Garden Lifestyle

These Basil Varieties Shine in the Kitchen

If you like to use basil in your cooking, consider growing the ones listed here.

Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger

Basil is a useful herb because there are so many cultivars bred for specific reasons. Not all basils are meant for the kitchen, but the ones listed here are my favorite culinary varieties.

'Mrs. Burns' basil   'Italian Pesto' basil   'Persian Anise' basil
‘Mrs. Burns’.   ‘Italian Pesto’.    ‘Persian Anise’.

Lemon basils such as  ‘Mrs. Burns’ and  ‘Sweet Dani’, are good in vinaigrettes, especially with vegetables and seafood, but they shine in beverages and desserts. These two have good-size leaves and strong lemon flavor and aroma.

Pesto basils are very aromatic, full of flavor, and are vigorous growers. ‘Genovese’,  ‘Italian Pesto’, and  ‘Profuma di Genova’ have a lovely “nose,” which is a balance of citrus oil, licorice, cinnamon, spice, and mint. They are the best basils for making pesto.

Lettuce-leaf basils have huge leaves (5 to 6 inches long and 3 to 4 inches wide), which make them perfect for sandwiches and salads. The herby flavor of ‘Napoletano’,  ‘Lettuce Leaf’,  ‘Mammoth’ includes notes of mint, anise, and citrus.

Spicy basils, such as  ‘Persian Anise’, and ‘Siam Queen’, are characterized by the aroma and taste of anise. These two basils are useful in the kitchen and are ornamental enough for the flower garden.

Miniature basils stay small and compact, which makes them good plants for the front of the border. My favorites are   ‘Piccolo’,  ‘Dwarf Bouquet’,  ‘Dwarf Bush Fine Leaf’,  and ‘Green Globe’.

Sources for culinary basil seeds
Most garden centers sell transplants of basil (typically the Italian varieties bred for culinary use). But to get the most interesting varieties, I start mine from seed. The following suppliers are offer a wide selection:
Mulberry Creek Herb Farm
3312 Bogard Road
Huron, OH 44839

Renee’s Garden Seeds
6116 Highway 9
Felton, CA 95418

Richter’s Herbs
357 Highway 47
Goodwood, ON L0C 1A0 Canada

Well-Sweep Herb Farm
205 Mount Bethel Road
Port Murray, NJ 07865

Basil recipes

Basic Pesto

Lemon Basil Ice Cream

Wilted Spinach and Basil Salad

Wild Jungle Tofu

View all basil recipes…

View articles on growing basil…
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