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We use basil on top of salads, with pastas and over scrambled eggs. We whip basil into pesto and freeze it for the winter. We even keep a pot of basil by the kitchen door to keep away the flies, as they do in Italy.
Over the years, I’ve grown several different types of basils with unusual tastes and colors. Here are five of my favorites.
‘Genovese’ (shown above) is always popular in our garden. It’s the traditional basil that symbolizes authentic Italian cooking to many of us. This is my favorite basil for pesto, and I always squeeze a plant or two near my tomato and pepper plants.
‘Ararat’ is a variety I tried for the first time last year. This heirloom basil has a spicy-sweet licorice flavor, and you can see it above growing nest to my dwarf ‘Astia’ zucchini plant in a raised bed.
Just as my other basils, I planted this annual herb in full sun, after the last chance of frost and the soil temperatures had warmed. Basil thrives in well-drained soil, but needs adequate moisture during hot, sunny weather – especially when the herb is growing in containers. Feed sparingly with a well-balanced organic fertilizer of your choice, always following the directions carefully.
‘Amethyst’ is one of the prettiest basils I’ve ever seen, and I’ve grown it several years. Apparently, it’s the first and only purple ‘Genovese’ basil, and it’s stunning when served with orange or yellow tomatoes in salads.
Here you can see it growing in a pot in my garden. What you can’t see is that the basil is growing with two ‘Tom Thumb’ tomatoes, which happen to thrive in containers and small places. They produced small orange tomatoes, which provided plenty of delicious and beautiful salad fixings all from one pot.
When pruning, cut basil just above a cluster with two or more leaves. Then, toss your clippings into your next meal. This will keep your basil plant bushy and productive, rather than tall and lanky. Unless you want to eat the edible flowers, it’s best to prune the flowers as they appear, so the basil keeps producing.
‘African Blue’ is actually a perennial, so this pretty herb comes back year and year. Unlike other basils, this type has sterile flowers. That means you don’t need to rush to prune them away, as you would annual basil flowers. Instead, you can use these edible flowers as much as you want throughout the growing season.
In the photo above, the ‘African Blue’ flowers are just starting to bloom. Eventually, these purple flowers will grow several inches long on stems that look as pretty in a flower vase as they do stuck in a glass of lemonade. As ‘African Blue’ is a sterile hybrid of two other breeds of basil, you’ll need to start this one with cuttings or transplants, not seeds.
I’ve enjoyed this basil in various culinary dishes last summer, although some critics claim the high camphor content make this basil less attractive in the kitchen – even if it shines in your garden beds. You be the judge, and let us know what you think!
‘Purple Ruffles’ is one of the prettiest basils I’ve ever grown, thanks to its large, ruffled purple leaves. No wonder I felt compelled to plant it with these Proven Winners Supertunia ‘White Russian’ petunias last year. This basil is just as pretty as any of your ornamentals, as you can see here.
Luckily, you can grow this basil from seed or buy transplants from local garden centers. I like to infuse ‘Purple Ruffles’ in vinegar, because it adds a lovely purple hue and delicious flavor. These herbal vinegars are delicious in homemade dressings and pasta salads.
When it comes to basil, however, this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many more basil varieties to grow in your garden. Which ones are your favorites? Did we miss one?