We love all garden herbs, but basil has a special place for us. Growing basil is relatively easy, it is an herb that you can grow indoors or outdoors, in the ground or in containers, and is a great companion plant for a variety of vegetables.
There are literally dozens of basil varieties beyond the typical sweet, large-leafed basil used in Italian dishes — and while we can’t describe all of them here, we want you to have an inspiring list to break you out of your basil doldrums. So which one will become your new favorite?
10 Basil Varieties & How to Use Them
1. Lemon Basil
I admit, I love lemon anything in the garden, and lemon basil is at the top of my list. It has lighter green leaves, a refreshing lemon scent, and taste, and grows up to 12-18” tall. Use it in teas, marinades, as garnishes, and with grilled veggies.
2. Cinnamon Basil
Spicy and fragrant as its name implies, cinnamon basil has a more mild taste than its strong and sweet cousins. Popular with Asian dishes, it enhances grilled veggies, marinades, fried rice, salads, and fruits. Although Thai basil is sometimes referred to as “cinnamon basil,” these are actually two different varieties. It grows 12-18” tall.
3. Holy Basil
Also known as tulsi, Holy basil is prized in Indian cuisine for its sweet/spicy and musky scent — but it’s best incorporated into cooked dishes because the raw flavor is a bit bitter. It grows to 20” tall with green and reddish leaves.
4. Spicy Globe Basil
Believe it or not, this was actually the very first basil I grew in my garden. I love its rounded, compact shape, smaller leaves, and spicy flavor. Use it in salads, with pasta, and in soups — and grow it in containers for an unusual, edible topiary effect.
5. Greek Basil
Everything’s cuter in a tiny package, isn’t it? Greek basil grows only 6-10” tall (hello, container gardening and borders), and with its spicy anise flavor, is a no-brainer for your favorite Greek-inspired recipes.
6. Dark Opal Basil
Growing about 18” tall, Dark Opal basil boasts dark burgundy foliage with a distinctive clove flavor, making it an intriguing addition to oils and vinegar. Because its leaves are so decorative, it’s also grown as an ornamental garden plant as well.
7. African Blue Basil
You have to love something that sounds this exotic, don’t you? African Blue is a basil giant, growing up to 4’ tall — and as long as it doesn’t freeze, it will actually return next year. Hooray for perennial basil! Who knew? Added benefits include its strong pepper/clove/mint scent (ideal for meat and veggie dishes), the purple-tinged foliage, and purple flower spikes. But seed-starting lovers take note: this one is sterile, so it’s unable to produce seeds and must be started by cuttings or transplants.
8. Thai Basil
You’re right in guessing that Thai basil is an oft reached-for herb in Thai cooking — it has a slight licorice taste and remains flavorful even when cooking at higher temps. The pointed leaves have a darker color, and the plant itself is somewhat of a mid-size grower (about 2’).
9. Green Ruffles Basil
How about a basil with curled leaves with a mild flavor? Because the leaves are larger but curled, Green Ruffles incorporates into pasta dishes well but is also perfect for salads. It grows 20-24” tall.
10. Lettuce Basil
This one grows only about one foot tall but features lettuce-like leaves that are 4” wide and up to 10” long! Slow to flower, it tends to thrive longer in the summer heat, and with its mild taste, is ideal for making lettuce wraps.
How to Grow Basil
- Sun: Full sun
- Water: Regular irrigation
- Soil: Fertile, moist, well-drained
- Uses: Culinary (cooked or fresh), containers, borders
- Planting Time: After the last frost in Spring
- Type: Warm-season annual unless otherwise noted