Basil is perhaps the quintessential herb of summer. An essential herb in pasta sauce, pesto, caprese salad, stir fry; basil is used in many culinary dishes across the globe. It is a plant soaked in history and lore.
Greeks and Romans believed one should curse when sowing the seed to ensure germination. Basil found its way to Western Europe via the spice traders in the 16th century. Since this time Mediterranean food has been infused with basil. In India, Holy basil, or Tulsi, is considered sacred, a goddess. It has also been said basil helps keep away flying insects. It is great to plant it near your tomatoes (rumors that it helps improve their flavor).
Basils contain a variety of volatile oils that fluctuate according to variety and growing conditions. Sweet basil varieties have mostly anise and orange blossom scents with little camphor. European varieties add a little spice with cinnamon aromas. Asian varieties are high in clove whereas African varieties are rich in camphor and anise.
Besides a prolific use in the culinary realm, basil has also been used in a tea to aid digestion, help with a cold or flu, migraines, insomnia and bug bites. Since it is in the mint family, the flowers help attract beneficial insects. Several varieties are very attractive and make lovely additions to the floral border.
Varieties you may find at Portland Nursery:
Basil 'African Blue'
A cross of camphor and opal basil. Very attractive dark green leaves with purple undersides. Tall variety getting up 3-4’ tall. Strong camphor and anise flavor.
A very attractive dark purple leaf basil.
Basil 'Aroma 2'
Fusarium resistant, Genovese type. Classic appearance and aroma. Height 20-24″. Mild, sweet anise flavor.
Annual with brownish green leaves and purple stems and flower buds, pink flowers. Rich cinnamon scented. This variety originated in Mexico.
Basil 'Fino Verde'
Compact, bush-type basil with miniature leaves is perfect for pots, container gardens or borders. Small, aromatic leaves. Spicier than Italian basils, but still sweet and extremely flavorful, holds up well when cooking. Short plants have an attractive, rounded growth habit.
An Italian variety heralded to be the best for pesto. Large dark green leaves. Plants reach 18-24” tall and wide under ideal conditions.
Basil 'Greek Columnar' (Aussie Sweet)
Grows 24″ tall. Distinctive cinnamon and cloves aroma. Dense upright habit. Medium-sized leaves. Grow in full sun and well-drained soil. Pinch off flowers for leaf production.
Basil 'Italian Large Leaf'
Large, tender, dark green basil leaves are very sweet, excellent for pesto and other Italian dishes. Upright, 18-24″ plants are hardier than other basils.
Basil 'Lettuce Leaf'
Italian Heirloom! Huge, 5″”x5″” crinkled leaves. Mild sweet anise flavor. Great on sandwiches. Grows up to 24″ tall and wide. Napoletano is another lettuce variety.
Delightfully strong aroma. Fresh citrus like flavor. Delicious with fish and in salad dressings. 12” tall x 15” wide. 12″ x 15″. Bolts easily, so frequent. Mrs Burns is a variety that is slower to bolt that we carry on rare occasions at Portland Nursery.
Basil 'Licorice' or 'Thai'
Similar to Cinnamon basil but with a stronger anise flavor. Lovely purple stems, flowers and undersides of leaves. Nice for tea and flavored vinegars. Grows 18-24” tall and wide.
Culinary basil with striking twist of lime. Grows to 24”.
Basil 'Pesto Perpetuo'
Sensational tricolor. A masterpiece of flavor and form! Growing to 48” for pesto by the pound. Mild, sweet anise flavor. Very ornamental, makes a nice cut flower.Easiest variety to overwinter indoors.
Basil 'Red Rubin'
The perfect combination of ornamental appeal and intense, great flavor. Nicely vigorous, purple Italian large leaf type basil. The best red for vinegar’s and oils! 12″” tall x 10″” wide. Mild, sweet anise flavor. Very ornamental, makes a nice cut flower.
The classic in the Basil world. Sweet robust flavor, great for pesto and other dishes that require basil. Grows 18-24” tall and wide in full sun.
Basil 'Siam Queen'
A spicy Thai basil with purple stems and flowers. Grows 18-24” tall. Full sun, well- drained soil and average to minimal water. AAS winner in 1997. Essential for Thai and other ethnic dishes that call for a spicy basil.
Basil 'Spicy Globe'
Very aromatic miniature bush basil. Spicy, sweet basil flavor. Small shiny leaves on highly branched stems. Super cute in pots, forms a natural topiary look. Can be grown in pots or used in garden beds. Height 8-12″. Very ornamental, makes a nice cut flower.
Basil 'Super Sweet Chen'
Italian large leaf-type. Bright green, glossy savoy leaves. Slow bolting with strong aroma and good flavor for pesto. Height 12″”. Very productive and makes a nice cut flower. More resilient than other Italian types.
Basil 'Tulsi' (Holy Basil)
A different species, Ocimum sanctum (or O. tenuiflorum). Originating from India. Some plants can live for several years under the right conditions and become woody shrubs. There are several varieties of Tulsi, the sweet scented “Kapoor” tulsi grows best in the Pacific Northwest.
Common Name: Basil
Origin: About 150 annual, perennial and shrubby species from the tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, Africa and India.
Culture: Basil requires full sun, fertile, well-drained soil, regular water, and warm temperatures to thrive. Basil will rot easily under cool wet conditions. Seedlings are prone to a deadly fungal disease, damping off, caused by overcrowding and overly wet conditions. It is best to plant basil outdoors in the ground when night temperatures are above 50 degrees. To grow basil indoors, plant in any good potting soil and fertilize monthly with a liquid fertilizer that has been diluted by half. Place in an area that receives at least six hours of direct sun or consider supplemental light. Keep the soil moist, allowing to dry between waterings. Yellowing leaves can be a sign of overwatering.
Harvest: There are a couple ways to harvest basil. One is to pick leaves as you need them, usually best from the top to encourage new growth. More commonly cut the stems just above a set of leaves. Pinch of any flower buds to maintain peak leaf production. The flavor can change after flowering. The flowers are also edible, and lovely as a garnish. To dry basil, pluck the leaves from the stems and place in a paper bag in a warm area. Shake the bag every day to create air flow. The leaves should dry in 5-7 days.
Pest and Disease: Botrytis, Downy Mildew, damping off, whiteflies.
Basil Downy Mildew (BDM) is relatively new to the Pacific Northwest. It was first reported in Florida in 2006, and has been moving into many states since then. Initial symptoms are subtle, yellowing leaves that fall off. It can easily be confused with burn or a nutrient deficiency.
Next, irregular black spots develop on the infected leaves and a whitish grey fuzzy develops on the underside of the spotted leaves. This fuzz is the spores of the fungus which can travel quite a distance on the wind to effect neighboring basil plants.
Once you have confirmed infections of BDM, remove the plants by covering them with plastic bags (as to not spread the spores more) and throw them in the trash (the spores can live in compost piles). It is said the spores can live up to eight years in the soil.
Replant basil in a completely new location. There are not any varieties resistant to BDM. Keeping basil leaves dry, and using preventative organic fungicides, such as neem oil, can help reduce the possibility of infection.