Basil Varieties - What's the Difference?

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There are more than 60 known basil varieties in existence today. A portion of these are readily available to the backyard vegetable gardener. These varieties vary greatly in taste, appearance and texture.

We are often asked about our favorite variety of basil.  In our own garden, we typically grow 3 varieties every year - Lemon, Sweet and Genovese.  We like the Lemon for flavoring drinks and desserts.  Our favorite beverage using basil is a strawberry basil lemonade.  The Lemon basil really compliments the lemonade, while adding a distinct basil flavor at the same time.  Our favorite dessert using Lemon basil is blackberry and basil sorbet.  We use the Genovese for making pesto and drying.  For us, Genovese produces the big, classic basil flavor that we're all familiar with and the leaves are nice and large.  They also dehydrate well.  We usually use Sweet basil as a fresh ingredient in savory dishes.  We like that the leaves are just a bit smaller and they offer definitive basil flavor, without being overwhelming.

Here is a list of some of the more common varieties, along with plant descriptions and use information.

  • Boxwood Basil - a hearty basil variety that resembles a boxwood bush, developed in France, good heat tolerance, reaches 16 inches tall, great for pesto

Basil Plant
  • Marseille - 12 inches tall, large, tender, sweet leaves, big basil flavor, good for pestos or seasoning, dries well

  • Summerlong - very prolific producer, plants reach 10 inches in height but produce as much as larger basil varieties, sweet basil taste, good for seasoning, drying or pesto, good all-around variety

  • Sweet Nufar Organic Hybrid - certified organic, sweet Italian type with strong flavors and large, tender leaves, good for pesto and seasoning, dries well, reaches 16 inches tall

  • Sweet Petra Organic - unique basil variety, large, dark purple/red leaves with perry winkle spikes, bushy plants reach 12 inches tall, slightly bitter basil flavor

  • Organic Cinnamon Basil - certified organic, medium-sized leaves have a unique basil taste and smell with a hint of cinnamon in both, good for sauces

    • Spicy Saber - this basil variety produces large, bright green, spikey leaves that resemble a dandelion leaf, slightly spicy basil taste, plant reaches 12 inches tall, good for seasoning meat and vegetables

    • Purple Ruffles - unique purple variety, large, ruffled, purple leaves, very fragrant, strong basil flavor, reaches 18 inches tall, good for sauces and in salads

    Greek Basil
  • Greek Miniature Basil - tiny, tender leaves on a dome-shaped plant, reaches 10 inches tall, good basil flavor, works well in salads, pesto and seasoning, a certified organic version is available

  • Green Bouquet - compact variety, small, tender leaves have good basil taste and fragrance, plant reaches 12 inches tall, good for seasoning, sauces, pesto or drying

  • Cardinal - unique variety with deep red flowers, smooth, medium-sized, bright green leaves, good basil taste with a hint of spice, good for sauces, salads and pesto, reaches 30 inches tall

    • Sweet Basil - classic and best known variety of basil, mild and sweet basil taste, medium-sized leaves are tender and aromatic, good all-around taste, use in sauces, pesto, seasonings, etc... dries well, 18 inches tall, certified organic version also available

    Lemon Basil
  • Lemon Basil - unique, lemony basil taste and aroma, good for seasoning fish, poultry, vegetables or flavoring teas, reaches 18 inches tall, broad green leaves are tender, dries well, certified organic version also available

  • Pesto Perpetuo Basil - unique leaves are light green with dark green swatches and white edges, sweet basil taste, reaches 18 inches tall, good for drying, seasoning and pesto

  • Genovese - very large tender leaves, Italian basil variety, best for pesto but also dries well, plant reaches 24 inches tall, very aromatic, strong basil taste, certified organic version is available

  • Lime Basil - sweet basil taste with a hint of citrus flavor, plants reach 24 inches tall, tender bright green leaves, good for sauces, seasonings and flavoring teas
    • Green Ruffles - large, thick green leaves with jagged edges, strong basil flavor, good in sauces and pesto, plants reach 24 inches tall

    Thai Basil
  • Thai Siam Queen - ornamental looking plants reach 24 inches, very tender dark green leaves, strong basil flavor, very aromatic with a hint of licorice, good for sauces and seasonings

  • Basil Plenty - high yields of large, tender leaves, good all-around basil flavor, very disease resistant, good for pesto, sauces and seasonings, dries well, plants reach 16 inches tall

  • Spicy Globe - European variety, very small tender leaves, similar in taste to sweet basil, good for pesto, sauces and seasonings, plants reach 12 inches tall

  • Basil Plants In Container

    Click here to learn about planting basil

    Click here to learn about fertilizing and watering basil plants

    Click here for information about harvesting basil

    Click here for some of our favorite basil recipes

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