If you want to ramp up the interest in your herb garden, try growing an unusual basil. There are enough basil varieties to plant a garden dedicated to them.
1. ‘Dark Opal’ basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Dark Opal’)—Beautiful purple-burgundy leaves brushed with green make this variety a standout in the garden. Nice peppery flavor. 12–20 inches tall.
2. ‘Pesto Purpetuo’ basil (O. × citriodorum ‘Pesto Purpetuo’)—You’ll have to clue your guests in on this beauty because they probably won’t recognize it as a basil. It’s leaves are variegated with pale green and edged in cream. ‘Pesto Purpetuo’ grows to 48 inches tall, is nonflowering, and has a peppery flavor.
3. Lemon basil (Ocimum × africanum)—This basil variety brings a refreshing lemony-zesty tang with it. 18–24 inches tall.
4. ‘Genovese’ basil (O. basilicum ‘Genovese’)—Big, fat basil leaves with big, fat basil flavor. This is a must-have in the kitchen garden and is perfect for pesto. 15–30 inches tall.
5. ‘Cinnamon’ basil (O. basilicum ‘Cinnamon’)—Sporting broad, green leaves with purple stems and flowers, cinnamon basil has a fresh and spicy cinnamon flavor and scent. 24–30 inches tall.
6. Lime basil (O. americanum)—Narrow-leaved lime basil has a citrusy-lime flavor with a strong, tangy scent. 12–18 inches tall.
7. ‘Purple Ruffles’ basil (O. basilicum var. purpurascens)—This is a gorgeous, colorful specimen in the garden and has stronger basil flavor than regular sweet basil. 15–20 inches tall.
8. ‘Christmas’ basil (O. basilicum ‘Christmas’)—This cross between Thai and Genovese basils has a flavor all its own. ‘Christmas’ basil is described as having a fruity, mulled-wine flavor with a touch of pine. Beautiful purple flower display. 15–20 inches tall.
9. Thai basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora)—Resembles cinnamon basil with its green leaves with purple stems and flowers, but the leaves are narrower. Brings a dash of fennel or anise-clove flavor to dishes. 12–18 inches tall.
10. ‘Spicy Globe’ bush basil (O. basilicum ‘Spicy Globe’)—This basil has teeny, tiny leaves packed with pepper flavor. I love the texture of this variety.
How to keep cut basil fresh
Once herbs like basil have been harvested from the plant, their flavor and texture begin to fade. This is one of the best reasons for planting your own garden; the herbs can be harvested mere minutes before you use them.
One of my favorite ways to keep cut basil (and other herbs) fresh is to make little bouquets out of them, just as you would a handful of flowers. Fill a short vase with just enough cool water to submerge the stems. Do your best to keep the leaves from sitting in the water.
I usually leave them on the kitchen counter to enjoy their foliage and scent until I chop them up for a recipe. You could also refrigerate them.
If it’s your first season growing basil, check out Learn the Basics of Growing Basil.