12 Types Of Basil To Grow In Your Garden

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It may be hard to believe, but there was a time when I hated basil. I found it overly pungent, and it always seemed to overpower any dish. Thinking back on it, I might have been tasting bad quality basil — either basil that was past its prime or grown in stressed conditions. Today, I enjoy growing fresh basil and adding it to a myriad of dishes.

Think basil is just for making Italian foods like pasta and pizza? Think again. There are a wide variety of basil types, and all can be tools in your culinary kit. Here are 12 of my favorite basil varieties that I think you should consider growing in your garden — indoors or out.

Sweet Basil

sweet basil
Leigha Staffenhagen / Insteading
  • Sun requirements: Full sun. A sunny windowsill will do in most cases.
  • Moisture needs: Well-drained soil.
  • Best for: Nearly anything.

You may never have heard it referred to as sweet basil, but the stuff you buy in the grocery store is often this variety. It looks very similar to Genovese basil.

Thai Basil

  • Sun requirements: Full sun. Loves hot weather.
  • Moisture needs: Don’t overwater but avoid allowing the soil to dry out.
  • Best for: Cooking Thai dishes.

I’m growing a variety of Thai basil in my garden at the moment, and it seems to be one of the last to bolt. The slender leaves and purple flowers are a characteristic of Thai basil. So is the pungent, spicy flavor.

Purple Basil

purple basil
Will Power / Flickr (Creative Commons)
  • Sun requirements: Full sun.
  • Moisture needs: Well-drained soil.
  • Best for: Adding color to dishes as an ingredient or garnish.

There are a few different kinds of purple basil out there, but they’re all somewhat similar in taste and texture.

Related Post: Growing Basil

What makes this type of basil stand out is its purple hue. Some varieties of purple basil are more pungent than others.

Lemon Basil

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Pruned all the basil this morning. Will continue harvesting from a couple plants but will let most of them go – flowers for the bees 🐝 and seeds for me. I'm holding a bunch of lemon basil, which tastes and smells like summer to me. For those of you who are craftier than me, thoughts on how to make a body lotion or spray or something so I can smell like summer all year? . . . . . #basil #lemonbasil #harvest #prune #herbs #herbgarden #inmygarden #backyardgardening #homegrown #fromseed #notcrafty #ohiogardening #gardenblogger #garden2019

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  • Sun requirements: At least six hours of sun. 
  • Moisture needs: Water when topsoil is dry.
  • Best for: Adding a citrus-kick to basil-infused dishes.

This type of basil has a distinct lemon flavor. Of course, it still tastes like basil, but citrus undertones make this a truly unique basil to grow and add to dishes.

Holy Basil

  • Sun requirements: Full sun, thrives in the heat. 
  • Moisture needs: Well-drained soil.
  • Best for: Medicinal treatment of headaches and stress.

This type of basil is native to India. It’s actually a perennial and has a host of medicinal properties.

Genovese Basil

  • Sun requirements: Heat-loving, needs full sun.
  • Moisture needs: Well-drained soil, but water well in the heat of the summer.
  • Best for: Cooking and garnishing traditional Italian dishes.

One of the most common types of basil, and one that I often grow in my garden, is Genovese basil.

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This Italian variety pairs well with a variety of dishes and has smooth, bright green foliage.

Mammoth Basil

  • Sun requirements: Full sun.
  • Moisture needs: Well-drained soil.
  • Best for: Any dish where you might use sweet or Genovese basil.

This type of Italian basil produces very large basil leaves that look almost like lettuce leaf — which is why mammoth basil is sometimes also known as lettuce basil.

Cinnamon Basil

  • Sun requirements: At least six hours of sun per day.
  • Moisture needs: Well-drained soil.
  • Best for: Making a variety of sweet dishes.

My least favorite type of basil, but one that some people really enjoy, is cinnamon basil. I find it unpleasant, but perhaps that’s because I’m not a fan of actual cinnamon. It has its place in certain desserts but quickly overpowers a dish if used incorrectly. It’s sometimes called Mexican basil.

Licorice Basil

  • Sun requirements: Full sun.
  • Moisture needs: Well-drained soil. 
  • Best for: Replacing anise in recipes and dishes when you’re out. Use it in desserts, or make teas with it.

This type of basil may be an acquired taste for some because of its strong anise flavor. If you don’t like licorice, find another basil variety to grow.

Greek Basil

basil in a container
knackeredhack / Flickr (Creative Commons)
  • Sun requirements: Full sun.
  • Moisture needs: Regular watering.
  • Best for: Garnishing dishes and growing in containers.

A compact variety that doesn’t get much taller than about 8 inches. The leaves are tiny, too. Pick a few small leaves to garnish or flavor dishes.

Dwarf Basil

  • Sun requirements: Needs a sunny spot.
  • Moisture needs: Moist but not waterlogged soil.
  • Best for: Garnishing dishes and drying. Grows well in containers.

I have a few different types of basil growing in my garden at the moment, but dwarf basil is one of my favorites. This year is the first time I tried growing a compact type basil, and I may never go back to regular varietals ever again. I love that it takes up little space and looks so attractive thanks to its tight cropped growing habit.

African Blue Basil

  • Sun requirements: Full sun.
  • Moisture needs: Well-drained soil. 
  • Best for: As an ingredient in beauty products, as an ornamental plant, or for cooking.

This gorgeous basil varietal isn’t just for show. Because it contains high quantities of camphor, it’s often used in skincare and beauty products. I’m particularly fond of the purple blooms on this basil plant.

Tips For Growing Basil

Ever since I started out as a gardener, I grew basil. It’s one of the most popular herbs to grow because it’s used in so many dishes. However, growing basil isn’t always a cakewalk. The plant is finicky and particular about its living conditions.

Related Post: Growing Herbs Indoors

Why put in the effort to grow basil, then? Because harvesting it from your homegrown plant is SO MUCH cheaper than buying bunches of fresh basil at the grocery store. Grow more than you need, and share it with others, or dry it for use during the winter.

basil
Markus Spiske / Unsplash

In general, basil prefers sunny conditions. Never plant basil in an area where the soil is waterlogged. The soil should drain well and not puddle after heavy rainfall. Avoid growing basil in containers that are too small.

People tend to kill their basil plants because they keep them in store-bought containers that eventually suffocate the plant’s roots. Basil should be watered, but not too frequently. It’s better to let the soil dry out than keep it moist throughout the plant’s lifetime. Don’t bother fertilizing basil. Too much fertilizer can compromise the aroma and flavor of basil leaves.

Remember to pick your plant leaves frequently. This will encourage bushy growth and prevent the basil from flowering and going to seed.

How To Use Basil

If you find yourself in the fortunate position of having a ton of basil, check out these uses for the tasty herb.

Cooking

Obviously, the most popular way to use basil is to cook with it. Toss it into a pasta dish, add it atop pizza, or create a delicious fragrant pesto.

Gardening

The strong scent of basil can actually ward off pesky insects in the garden which is why basil is a frequently used companion plant for garden vegetables. Use basil as part of your natural bug spray recipe to help ward off troublesome pests.

Aromatherapy

Add a few drops of basil essential oil to water and create a fresh-smelling room spray. Add to bathwater for a soothing, anxiety-reducing bath. For some, the scent of basil helps to relieve headaches.

Medicinal Use

Basil has a few medicinal uses like aiding in digestion and reducing fatigue. For medicinal use, it’s often made into a tea for drinking. Basil also has antibacterial properties. Used topically, it can treat skin flare-ups like acne.

Written by Steph Coelho

Steph Coelho has been digging in the dirt for over a decade. She is a Certified Square Foot Gardening Instructor and has taught gardening classes in her local community. As a freelance writer, she seeks to educate others about the wonders of this rewarding hobby by providing honest information based on real-life experiences. She also knows that a gardener never stops learning.

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