The 5 Best Types of Basil Anyone Can Easily Grow at Home

published Apr 15, 2022
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Picture this: It’s a warm weekend and you’re walking through a crowded farmers market. A passing shopper holding an enormous bundle of basil happens to brush past you. And, wham! Immediately, you’re struck by its delicious fragrance and you know, at that moment, summer has truly arrived.

Now, imagine this could happen every day, as you walk through your yard or sip coffee in the morning. That’d be nice, right? Well, you’re in luck, because basil is easy to grow at home, whether you’ve got a large garden, a few raised beds, or just a few small pots on your balcony.

Growing healthy basil is simple: The plants just need full sun, warm temps, and frequent watering. These annual herbs hate the shade and don’t appreciate the cold, so be sure to sow seeds or plant starts in early spring (that means right now!) after the last frost. Plant in well-draining soil, and add a few handfuls of compost early in the season to give plants a boost.

As soon as you’re free of cold snaps, get your hands dirty and start basil growing. What kind of basil? We’re glad you asked! See, there are few different types of basil. And some are easier to grow and/or more useful for cooking. These are the five we recommend for anyone interested in growing basil at home. Choose one or, if you have the space, try them all!

1. Ocimum basilicum ‘Genovese’

This is the classic Italian sweet green basil. If you’re a lover of homemade pesto, this variety is for you. These plants grow about two-feet tall and a foot wide with glossy deep green leaves. Be sure to harvest often and nip any flowers as soon as they appear — although the white blooms are pretty, they’ll turn the leaves bitter and end your plant’s productivity. This is a great variety for making caprese salads and sandwiches, or piling onto your favorite red sauce pizza.

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2. Ocimum basilicum ‘Thai’

An essential ingredient to many Southeast Asian dishes (think: coconut curries, pad krapow gai, and pho), Thai basil has a mild licorice/anise flavor. These plants are also a lovely ornamental addition to the garden, growing 1- to 2-feet tall with a pretty combination of green leaves and purple stems. To keep the plant productive, pinch the flowers from the plant as soon as they appear.

3.  Ocimum basilicum ‘Mrs. Burns’ Lemon’

Mrs. Burns, as the story goes, moved to New Mexico with her son in the early 1950s. There, a neighbor and well-respected local gardener gifted her with the seed of a lemony heirloom basil that she’d been growing in her garden for more than 30 years. Decades later, when Mrs. Burns’ son started his very own seed company, one of the first varieties he sold was, you guessed it, Mrs. Burns’ lemon basil, and it’s now widely available across the country.

With arid Southwest roots, these plants are hardier than many other basil varieties and can handle dryer conditions. In the kitchen, use it whenever you need a punch of citrus flavor — stir fries, roasted chicken dishes, or as a garnish to cakes and other sweet desserts. Another idea: Simply crush a few leaves into a glass of lemonade or iced tea, and give a toast to the wise Mrs. Burns.

4. Ocimum basilicum ‘Spicy Bush’

If you’ve only got room for a small pot or two on a sunny deck or balcony, spicy bush is a good choice. Mature plants won’t get wild or unwieldy, instead growing into a tidy, compact bush that tops out at about a foot high. Leaves are smaller than most varieties and have a bit of a peppery flavor. This type of basil pairs well with fish and chicken dishes and can add some pep to pasta sauces or a spicy Bloody Mary.

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5. Ocimum kilimandscharicum x basilicum ‘African Blue’

African blue basil features green leaves with violet veins and it has a strong clove-like flavor. Use it in moderation, sprinkled in salads or on top of sweet desserts. Know that these plants can be large and unruly, often growing 3 feet or taller. Unlike all of the varieties mentioned above, there’s no need to pinch off any blooms, as this is a flowering basil that’s meant to show off its small lavender flowers and attract tons of bees. As an added bonus, cuttings are easy to propagate. Cut a small branch, place in some water, and once roots appear, give away to friends.

Have you tried growing basil at home? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.