Aromatic basil is an key ingredient in the kitchen, and can be used in salads, pesto, pasta sauces and Thai curries. It’s an attractive plant, well suited to growing in containers, and has the added advantage of deterring whitefly – try growing it next to tomatoes.
Find out everything you need to know about growing basil in our Basil Grow Guide.
In the middle of summer, when your plants are growing fast, preserve their flavour by steeping the leaves in oil to make basil oil that you can use on pasta and salads during the colder months. And when the evenings become colder in autumn, bring your plants indoors to a warm, bright place to continue picking them.
You can easily divide supermarket basil plants to make more plants for free.
Sweet basil is the most commonly found variety in garden centres and supermarkets, but you can buy plants and seeds of a range of varieties too – here are some of the best.
Basil ‘Sweet’ (Genovese), Ocimum basilicum, is the most popular variety of basil, with large, soft leaves and a sweet taste. It’s great raw with tomatoes (and can be grown with them to deter whitefly) and is widely grown in Italy for use in pesto. Watch Monty Don harvesting basil and making pesto.
Basil ‘Crimson King’
Ocimum basilicum ‘Crimson King’ is a British-bred, purple-leaved variety, with uniform, ‘cupped’ leaves and greater vigour than other purple varieties. Its unusual looks mean it looks great in containers or window boxes, combined with other plants – try this tomato, basil and calendula pot.
Greek or ‘bush’ basil (Ocimum basilicum var. minimum ‘Greek’) has smaller leaves than sweet basil, with a slightly sweeter flavour. Use them to make pesto or add to tomato sauces or pizzas. It’s neat, compact shape makes it ideal for a container.
Basil ‘African Blue’
Ocimum basilicum ‘African Blue’ has attractive purple-blue flowers (much-loved by bees) and purple-veined leaves. It’s larger than other basils, reaching 75cm, and looks great in a pot or in a border. It’s a tender perennial so will need protection over winter.
Ocimum tenuiflorum, also known as sacred or holy basil, or ‘tulsi’, is a small variety with purple-green serrated leaves and purple stems. It originates in Thailand and therefore is the perfect basil to use in Thai dishes.
How to use basil
It’s better to rip or tear your basil leaves before using them, rather than chopping them with a knife.