Ocimum basil


Common name: Common Basil, Sweet Basil

Family: Lamiaceae, Mint

Height x width: 6-18" x 6-18"

Growth rate: moderate

Foliage: opposite, ½-2" long and half as wide, narrowly ovate to elliptic, margins entire or serrate, upper surface glossy, green to purple or mottled, aromatic (photo courtesy Missouri botanical gardens plantfinder)

Flowers: terminal spike-like raceme 2-6" long, purple or white

Hardiness: annual

Soil:well-drained, moist

Light: sun

Pests and problems: damping off of seedlings, fusarium wilt, botrytis blight, stem and root rots, powdery mildew, aphids, slugs, snails

Landscape habit, uses: upright or mounded, herb and scented gardens, edging, borders, containers, indoors.

Culinary--popular for use in tomato sauce and pesto, vinegars, or sprinkled over salads and sliced tomatoes; pound fresh leaves with oil or tear rather than chop; coat leaves with olive oil before freezing; leaves can be dried and stored in salt.

Household--pots on windowsills supposedly deter flies

Cosmetic--fresh leaves used as a bath infusion

Medicinal--steep a few leaves in wine for several hours as a tonic, a tea aids digestion

Aromatherapy--inhale a drop on armsleeve to conteract mental fatigue

Other interest: genus name is from the Greek okimom for an aromatic herb

Other culture: remove flower spikes to promoted increased growth and branching, susceptible to pesticide injury, very cold sensitive, prune plants every 2-3 weeks to promote growth

Propagation: seed (17,000-27,000 per ounce) sown 8-10 weeks before planting out, stem cuttings for overwintering late is season


americanum (a-mer-i-caa' num)-- Lemon Basil, ½-2' tall, leaves to 3" long and half as wide, smooth, stems hairy, bush habit, intense lemon fragrance

basilicum (ba-sill' i-cum)--native to Old World Tropics (India, Africa, Asia); believed in India to hold divine essence, in some Greek Orthodox churches it's used to prepare holy water as it was found growing around Christ's tomb after the resurrection; in Haiti Bush Basil is associated with a pagan love goddess Erzulie and in Mexico it is used to attract lovers.

gratissimum (gra-tiss' i-mum)--Tree Basil, annual shrub 4-6' tall, fuzzy lime-green leaves scented like pennyroyal, tea of leaves used for cold and fevers, leaves burned to repel mosquitoes, thymol content of one cultivar makes this useful for wounds, gargling, conjunctivitis

kilmandscharicum (kill-mand-scar' i-cum)--Camphor Basil, annual shrub reaching about 5' tall in a season, base becoming woody, camphor-scented leaves with white hairs used in sachets to protect woolens and as a tea for stomach aches

tenuiflorum (ten-u-i-floor' um)(sanctum)-- Holy Basil, annual and shrubby to 2' tall, spicy clove-like aroma of green leaves, the sacred basil of the Hindus, also used in cooking and medicines

Cultivars: (of basilicum unless noted)
Cultivars leaves, other
'African Blue' streaked purple, fragrant, spicy scent
'American Blue' blue-green with red veins, 3' tall
'Cinnamon' cinnamon scent
'Compatto FT' compact Genovese type
'Crispum' 'Lettuce Leaf', crinkled edges
'Dark Opal' dark purplish-bronze, very fragrant
'Dwarf Bush' 12" tall, 18" wide, small leaves, dense, fragrant
'East Indian'  clove scent, spicy flavor, large felt-like gray-green leaves, (gratissimum)
'Genovese' large, from Genoa area of Italy
'Green Bouquet' compact, fragrant
'Green Bush' compact, fragrant
'Green Globe' dense, uniform globe habit 1½-2' across, spicy
'Green Ruffles' ruffled edges and serrated
'Large Leaf Italian' good for Italian cooking
'Lemon' intense lemon scent
'Licorice' ('Anise') licorice scent
'Lime' (americanum) dark green, lime scent, 20" tall
'Mammoth' good flavor and scent, size of adult hand
'Minette' mild scent, compact 10" tall, good for edging
'Minimum' sweet fragrance, used in French cuisine
'Mrs. Burns' larger leaves and taller than Lemon, lemon fragrance
'Purple Ruffles' deep purple, serrated and ruffled, AAS winner
'Red and Green' (tenuiflorum) green shaded red
'Rubin' more uniform dark than Dark Opal
'Special Select FT' commercial Italian pesto strain, no mint overtones
'Spicy Globe' fine, spicy, compact 14" tall
'Sweet Fine' taller (16") bush basil
'Thai Siam Queen' 3-4" long, 1½-2" wide, 30-40" tall, spicy, AAS winner
'Valentino' large leaves, fragrant
'West African'  thyme scent and flavor, from Ghana, many uses, (gratissimum)

(Purple Ruffles photo courtesy photobucket.com, brucewalker2007)

©Authored by Dr. Leonard Perry, Professor, University of Vermont as part of PSS123 course.

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