The Complete Guide To Basil

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Basil is one of the most popular herbs used in the kitchen and grown in the garden. This relative of the mint family is a tender annual that prefers full sun, comes in a variety of flavors and is a tasty companion in tomato sauces, flavored oils and herbal vinegars.

Uses For Basil

There are many ways to use basil:

  • Add basil leaves to poached fish or chicken, beef stock, stews, vegetable casseroles and tomato sauce. Basil’s flavor intensifies during cooking.
  • Make basil infused vinegars and oils.
  • Drink basil tea after a meal to aid digestion. Steep a teaspoon of dried basil leaves in a cup of boiled water.
  • Add dried basil leaves to potpourris and sachets. Use fresh or dried stems and leaves in centerpieces or flower arrangements.
  • Plant basil next to pepper and tomato plants to enhance plant growth.
  • Create colorful and fragrant borders along walkways by planting Purple Ruffles or Siam Queen basils.
  • Give hair luster. Use a basil-rosemary hair rinse on brown hair and a basil-chamomile rinse on blond hair.
  • Draw a stimulating herbal bath. Fill a tea infuser with dry basil leaves and hang beneath the tap while filling the bathtub.

Popular Varieties Of Basil

There are many varieties and flavors of basil. A commonly grown variety is Sweet basil. Sweet basil has a sweet and spicy taste and is commonly used to make pesto. Other popular varieties of basil include:

  • Genovese. Tender, dark green leaves. Grows between 18 and 24 inches tall. Use in pesto.
  • Green Ruffles. Lime green leaves with ruffled edges. Grows to 24 inches tall. Use in tomato dishes and as an ornamental.
  • Lemon. Pale green leaves with a strong lemon fragrance. Grows between 12 and 18 inches tall. Use in potpourris, as a tea, or add to chicken or vegetable dishes and flavored vinegars. Cinnamon and Anise basils also have a strong fragrance.
  • Lettuce Leaf. Large, crinkled leaves. Use in salads.
  • Marseille. A compact plant that is perfect for containers and areas with partial sun. Grows to 12 inches.
  • Purple Ruffles. Dark purple leaves with wavy edges. Grows to 18 inches tall. Use as an ornamental, in flavored vinegars and as a garnish.
  • Siam Queen. Has a tender leaf with a licorice flavor. Grows to two feet tall and sprouts purple flower spikes. Use in Thai and Italian cooking and as an ornamental.

Planting Basil

Basil can be planted in the garden or it can be grown as a container plant. When planting basil from seed, follow these general directions:

  • When planting outdoors, sow seeds in well-drained, rich soil in full sun after the last frost. Transplants grown indoors can be started sooner and set out in the garden after last frost.
  • Sow seeds six inches apart and cover with ¼ inch of soil. Press the soil lightly.
  • Keep soil evenly moist. Seedlings will emerge in seven to 14 days.
  • When the seedlings are two inches tall, thin out the weaker plants. Space the seedlings to leave one foot of space between plants.
  • Pinch off the tips of each branch when the plants are about six inches tall to promote branching.
  • Remove flower heads as they appear to keep producing leaves.

Harvesting & Storing Basil

Basil must be harvested regularly to maintain the plant’s growth. Here are some harvesting tips:

  • Individual leaves may be cut off the stem.
  • Harvest whole stems by cutting the stem just above a pair of new leaves. This will produce offshoots and create a bushy plant.
  • Do not let the plant go to seed. The plant will produce fewer new leaves and the stems will become woody.

Basil is best used when it is fresh. There are many ways to store basil. The easiest methods are drying and freezing.


  • Harvest long stems of basil, tie in small bundles and hang upside down in a warm, dry and dark space.
  • Spread basil leaves on a drying rack in a warm and dry spot.
  • Store dry leaves in an airtight container in a cool dark place.
  • Use dried herbs within six months.


  • Freeze leaves in plastic bags. Place a small amount of leaves in each bag.
  • Chop leaves and place a tablespoon into each compartment of an ice cube tray. Fill with water.
  • Mix ¼ cup chopped basil with two teaspoons olive oil. Drop by spoonfuls on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Freeze. Remove from baking sheet and store in plastic bags in the freezer.
  • Use frozen herbs within a year.
Last Updated: August 1, 2012
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About Coletta Teske Coletta Teske has 25 years' experience in tech journalism, as well as home and gardening topics. She has freelanced for Fortune 500 companies such as Boeing and Microsoft, published more than two dozen computer books for Prima Publishing and Macmillan, and worked as a freelance correspondent for West Hawaii Today. Coletta has been an avid gardener since she was 2 years old. While living in Hawaii, she achieved a lifelong dream of becoming a certified master gardener.

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