Basil comes in many different varieties, each of which have a unique flavor and smell. Described below are 12 varieties, but there are even more – well over sixty. I never realized that there were so many varieties of basil until I shopped at a nursery for my plants. If it weren’t for its distinctive smell, it would be difficult to recognize all the different kinds of basil. Leaves range from a mint color to dark green to purple and grow in size from tiny to large – some are even ruffled!
Basil is traditional in Italian, Mediterranean and Thai cuisine. It is superb with veal, lamb, fish, poultry, white beans, pasta, rice, tomatoes, cheese and eggs. It blends well with garlic, thyme and lemon. Basil adds zip to mild vegetables like zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, parsnips, spinach and to the soups, stews and sauces that contain these vegetables. Basil is also one of the ingredients in the liqueur, Chartreuse.
Bring the wonderful fragrance of basil indoors by incorporating them in potpourri, sachets and dried winter bouquets. The sweet-scented Opal basil and Thai basil are particularly good for these projects. Other fragrant varieties include lemon, lime and cinnamon basil.
With 2-inch, glossy green leaves and purple flowers, Christmas basil adds fruity flavor to salads and drinks, and the plants are gorgeous in the landscape. A beautiful border plant, it averages 16 to 20 inches tall and combines the attributes of both Sweet and Thai basil.
This basil variety has a delightful fragrance and spicy flavor. A beautiful, 25 to 30 inch tall plant with dark-purple stems and flowers accented with small, glossy leaves. it’s a favorite basil to use for fresh arrangements, garnishes and in fruit salads.
3. Dark Opal Basil
Dark Opal basil adds color to fresh summer floral displays and depth to dried arrangements and wreaths. Beautiful and spicy in a salad or as a garnish, it can also be made into pesto, which adds an unexpected color and flavor to your pasta or bruschetta. The plants are attractive in the herb garden, ranging from 14 to 20 inches in height with purple stems, flower and leaves.
4. Holy Basil
A revered plant in the Hindu religion, Holy basil is also referred to as Sacred basil or Tulsi. Its leaves can be used to make tea for boosting your immune system. It is a beautiful plant in the garden with mottled green and purple leaves and grows to about 12 to 14 inches tall.
5. Lemon Basil
This basil variety can be added to salads and fish dishes. A sprig of Lemon basil in a glass of iced tea is particularly delightful on a hot summer day. The 20 to 24 inch plants are light green with white flowers and 2½ inch long leaves.
6. Lime Basil
With small green leaves on compact 12 to 16-inch plants with white flowers, this basil variety’s lime scent and flavor makes it great in fish and chicken dishes. A simple syrup infused with Lime basil is a delicious addition to tea and margaritas.
7. Spicy Bush Basil
Spicy Bush basil has tiny leaves on small, mounded plants, which are perfect for pots or lining the garden in bonsai-like fashion. It only takes a few of Spicy Bush basil’s intensely flavored leaves to add a punch to a sauce or soup. The plants are a soft green and about 8 to 10 inches in height and width, with 1/2 to 1 inch long leaves.
8. Purple Ruffles Basil
A feathery variation of Dark Opal, Purple Ruffles adds another dimension to the landscape, floral arrangements or garnishes. It has the same flavor as Opal basil and can be used similarly. It is a 16 to 20 inch-tall plant with 2 to 3 inch long leaves.
9. Sweet Basil
This basil cultivar is the best choice for Italian sauces and soups and for making pesto. Varieties include Genovese, Napoletano, Italian Large Leaf and Lettuce Leaf. Plants range from 14 to 30 inches tall and are prolific in hot, sunny locations. Harvest the top four leaves often to keep the plant growing and sweetly flavored.
10. Sweet Thai Basil
An Asian variety with a distinct, spicy, anise-clove flavor, quite unlike common sweet basil, sweet Thai is a must for Asian cuisine and makes a nice addition to the herb garden for fragrance and color. It has purple stems and blooms with green leaves reaching 12 to 16 inched tall.
11. Greek Columnar
Greek Columnar’s attractive appearance is in the plant’s dense columnar shape. It does not flower, so the plant can be maintained throughout the year. It can be grown indoors in the winter. This basil has a pungent flavor that is best for stews and hearty dishes.
12. Lettuce Leaf Basil
Lettuce Leaf Basil has the look of green, wrinkly lettuce but packs a bigger punch. The spicy flavor is typical of basils and tastes great with fresh tomatoes, in salads (your guests will be surprised by the rich flavor of what looks like a regular salad leaf!) and in any type of Mediterranean dishes. Pinch back the flowers to make a fuller plant.
Resources: Pantry Garden Herbs and Hobby Farms.
Basil Herb Dip
A cool and refreshing dip for fresh vegetables and even chips and pretzels.
- 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon country-style mustard
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
Place the sour cream, mayonnaise, mustard and lemon juice into a blender, then add the basil leaves.
Pulse until the basil is incorporated throughout the mixture.
Chill for at least 20 minutes. This will keep in the refrigerator for 3 days.
Use one of these varieties:
Basil, Italian Large Leaf
Tuscan Bread Salad
- 2 teaspoons red wine or balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 slices of thick, whole grain or crusty bread cut in chunks
- 1 large tomato, diced
- 1/2 cucumber, diced
- 4-5 jarred artichoke hearts, diced
- 4 oz mozzarella cheese cut in chunks
- 1/3 cup Kalamata olives
- 1/3 cup torn basil leaves
Gently combine the bread, vegetables, basil, and cheese together.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with vinegar and oil. Chill.
Use one of these varieties:
Basil, Italian Large leaf
Basil, Purple Ruffle
- 1 lb pasta, cooked according to package directions
- 10 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup chicken broth
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
Sauté the onion and garlic in the butter.
After draining the cooked pasta, return the pasta to the cooking pot and place over medium heat.
Toss the pasta with the onion mixture, add chicken broth.
Beat the eggs and pour over the hot pasta stirring constantly to coat pasta and cook for about 3 minutes.
Add Parmesan, bacon and torn basil leaves. Serve immediately.
Use one of these varieties:
Italian Large Leaf
Zucchini Basil Soup
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1½ cups roughly chopped sweet onions
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1 cup seeded and chopped sweet bell pepper (any color)
- 2½ cups coarsely chopped zucchini
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 4 cups fresh spinach leaves, loosely packed
- 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh sweet basil
- Any number of toppings can add additional flavor: chopped fresh tomato, diced squash, croutons or Parmesan cheese.
Heat the olive oil in a large, thick-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Sauté onions, garlic and salt until vegetables start to soften. Stir in pepper, zucchini and the stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until the pepper is soft, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the spinach and basil just until wilted. Use an immersion blender to blend until smooth. Add a topping and serve
Makes about 6 servings.
Roast Beef Wraps with Garlic Basil Aioli
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped, loosely packed fresh basil (any variety will work in this sandwich)
- 4 8-inch whole-grain sandwich wraps
- 3 ounces fresh spinach leaves, stems removed
- 6 ounces roast beef (Italian-style if available), thinly sliced
- 6 ounces Provolone cheese, thinly sliced
To make the aioli, place mayonnaise, garlic and basil in a blender; purée until smooth.
Divide the mixture into four portions and spread each wrap evenly with aioli. Lay the spinach leaves evenly over the aioli.
Place beef, then Provolone in single layers over the spinach. Roll up tightly.
Chill until ready to serve.
- Cooking With Italian Herbs – Basil (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Cheesy Tomato Basil Quesadilla (cookingwithawallflower.wordpress.com)
- Basil, So Many Choices, So Little Time (simplylovegardening.wordpress.com)
June 17, 2014 at 8:56 am
Great post Jovina, as usual.
June 17, 2014 at 8:57 am
Thank you Barbara for your very gracious comment.
June 17, 2014 at 2:06 pm
I’m a Christmas basil! I wish I could grow them though. They don’t live long when I plant them. Your basil dishes are wonderful. So many options!
June 17, 2014 at 2:36 pm
Thanks Dolly. I have to be careful with my plants because I live where it is very hot. I grow basil in pots. I have to sure they are watered, sometimes twice a day and move them into the shade for part of the day. Basil also doesn’t do well in chilly and cloudy parts of the world.
June 17, 2014 at 2:38 pm
And Wellington is chilly 🙁
June 17, 2014 at 8:27 pm
I grew a wonderful greek basil last year. I’m looking for another one for this season. 🙂
June 17, 2014 at 8:53 pm
Yes that is a good one. I have a plant growing in one of my pots. It has small leaves as opposed to sweet basil
June 17, 2014 at 8:56 pm
I am a huge carbonara fan. My wife and I will make it when we feel like a quick easy delicious dish. We will definitely try your basil carbonara. Thanks for sharing.
June 17, 2014 at 9:03 pm
You are welcome. I hope you like it as much as the traditional version.
June 17, 2014 at 9:14 pm
I am sure we will it looks amazing, and we will be using our home grown basil so that should give it more depth of flavor. Again, thanks for sharing, I don’t know why we didn’t try this before. 🙂
June 17, 2014 at 11:53 pm
Thanks for another great post. I love basil and think it’s the most versatile herb to grow. We usually grow a few pots of different kinds of basil. This year we bought a package of mixed basil seeds and have 6 different varieties that came up. Some are pretty easy to identify but a couple are still a question mark. It’s fun just playing with them in different dishes to see how they turn out.
June 18, 2014 at 8:11 am
That does sound like fun. In the heart of basil season, I usually have lots of basil leaves that I don’t want to go to waste, so I have to come up with ways to use them.
June 18, 2014 at 8:37 am
Basil is one of my favorite herbs. I love all the different varieties!
June 18, 2014 at 8:49 am
Mine also. Thanks Mary Frances.
June 18, 2014 at 10:10 am
That basil carbonara has me drooling!
June 18, 2014 at 10:34 am
Give it a try Pam
June 18, 2014 at 10:38 am
I had no idea there were this many types of basil. Boy do i love it though. Very informative. That zucchini soup looks amazing.
June 18, 2014 at 10:41 am
The soup is great for this time of year, especially with zucchini in abundance.
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