Fragrant, a mix of sweet and savory, and packed with nutrients, basil is a wonderful herb.
It quickly elevates any dish and what’s even better is that you can grow it in your own backyard, or even inside on a windowsill.
There are many types of basil, so we’ll go through and explain all their characteristics.
How many types of basil are there?
There are between 50 and 150 species of basil. The plants love warm environments and are grown around the world.
While each species is different, most are cultivars of Sweet basil, and there are quite a few that are now hybrid species.
Is all basil edible?
Yes, the wonderful part of basil is that both the leaves and the flowers are edible. The only thing to consider, however, is that not all varieties of basil are sweet.
In fact, there are quite a few bitter varieties that either should be avoided or cooked first.
Different Types of Basil
A wonderful mix of basil and lemon, Lemon basil produces a delicious scent. Simply rub the leaves between your fingers and the fresh, citrus smell of lemons will be transferred.
Lemon basil has light green leaves and best compliments poultry and fish dishes. It is also great when used in a marinade or to flavor roasted vegetables.
If there is a Lemon basil, then surely there must be a Lime basil. Lime basil has a rich citrus scent that mimics the smell of limes.
The leaves of Lime basil are a bright green and are narrow in shape. The combination of Lemon basil and Lime basil creates a really unique taste and because they are so sweet, they are often used in teas or desserts.
Delicate in size, Greek basil is a small plant, reaching heights of just 8 inches. Its leaves are light green in color with petit points at their ends.
Greek basil has a nice, spiciness to it and is often paired with meat dishes or used in soups. Because of its unique appearance, it is also a popular garnish.
The most common of basil varieties, Sweet basil is versatile and easy to grow. In fact, if you head to your local grocery store, this is probably the type of basil that is for sale.
Sweet basil has an oval shape to its leaves which are medium green in color. This variety is commonly used in pesto sauce and can also be used in salads. Furthermore, it naturally repels mosquitos.
Purple ruffles basil
Thanks to its color, Purple Ruffles basil is very similar to Dark Opal basil. The best way to distinguish between the two varieties is that this one has ruffled leaves.
Purple Ruffles basil is so unique looking, it is actually often used in flower arrangements. However, you can definitely use it for cooking, as it has a nice spicy taste to it and is perfect for meat dishes and soups.
Dark Opal basil
Also known as Purple basil, due to its vivid purple color, Dark Opal basil looks great in a garden and is also a nice addition to many meals. While it is not as sweet as other varieties of basil, Dark Opal basil is still very aromatic.
Dark Opal basil can grow quite tall, up to 18 inches in height, so plan for this if you are planting it in your garden.
With a nice balance between spicy and floral fragrances, Cinnamon basil is a nice staple to have in an herb garden. While its small leaves are green in color, the stems and flowers are purple, which produces a lovely contrast.
Cinnamon basil has a mild flavor with cinnamon undertones. It is often used in Asian cooking, including fried rice and grilled vegetables.
Not to be confused with the Boxwood plant, which is a small shrub, Boxwood basil is indeed edible. However, it does grow in the shape of a small shrub, with a height of just 12 inches.
Boxwood basil is great in the garden if you need a border plant. It is often used in Italian dishes and creates a strong-tasting pesto sauce.
Lettuce Leaf basil
At first glance, you just might mistake Lettuce basil for its namesake. It has large floppy leaves that are also a bit wrinkled.
Lettuce Leaf basil has leaves that are quite large, measuring 6 to 10 inches in length. As a result, it is often used in salads or even lettuce wraps.
While not quite as common as Sweet basil, Genovese basil is probably next in line. It is a staple in Italian cuisine and has a rich, dark green color to its leaves.
Genovese basil can be used to make pesto sauce and is great with other pasta dishes. It has a strong flavor to it, so use a bit first to get the taste right.
African Blue basil
Tall in stature, African Blue basil can quickly dominate your garden. It has amazing blue flowers that tower over the leaves of the plant.
African Blue basil has a spicy fragrance to it, with hints of cloves, mint, and pepper in it. As a result, it is often used with meat and rice dishes.
Spicy Globe basil
Really, the name says it all with Spicy Globe basil. The leaves are fragrant and spicy and this Dwarf variety grows tightly in a globe shape.
Spicy Globe basil is often used in pastas and salads and because the leaves are so small, you don’t really need to chop them up.
Yes, Mammoth basil is really large. In fact, its leaves can be up to 16 inches in length, although the height of the plant is still only about 16 inches tall.
Mammoth basil is similar to Genovese basil although a bit spicier. It can be used in most Italian dishes and is great for making pesto sauce.
Thai Sweet basil
Nestled between the light green leaves of Thai Sweet basil are gorgeous purple flowers. Overall, this type of basil has a remarkable licorice flavor that is very aromatic.
Thai Sweet basil, as its name suggests, is primarily used in Thai cuisine and is often found in chicken dishes. What’s really nice about Thai Sweet basil is that even if it is cooked at a high temperature, it will still retain its flavor.
With petit leaves, Holy basil is quite cute. It produces a lovely, spicy fragrance that really pops in the garden.
Holy basil is often used in Indian cuisine, including in meat dishes. However, while it cooks well, it can be bitter raw.
Green Ruffles basil
With adorably curved leaves, Green Ruffles basil adds a lovely bit of texture to any garden. This basil as a mild taste, making it quite versatile for the use of many pasta dishes.
Green Ruffles basil can grow to be 2 feet tall and the leaves, while narrow, can be up to 6 inches long.
Framed by small, delicate leaves, Cardinal Basil is distinguished by the tightly clustered violet-red flowers in the middle of the plant. The stems can grow over 2 feet tall, and are a gorgeous addition to any herb garden.
While Cardinal basil isn’t frequently used in cooking, it can be used to flavor oils and vinegars which are highlighted by its spicy scent.
A dwarf variety of basil, Summerlong basil only grows to be about 8 inches in height, making it perfect for container gardening.
A really nice characteristic of Summerlong basil is that is it slow to bolt. This means that there is a longer time before the plant goes to seed, essentially meaning that all summer long, you will have basil available.
Italian Large Leaf basil
Another popular variety of basil, Italian Large Leaf basil has a nice, mild flavor that is the perfect blend of sweetness.
It can be used in most cooking, including soups, meat dishes, and even marinades. While its leaves are not the largest, they are larger than the more common Sweet basil, making them a favorite when creating pesto sauce.
Emerald Towers basil
Amazing to look at, Emerald Towers basil is a really tall basil plant full of dark green leaves. In fact, the variety is actually quite similar to Genovese basil; it is just grown differently.
Emerald Towers basil grows to be 24 to 36 inches tall, although it is quite narrow so still perfect for a container. The basil has a spicy licorice taste that adds a bit of pop to any meal.
What is the most common type of basil?
The most common type of basil is Sweet basil. It is a versatile plant that can be used in salads, marinades, and even to make pesto sauce.
You can find Sweet basil in most gardening stores and is commonly grown in backyard gardens.
There are many basil plants to choose from, and each of them will add some personality to your herb garden.
Whether you are looking for a culinary herb or a more ornamental plant, there is a variety that will be perfect.
Basil plants have delicate flavors and fragrances that will make your garden pop with scents.