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Basil consists of about 150 species worldwide and belongs to the family of the Labiatae. The most well known basil is sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum).

Some of the many varieties of basil include:

  • Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  • French fine leaf basil (Ocimum basilicum minimum var.)
  • Lettuce leaf basil (Ocimum basilicum crispun)
  • Dark opal basil (Ocimum basilicum purpurascens var)
  • Lemon basil (Ocimum americanum: Ocimum canun x Ocimum b.v. purpurascens)
  • Camphor basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum)
  • Licorice basil (Ocimum basilicum var. "licorice")
  • Cinnamon basil (Ocimum basilicum cv. "cinnamon")
  • Bush basil (Ocimum basilicum minimum)
  • "Tulasi" holy basil (Ocimum sanctum)
  • Genovese basil (Ocimum basilicum var. "Genovese")
  • Thrysiflora basil (Ocimum basilicum var. "thrysiflora")

Growing sweet basil

The most common form of basil is sweet basil and the one you're most likely to grow as part of a kitchen garden or herb garden.

Decide whether you want to grow it from seed (the seeds germinate in about two to three days) or from cuttings taken from firm wood stems of existing basil plants. If using seed, be aware that sweet basil seeds can remain viable for several years if stored in a cool, dry place away from direct light.

Harvesting basil

To keep basil producing more wonderful leaves for your cuisine, snip off the blooms regularly. Make this a part of the harvesting schedule. The first harvest should be possible around four to six weeks after transplanting or six to eight weeks after sowing seeds. Prune when harvesting to remove the blooms and you should get successive harvests every few weeks.

The best part of the basil plant is found at its top. The four leaves right at the top are the choicest. Even better, don't be afraid to remove it when it's ready as this will motivate the plant to produce more!

The best time to harvest is just after the dew of the morning has dried and before the day's heat commences.

Note! Basil bruises very easily and once this happens, it oxidises and therefore turns black. While it is still perfectly edible, it's not that pretty to look at. To avoid bruising when harvesting, don't crush leaves with your fingers and pile the basil into a large container, loosely.

Growing in winter

In a mild climate, (e.g. Sydney or Perth in Australia, or the southern United States) basil can be grown over winter, if given a sheltered location. Basil may even be made to survive another year if cut back very hard (removing almost the entire bush) to prevent going to seed. This might need to be performed multiple times, especially removing any buds and flowers that manage to form.

Basil may be grown in winter in colder climates by growing in a pot which is moved indoors, preferably near a sunny window, or into a greenhouse.

Cooking with basil

Basil is widely used in the cuisine of:

  • Europe, especially Italy
  • Asia, notably Thailand; other varieties are grown such as lemon basil in Indonesia (kemangi) and varieties known as "holy basil" in Thailand (krapow) and India.

Common Italian basil use includes pesto (a basil sauce or paste), pizza topping, pasta sauce addition and atop bruschetta.

Preserving basil

Preserving basil depends on what you want to use it for later and the preserving methods open to you. The main methods are:

  • Drying: whole leaves, flowers, seeds (seeds can be saved to sow again or to add to salads, dressings, etc.)
  • Salting: whole leaves
  • Liquid options: vinegar, oil, alcohol, water (freezing), jellies
  • Pastes: oil, butter, pesto, ice cubes

Basil in other languages

Here are some common ways to say basil in other languages:

  • Italian: basilico
  • French: basilic commun
  • Greek: vasiliko
  • Thai: ka prou
  • Spanish: albahaca