Saturday, March 29, 2014

Smelly Plant(s) of the Month: Basil(s)

Ocimum basilicum has so many varieties it makes my head spin. Each variety has a distinctive leaf type and scent profile. Most are annuals, or are grown as such. I've heard that basil can be grown here as a perennial, but my experience says "annual". Maybe in the true tropics, it grows all year.

For the last several years, I grew only Thai Basil (var. thyrsiflora). This year, I got hold of some Lime Basil seeds, which can be hard to find. I also found Spicy Globe Basil, Columnar Basil, and Cinnamon Basil. They are all growing beautifully and my cooking has really gone up a notch as a result. Here is the gallery:
Lime Basil has a gorgeous olfactory profile: a low hum of sweet basil, with a massive hit of lemon verbena and key lime peel on top (courtesy of citral and limonene). The flavor is citrusy. The leaves are smaller and more tender than with ordinary Sweet Basil. It's very easy to grow from seed and fairly tough against pests.
Cinnamon Basil is much more like Sweet Basil in flavor and scent. It does have a spicy kick reminiscent of cinnamon leaves (not bark). It's a fun alternative to Sweet Basil.
Spicy Globe Basil has rounded tufts of small, very tender leaves and stems. There is a mild basil flavor with a peppery kick to it. Lovely in salads and veggie stir fry. I find it a little too delicate for heavy cooking.
Columnar Basil is a very robust, sturdy basil with spicy tones of clove and allspice. It's easy to grow in a container because of its columnar shape; it never sprawls around the pot like Sweet Basil. It seems tougher than Sweet Basil against pests, also. The leaves can be used raw or cooked.

All the basils need plenty of sun and water. Here in Zone 9 (subtropical), they need refuge from direct afternoon sun and heat. I keep them in a west-facing, covered patio, and in a north-facing alcove. That way they get either direct, cool morning sun, or indirect afternoon sun. I water daily and use a well-draining soil, but their schedule will depend on your climate zone and soil type. I use a general fertilizer once a week. They'll flower in late summer (harvest and save the seeds for next season!), then die back in November or December.


  1. We can't seem to grow enough of it! My husband LOVES making pesto. Thanks for the well rounded post.

  2. Thanks, Sylvia. Basil is indeed the king of herbs!