Do you grow basil in your garden?
Basil is definitely a must for the garden, and especially if you love tomatoes. When most people think of basil, they tend to think of Italian green basil paired with tomatoes. It’s the main ingredient of pesto and is crucial for most Italian meals.
However, there are many varieties of basil available on the market that if you’re going to grow it, you might as well grow a few more to make it fun!
This past summer I went basil crazy and grew 10 different varieties in my vegetable garden! By doing so, I discovered how much I truly loved basil. It actually became a bit of an obsession for me. I used to appreciate basil before, but never found it as exciting as I do now!
From greens to purples, ruffles and fuzzies, lemony scents and spicy aromas, brushing past each variety will awaken the senses!
Now I want to share the experience with you!
In this post, I share 10 different basil varieties for your vegetable garden. If you only have room for a few, plant them, then add a couple more. Squeeze them in wherever you find space. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!
Do you grow your own basil from seed or do you purchase plants from the nursery?
This is where our discussion must begin.
In order to access all varieties of basil, plants must be started from seed. Garden centres only sell what sells and is most popular. If most of your garden transplants come from a nursery or garden centre, access to basil will be limited to only a few varieties.
Genovese basil is probably the most popular variety. It is a traditional type, excellent for pesto-making, pasta sauce or in a freshly harvested tomato salad.
You may also have encountered Thai Sweet basil. Reminiscent of Vietnamese restaurants and pho noodle soups, I’ve often seen this one offered at my local nursery.
Other than one or two other varieties, the vast world of basil is not available in seedling form and needs to be grown directly from seed.
In this post, I curated my top 10 favourite basil varieties. The above two varieties will be discussed in greater detail, along with another eight favourites that can’t be missed! Seed company links* have also been included to make seed ordering easy and quick.
Basil is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, and is very easy to grow from seed. It only requires a little patience. Fill a small pot with seed starting mix, up to the top 2 inches. Scatter a few seeds on the surface and top with a light covering of the seed starting mix. Water well, cover with a piece of plastic wrap, place in a sunny window and wait. Basil is very slow to germinate and may take 5 to 10 days to peak out from under the soil. Just keep an eye on the soil and if you see a lot of condensation under the plastic, remove it for a few hours to help it air out, then cover again for the night. When seedlings emerge, remove the cover immediately to prevent damping off disease or rot.
Keep your basil pot in your sunniest window or under grow lights and enjoy the aroma of your delicious little plants.
10 Varieties of Basil for your Garden
- Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
- Thai Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora)
- Tuscany Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Tuscany’)
- Genovese Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Genovese’)
- Globe Basil (Ocimum basilicum var. minimum)
- Blue Spice Basil (Ocimum basilicum x O. americanum)
- Cinnamon Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’)
- Opalescent Basil (Ocimum spp.)
- Purple Opal (Ocimum basilicum var. purpurascens)
- Shiso/Perilla (Perilla frutescens)
Also known as Tulsi basil, holy basil is a variety with numerous medicinal properties and has been used in Ayurvedic practices for centuries. Unlike other basils that are better consumed raw, holy basil is better used in teas or cooked dishes and is popular in Indian cuisine.
Holy basil is exceptionally aromatic. Unlike Italian basils, it has more of a musky, anise-like scent, with sweet notes. Flowers bloom into a bushy habit and produce flower spikes, covered with tiny light pink flowers. Pollinators will go crazy for this incredible herb, providing pollen and nectar all the way through to frost.
Both leaves and flowers may be harvested and dried for tea. Cut it back halfway in mid-summer and it will quickly regrow into an even bushier plant.
Holy Basil has become one of my top 3 favourite basil varieties for it’s incredible scent, prolific habit, delicious flavour in tea and for the benefit that it provides to the pollinators. I wouldn’t pass up a year to grow this variety!
Popular in Vietnamese cuisine and especially pho noodle soups, Thai sweet basil has a strong anise, sweet scent and strong flavour. Leaves are smaller than traditional basils and plants tend to be more compact.
Harvest regularly, as Thai sweet basil tends to bolt fairly quickly. Unlike Italian basil, who’s flavour changes once flowers develop, Thai sweet basil is delicious and mostly unchanged throughout its lifespan. Both leaves and flowers are edible, and may be used in the same applications.
Also known as ‘Lettuce leaf basil’, this variety produces stunning 3 to 5 inch long, bright green full leaves, that are puckered and ruffled throughout. A truly gorgeous variety that may be chopped fresh into salads, blitzed into pesto or used in wraps.
Aroma is similar to traditional basil, but with a mild hint of anise. Stunning in the garden and on your plate, it is one of my favourite varieties! Harvest leaves often and pinch off any developing flower spikes and this variety will produce new leaves throughout the summer! A definite must for the garden!
Originating in Genoa, Italy, Genovese basil is a sweet basil variety that is most popular for pesto-making. Highly aromatic, maintaining its gorgeous scent even as it matures into the growing season.
Leaves are dark green and abundant, growing up to 3 inches in length. Harvest regularly for pesto-making or freeze for the winter. Plants can grow to a height of 2 feet. Plant next to tomato plants for easier harvest, as the two compliment each other in flavour.
Also known as Greek basil, this variety produces densely-packed tiny leaves in a globe shape. Plants typically grow to a height of 1 to 1.5 feet, producing nice compact plants. Grow them in containers, edges of beds or anywhere you can “squeeze one in”.
Use as you would any basil or leave as is, since plants tend not to bolt, even on the hottest days of summer. Then when you’re ready, chop back 1/3 of the plant by snipping around evenly and it will maintain its rounded, topiary shape. A definite must for the garden or container!
Blue spice basil is a stabilized crossing of Ocimum basilicum and Ocimum americanum. A most beautiful and aromatic variety with purple stems and densely packed dark purple flower spikes, filled with light purple flowers. Leaves are smaller than traditional Italian basil varieties and are slightly fuzzy.
This variety is known as the most fragrant of all basils! The scent exudes strong aromas of vanilla, lemon and anise. It is excellent fresh or dried for tea, or may be eaten fresh in a salad or with fruit.
This variety is intended to bolt and produce flowers. Snip flowers while young and fresh or leave to dry for easy seed collection.
This variety of basil originated in Mexico. Cinnamon basil is duly named for its intense cinnamon aroma. Plants can grow to a height and width of three feet, so grow this variety where it has room to expand.
Cinnamon basil contains the compound cinnamite, responsible for its strong cinnamon aroma. Use cinnamon basil in place of cinnamon in desserts or grow it for its fragrant flowers. Spikes develop in a dark purple colour, with violet coloured flowers. Leaves are narrower than other varieties, with purple veining.
The many medicinal properties of cinnamon basil make it a great choice for tea.
Similar to the ‘All American Selections’ winner ‘Purple ruffles’, Opalescent basil is an F5 variety crossing between ‘Mrihani’ and ‘Opal’ basil, created by talented plant breed Frank Morton, of Wild Garden Seed. Opalescent basil stands out from ‘Purple Ruffles’ for its sweet basil aroma. So although they look similar with their ruffled, dark wavy purple leaves, opalescent shares the aroma of ‘Genovese’ basil.
Opalescent grows to a height of 2 feet and would pair nicely in a bed of tomato plants. It’s stunning foliage and incredible scent make it a definite must have for the vegetable garden and is another of my favourite basil varieties.
Perfect for pesto-making, added fresh to salads, or anywhere you would like to add fresh basil. It’s absolutely beautiful and delicious!
Another purple basil variety, but this one has smooth leaves. Scent is similar to sweet basil, making it perfect for pesto or anywhere basil is used. Growing to a height of 2 feet, it would make an excellent addition to a tomato bed, container garden or as a nice border plant. Use in a flower garden for its dark purple foliage and light pink flowers.
Purple opal basil is rich in vitamins A, C and K. The dark purple in the leaves is caused by the flavonoid, anthocyanin. Anthocyanins are found in any dark-coloured vegetables or fruits, like beets, blueberries, grapes, carrots and tomatoes. As such, purple basils are also high in antioxidants.
Purple opal basil was originally developed at the University of Connecticut in the 1950’s. It won the ‘All American Selections’ award in 1962.
Although Shiso is not technically a “basilicum”, I felt I needed to include it in this list. Shiso or perilla originates in Japan and has been used as an alternative to basil. It has an aroma similar to minty basil, with a hint of anise, and may be used in very similar applications.
I first began growing shiso a year ago and was incredibly impressed by its stature and vigor! Growing to a height of at least 2 feet and producing leaves the size of your palm, it makes a beautiful addition to salads or may be used for wraps or in sushi. It is available in green or purple varieties, the green displays purple on the backside of each leaf. A member of the mint family, shiso has a similar growth habit to basil, with similar flower spikes.
If you haven’t tried shiso, I highly recommend sowing a few seeds just for fun!
Basil is a wonderful herb that adds many benefits to the vegetable garden. The individual varieties add beautiful aromas to the garden, that may be experienced simply by walking past. Each variety has its own flavour profile, allowing for versatility in fresh eating, in cooked dishes or when dried for tea.
Basil is vitamin, mineral and antioxidant-rich. Grow them alongside other vegetables, in containers or simply pop them in wherever a spot is available. Even if you don’t harvest them, simply grow them for the pollinators, and they will thank you by pollinating all your fruiting vegetables.
How many basil varieties have you grown from this list? Which ones were your favourites? Which ones would you like to try?