This low growing, bushy herb has bright green ovate leaves and small tubular white or pinkish flowers in summer. A popular half-hardy annual used in a wide variety of summer cuisine.

Family: Lamiaceae (mint)
Botanical Name: Ocimum basilicum
Common Names: Basil, sweet basil, Greek royal.

Foliage: Deciduous, aromatic, bright green smooth leaves.

Flowers: Whorls of white or mauve flowers in terminal racemes.

Flowering Period: Late summer.

Soil: Fertile, well-drained light soil (sand or loam). Acid, alkaline or neutral pH.

Conditions: Full sun. Grow in a west or south facing aspect, in a sheltered position.

Habit: Bushy.

Type: Although a tender perennial, it is usually grown as a half-hardy annual in the UK.

Origin: Tropical areas of Africa and Asia.

Hardiness: Tender in the UK.

Planting and Growing Basil

Plant in a warm sunny, sheltered spot, in a light free draining soil. Can also be grown in pots on a sunny patio or windowsill.

Taking Care of Basil

Water freely in summer but do not over-water.

Pick leaves frequently to keep it bushy.

Pruning Basil

Pinch out flowering shoots to promote foliage growth. Pull up and discard plants at end of season.

Pests and Diseases

Susceptible to attack by leafhoppers, aphids, slugs and snails. Can be affected by powdery mildew.

Propagating Basil

Sow seed under glass, in trays of free draining seed compost, in late March or April. Germinate in gentle warmth. Germination takes 2 to 3 weeks. Pot on, harden off and plant out in late May or early June, once all danger of frost has passed. Spacing 12-15in (30-37cm) apart.

Seed can also be sown outside in prepared ground from mid-May. Cover with cloches until the seedlings appear. Sow outside again in summer to ensure a succession of fresh plants.

Culinary Uses

Basil has a sweet, mildly spicy flavour, said to aid digestion and stimulate the appetite. Certain ornamental varieties have cinnamon, aniseed or lemon flavouring.

The leaves can be used fresh or dried. An essential ingredient in many Italian dishes, Basil can be used for flavouring in salads, omelettes, soups, minced meat dishes and recipes where tomatoes are used.

Harvesting Basil: The leaves are best picked fresh from July to October.

Varieties of Basil

Ocimum basilicum is the main species grown as a herb. Height from 18-24in (45-60cm). Varieties include:

  • 'Bolloso Napoletano' large, scented, bright green blistered leaves. Highly prized for it's flavour. For sale at Crocus.
  • 'British Basil' a weather resistant form that is more tolerant of cold weather, wind and light frosts. For sale at Thompson & Morgan.
  • 'Bush' a compact, small leaved Basil, ideal in containers. For sale at Thompson & Morgan.
  • 'Classico' one of the most popular varieties, with a strong scent and distinctive fresh flavour. For sale at Thompson & Morgan.
  • 'Crimson King' a particularly attractive variety with purple foliage. For sale at Van Meuwen.
  • 'Devotion' a downy mildew-resistant basil with large leaves. For sale at Suttons.
  • 'Dark Opal' a purple-bronze leaved basil which is ornamental as well as edible. For sale at Suttons.
  • 'Sweet Genovese' is one of the most popular varieties, with a strong scent and distinctive fresh flavour. For sale at Suttons.