaves are best used in salads but can also be used for making pesto.
New Guinea Basil
Another unique variety, the New Guinea basil has a mint flavor complemented by a licorice aroma. Its purple leaves make it a beautiful addition to any garden and it will work in any recipe calling for basil. It adds an interesting flavour to fruit salads.
Osmin Purple Basil
Osmin Purple basil also goes excellently in fruit salads with its sweet, fruity smell and flavor. This is another plant that looks lovely in the garden with deep purple leaves and flowers ranging in colour from deep purple to light lavender. While it can be used in any dish, it is best served in desserts and baking.
Persian basil has a spicy flavour, with hints of lemon and anise. Try this unique basil in sandwiches, salads and with fish or cheeses.
Red Rubin Basil
Red Rubin has a similar taste to Sweet basil but with a spicy, clove-like undertone. While it is not recommended for pesto, its purple leaves make it great for adding color to salads or garnishing dishes.
Similar to the New Guinea basil, Thai basil has a mint flavor with a licorice scent. With Thai basil, however, the taste of licorice is much stronger. If you’ve ever tasted a hint of aniseed in a Thai meal, it was most likely from Thai basil. The leaves are small and green with purple stems. Commonly used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking, Thai basil is an excellent addition to pho, stir-fries and curries.
Spicy Globe Basil
Similar in taste to sweet basil but with a bit of a kick, Spicy Globe basil adds a nice range to already spicy dishes or a hint of heat to non-spicy dishes. It is also naturally small and dense, reaching a height of 10 inches at most. This makes it perfect for those who do not have a lot of garden space and are growing herbs in pots or window planters. If you have more room, it looks lovely as a garden border.
Not only is sweet basil the most common of the basil varieties, it is one of the most significant culinary herbs in the world. Italian culinary history is rich with its use and it is referred to by some chefs as the king of the herbs. Sweet basil can be used in any dish you care to add it to and is a prolific grower.
Interested in growing some new varieties of basil? While you’re sure to find a few different varieties of basil seeds or plants at your local gardening centre, your best bet for finding a wider range of basil varieties is to order online from a source that specializes in herbs. For example Richter’s Herbs (based in Ontario, Canada but they do ship seeds worldwide) has almost 60 different types of basil seeds to choose from.
Which one do you think you will like the most?
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