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21 Different Types of Basil

Discover the different types of basil including their uses and flavors. You'll be surprised by the number of its variety along with its benefits.

Top view of green and purple basil.

Basil is one of the most popular and widely used herbs in a number of cuisines. While we are familiar with the sweet basil, there are actually plenty of types that come with a variety of colors and flavors.

Growing one in your garden is a good choice as they are not just ornamental but a staple in most herb cuisines as well. Other substantial benefits of it include diverse medicinal uses and as an insect repellant.

Related: Types of Fresh Basil | Parsley Substitutes | Pasta Pesto From Scratch | Herbs to Grow on Your Windowsill | Types of Pasta Sauce

1. African Blue Basil

African Blue basil

One of the reasons the African Blue basil stands out is because it is one of the tallest varieties of basil, standing at close to four feet in height. In addition, it comes back every year as long as you don’t let it freeze. It is great for both ornamental uses and for culinary uses, including being the perfect addition to a variety of meat, vegetable, and rice dishes.

2. Ararat Basil

Closeup of Ararat basil.

With green-and-purple leaves and small purple flowers, this type of basil is very attractive and can brighten up anyone’s flower arrangement. Its flavor is slightly sweet and somewhat resembles licorice. If you use it in place of regular basil, you might be surprised at how good your dishes taste.

3. Cardinal Basil

You can easily notice the Cardinal basil because of its beautiful reddish-maroon flowers but this type of basil is good for more than just ornamental uses. It is a little on the spicy side; therefore, it is perfect to use in oils and vinegar when making salad dressings.

4. Christmas Basil

Christmas basil with purple flowers.

Christmas basil has a very fruity flavor that can be used to add some oomph to dozens of dishes and drinks. Try adding it to a salad for some extra kick. Once you taste it the first time, you’ll wonder how you lasted so long without it. It also contains tall, attractive purple flowers for the perfect complement to its look.

5. Cinnamon Basil

Cinnamon basil

With a spicy flavor and sweet scent, cinnamon basil looks great in flower arrangements but can also be used in various fruit dishes and as a garnish as well. It is a bit different than regular sweet basil and it is found in a lot of home-improvement stores and nurseries.

6. Dark Opal Basil

Dark Opal basil

With a beautiful dark purple color, this type of basil is as beautiful as it is tasty. In addition to making a variety of dishes more flavorful, Dark Opal basil is also perfect for placing in your flower arrangements and your garden because it is both attractive and yummy.

7. Genovese Basil

Genovese basil

A type of sweet basil, Genovese basil goes great with anything that sweet basil can be used for, including pesto and numerous Italian dishes. The Genovese basil, however, is pointier and flatter than sweet basil and it also has a much more noticeable aroma.

8. Greek Basil

Greek basil on a wood plank table.

If you love basil but don’t have a lot of room to grow your own, Greek basil is the perfect option for you. It only grows to about eight inches in height but it still greatly enhances dishes such as soups, salads, and even meat dishes. You can also use it as a garnish to make any meal you’re eating a little more attractive.

9. Green Ruffles Basil

Because of its beautiful color and its mild flavor, Green Ruffles basil is both attractive and tasty. Add it to your pasta and salads for some extra taste and beauty. Its green ruffled leaves will be an eye-catcher for anyone who comes near it.

10. Holy Basil

Holy basil

An important part of the Hindu religion, holy basil is also called sacred basil and is great for the immune system as well. It is a plant that tastes great, is very nutritious, and can greatly improve your overall health. It is especially easy to consume when included in your next cup of tea.

11. Italian Large Leaf Basil

Closeup of Italian Large Leaf basil in a purple pot.

This type of basil has a much sweeter taste and smell than many other types of basil so if you have a sweet tooth, it can quickly become your favorite type of basil. You can also use it interchangeably in any recipe that calls for sweet basil.

12. Lemon Basil

Lemon basil

This is a very common and popular type of basil that looks just the same as traditional basil only with a lemon taste to it. You can include it in salads and various fish recipes and even place a few springs in a big pitcher of lemon-flavored iced tea. It is a very versatile type of basil that can enhance numerous dishes and drinks.

13. Lettuce Leaf Basil

Lettuce Leaf basil

Resembling a head of lettuce, lettuce leaf basil is yet another variety of sweet basil. Because it grows so large, it is one of the most productive types of basil as well. It can be used in pesto or mixed with oil for dipping bread in and its taste is one that you will never forget.

14. Lime Basil

Lime basil

Perfect for a variety of chicken and fish dishes, lime basil packs a great lime taste that you can also add to your favorite margarita or even iced tea. It is also a very small herb so you don’t need a lot of space in order to grow it successfully.

15. Napoletano Basil

This type of basil is a type of sweet basil but has a little more punch and spiciness to it. Because of this characteristic, Napoletano basil is perfect for pesto as well as for anything that you would use sweet basil for but for which you’d prefer a little more oomph. Its mild, anise-like flavor is perfect for dressings, marinades, and a variety of sauces and soups. In fact, you can use this type of basil in both raw and cooked dishes because it is such a versatile herb.

16. Purple Ruffles Basil

Top view of Purple Ruffles basil.

This type of basil is similar to the Dark Opal basil but it has large green leaves and streaks of purple instead of solid purple leaves. It also has ruffled leaves instead of straight ones. You can use the Purple Ruffles basil as an eye-catching garnish to a number of dishes or add it to your garden as you would the Dark Opal basil.

17. Spicy Bush Basil

Spicy Bush basil in white and pink pots.

This type of basil resembles a small bush when it is ready to be harvested but it still packs a lot of flavors regardless of its compact size. Try adding it to various soups and sauces; as with other types of basil, a little bit goes a long way.

18. Spicy Globe Basil

Spicy Globe basil

This is yet another type of basil that is small in size and it goes great in pasta, soups, and salads. It is slightly spicy and makes a perfect addition to your container garden. It grows in a globe shape, hence its name, and at one time it was very popular with the ruling class, which is why it is sometimes called the “king of herbs.”

19. Summerlong Basil

A dwarf type of basil, the Summerlong usually can be used within 30 to 60 days after planting. If you are growing basil out of containers because you don’t have much room to grow your herbs, the Summerlong basil is perfect. Similar to other types of basil, it is great for a variety of Italian and other ethnic dishes.

20. Sweet Basil

Sweet basil in a terracotta pot.

If you’re interested in growing an all-purpose type of basil, you should consider starting with sweet basil. You can use it for everything from soup to tomato sauce and it grows very well in a hot, sunny location. In fact, sweet basil is perfect for many Italian dishes and it is both tasty and easy to grow, even for beginning gardeners.

21. Sweet Thais Basil

Sweet Thais basil in the garden.

Sweet Thais basil is less common than most other types of basil and it has an Asian cousin as well. It is pretty spicy so if this is the taste you’re going for, the Sweet Thais basil is the one for you.

A Brief History of Basil

This herb has long been a part of culinary and other traditions throughout the world. In ancient Egypt, it was used to embalm and preserve bodies before they were entombed. Basil also has a strong history in India, where it was once a mainstay of medicine and healing in ancient times.

Basil also has cultural and symbolic meanings among different ethnic groups. In ancient Greece, basil symbolized hatred. In Jewish folklore, basil is believed to add strength while fasting. In Portugal, basil plants are given as part of a gift to a sweetheart or lover on certain religious holidays.

Today, basil is mostly used in cooking. It is most commonly used to enhance the flavor of a variety of dishes. Fresh basil is the best kind of basil. When fresh leaves are added to a dish, it is usually at the last moment before serving. That is because cooking basil quickly destroys the herb’s distinct flavor.

Basil is also used in the perfumery, incense, and herbal holistic remedies. Recent studies have proven that many of the oils found in basil plants contain potent antioxidant, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties.

FAQs

When can I plant basil?

Basil is best planted in late spring when there is a lower risk of frost. You can plant them indoors between April and June and outdoors between May and July. Basil seeds are most likely to sprout when the temperature reaches an average of 70 Fahrenheit.

Where should I plant basil seeds?

Basil requires a sunny and sheltered spot. My friends who grow basil tend to plant it near tomatoes because they believe it improves the flavor of the tomatoes and repels mosquitos and other pests.

How deep should I plant basil seeds?

Plant your seeds about a quarter-inch into the ground.

Can I grow basil in a pot or container?

Yes. You can grow basil in a container of nearly any size. However, if you want to grow a full-sized plant, then you will need to purchase a container that is at least 8 inches deep. It is also possible to grow basil indoors all year round, as long as you can get enough sun to the spot where you have placed your container.

Can I grow basil in the shade?

As long as temperatures are warm, you can grow a basil plant in a shady location. However, you will still need to expose it to sunlight for at least 6 hours a day.

How long do basil seeds take to sprout?

If temperatures are warm, you should start to see leaves in 5 to 10 days.

What type of soil does basil need?

Basil seeds should be planted in soil that is moist, nutrient-rich, and well-drained. You should also add compost or aged manure to the top 6 inches of the soil before planting.

What kind of care does basil need?

The plant must be watered regularly to keep the soil moist. If a basil plant becomes too dry, it will bolt. This means that it will produce flowers and seeds but no leaves. If overwatering the plant, it will become vulnerable to fungal infections.

You should also weed the plant regularly and add mulch to retain moisture. It is also a good idea to regularly trip the top leaves to encourage the plant to produce more of them. Begin this process when the plants are around 6 inches tall. Finally, remove flowers as they appear so that plant energy goes into leaf production.

How long does it take basil to grow?

The plant is usually big enough to start harvesting within 30 to 60 days.

How do I stop aphids from eating my plant?

The best way to keep pests off your basil plant is to blast them off with a hose.

Why does my basil plant have dark blotches?

If you have spotted such a phenomenon, it is a sign that your plant has a fungal infection, nutrient deficiency, or is simply not in a warm enough space.

Can I still harvest and use basil after it flowers?

Yes. However, the leaves may not be as sweet. Indeed, basil flowers themselves are edible. You can use them in salads or sauces. If you plan to do so, you should pick them because they are young and tender.

How do I store basil?

You can store sprigs of basil in a vase or cup for a week or so, but you must keep the stems submerged. You can also store basil for a couple of days in the fridge in a plastic bag. If you need to store the leaves even longer, then you must freeze them. This is not hard to do. All you need do is chop the basil leaves up, add them to ice cube trays, cover them with water, and then put them in the freezer.

Once frozen, you should transfer the cubes to sealed freezer bags or containers. You can keep the leaves in this state for 4 to 6 months.

Another way of storing basil long-term is to dry them. If you do it this way, you risk losing the flavor of the herb. Oven drying is the fastest and easiest way. Put the leaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake them for 2 to 4 hours on a low-temperature setting. Let the leaves cool. Then crumble them up, put them into airtight containers, and store them in a cool and dark place.

How do I save basil seeds?

The best way to save basil seeds is to let the plants flower. But do not collect seeds from the first plants to flower. You will want to select the seeds that are produced from later growth.

To actually collect the seeds, you must cut off the flower heads when they have turned brown and let them dry for a few days in a warm and dry space. Then crush the flowerheads to separate out the tiny seeds within. Place these seeds in a sealed container in a dark and cool location.

You can keep basil seeds for up to 8 years if you store them properly.

What are the health benefits of basil?

These herbs are rich in anti-oxidants. Research also indicates that basil is good anti-inflammatory food. They are also good for your cardiovascular health.

What can I use basil for?

Making pesto is the most popular way to use basil. In fact, I shudder at the very thought of pesto without a sizeable quantity of basil. The herb is also used in tomato sauces of various kinds.

Raw basil leaves can also be put into salads. These can accompany or replace mature leaves or microgreens. The Caprese salad is one of the most popular basil-based salads. It is composed of tomato, mozzarella, and a healthy dose of uncooked basil leaves.

This is topped with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper. I have made this dish myself for dinner guests and received rave reviews for it. If you want to make a light salad, chop up a few leaves of basil and blend them with olive oil and garlic.

Basil also works well on pizza and bruschetta with tomato and mozzarella toppings.

Must I always use fresh basil?

People with busy lives do not have the time to look after a basil plant. This is especially the case if you spend most of your professional life traveling. However, if you do find a moment for cooking, you should use fresh basil. It is no longer necessary to grow your own basil to get such leaves. The best organic food stores offer fresh basil that you can buy straight off the shelf.