An Introduction to Basil

I discovered very late that there were more varieties of basil than just the only two I had seen, the Thai basil and the Holy basil. I didn’t even know that the herb that we use in almost every dish back home was called Thai basil. Since then I’ve developed a kind of childish fascination for basil.  The medicinal properties that basil possess are widely known and accepted, they enhance the flavour of our dishes and apart from that they serve as beautiful living ornaments wherever they may be. Seeing the ever growing popularity of this amazing herb, I wanted to know more about them and therefore I did some research and here is what I found.

Ancient Greeks called this magic plant “basilikón phutón”, which means royal or kingly plant, and thus the name “basil”. There are supposed to be around 200 varieties of basil, most of them being ‘cultivars’ (hybrid plants selectively produced).

Here I have collected 14 most popular basil from all around the world where they are equally revered and celebrated.

    1. Sweet basil (Ocinum basilicum) – This basil is most common and therefore also often called Basic basil’. It has medium-green, smooth, shiny leaves with a spicy aroma and sweet taste with slight hints of mint and clove.

      Sweet basil
    2. Holy basil {O. sanctum (alt. O. tenuifloru)} – This basil is sturdy and shrub-like with hairy stems that are green but sometimes they can have a purple tinged color. Its leaves are oval and long and can be green or purple and its flowers purple. The aroma is spicy and musky and it tastes bitter. Holy basil or ‘Tulsi’ is widely found in India and Nepal.

      Holy basil
    3. Genovese basil (O. basilicum ‘Genovese Gigante’) – This variety of basil is often confused with sweet basil but there are differences between these two. Genovese Basil has a dark green, shiny leaf that curls under as the plant gets bigger. It has a strong aroma, an anise scent, and tastes sweet but peppery. It is most popular in Italy and has the reputation for making the best pesto.

      Genovese basil
    4. Lettuce leaf basil (O. basilicum ‘Lettuce Leaf’) – We don’t have to think much to understand why it is named so. This basil has large and wrinkled leaves like lettuce. It has a sweet taste and it is not as strong as other sweet basils.

      Lettuce Leaf basil
    5. Green Ruffles basil (O. basilicum ‘Green Ruffles’) – This herb is larger in size than the common sweet basil. Its lime green leaves have a distinct ruffled and quilted appearance. They are quite large and are deeply serrated and ovate. This basil is flavoursome with hints of cinnamon and liquorice.

      Green Ruffles basil
    6. Purple ruffles basil (O. basilicum ‘Purple Ruffles) – Probably the prettiest of basil, Purple Ruffles has large and frilly dark purple ruffled leaves and pinkish-purple flowers. Its flavour and aroma are stronger than Sweet Basil but milder than Lettuce leaf basil.

      Purple Ruffles basil
    7. Thai basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflorum) – This basil has small leaves, purple stems, and pink-purple flowers. Sometimes known as Anise basil, liquorice basil or Persian basil, it is slightly spicier than the sweet basil and has strong anise and liquorice flavours.

      Thai Sweet basil
    8. Greek bush basil (Greek Spicy Globe Basil) {O. minimum (alt. O. basilicum var. minimum)} – This bushy basil has glossy, rounded and bright green, egg-shaped leaves and white flowers. Bushy plant with ovate, glossy, bright green leaves.

      Greek Bush basil
    9. African Blue basil (O. kilimandscharicum × basilicum) – It is one of the rare type of basil that are perennial. A hybrid of two other breeds of basil, it cannot produce seeds of its own, and is propagated by cuttings. It has a strong scent of pepper, clove, mint and camphor.

      African Blue basil                                                             
    10. Cuban basil (O. basilicum) – It has heart shaped lime-green leaves with irregular white margins and streaks of deep green across the centre. It rarely flowers but when it does the flowers are white. It originated in Cuba which is where it gets its’ name.

      Cuban basil
    11. Cinnamon basil (O. basilicum ‘Cinnamon’) – It has slightly jagged, dark green shiny leaves with reddish-purple veins and dark purple stems. It has a spicy, fragrant aroma and flavour reminiscent of cinnamon and therefore the name. Gardeners plant cinnamon basil close to their tomato plants to discourage bugs from damaging the tomato plants.

      Cinnamon basil
    12. Lemon basil (O. americanum) – Its leaf is faintly narrower than the basic basil and has jagged edges. It has strong fragrant lemon scent and therefore a popular herb in Arabic, Indonesian, Lao, Malay, Persian and Thai cuisine.

      Lemon basil
    13. Lime basil (O. americanum ) – It has bright green leaves have a zesty citrus aroma and flavour. It is also known as American basil.

      Lime basil
    14. Red Rubin basil (O. basilicum ‘Red Rubin’) – This basil has reddish-purple or deep burgundy leaves. Its taste and aroma are both stronger and spicier than sweet basil.

      Red Rubin basil



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