13 Favorite Basil Varieties for the Garden

Full of flavor and wonderfully aromatic, basil, Ocimum basilicum, is one of the easiest herbs to grow. Its pungent, peppery taste with a hint of licorice makes it popular in a variety of cuisines.

A vertical close up picture of a basil plant with dark green leaves growing in the garden on a soft focus background. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white text.

This member of the mint, or Lamiaceae family is an annual herb grown for its flavorful leaves. Like most herbs, the leaves are best enjoyed fresh. But the bright flavors can also be dried or frozen for winter use.

There are over 160 cultivars to choose from, and all are delicious, fragrant, and many add ornamental interest to the garden.

Flavors range from bold and spicy to mildly sweet – try growing the bold ones for savory dishes, the sweet ones for baked goods, desserts, and ice cream.

The majority are treated as annuals, although in warm, tropical regions a few can be grown as perennials. This herb is easy to grow and you can propagate basil from seed, by cuttings, or purchase nursery starts.

Here are 13 of our favorite cultivars to try in your herb garden this season.

1. Boxwood

‘Boxwood’ features small leaves that keep a perfect, shrub-like form even in the heat of summer – just like a boxwood plant. This variety grows to a mature height of 12 inches, with a 12- to 16-inch spread.

A close up of the mounding shape of Ocimum basilicum 'Boxwood' growing in the garden on a soft focus background.

‘Boxwood’

Wonderful for containers, edging, and knot gardens, the strong flavor is superb in pesto.

You can find packets of 100 seeds or three live plants available at Burpee.

2. Cinnamon

‘Cinnamon’ is a sweet-flavored cultivar with a distinctive cinnamon taste that’s delicious in baked goods, jellies, and vinegars.

A top down close up picture of Ocimum basilicum 'Cinnamon' with bright green foliage and delicate purple flowers.

‘Cinnamon’

Also known as Mexican spice basil, this cultivar has narrow leaves, dark colored stems, and pretty purple flowers that add great visual appeal.

Growing to a mature height of 12-18 inches with a similar spread, ‘Cinnamon’ makes a lovely addition to your container garden or flower beds.

Find packets of seeds in a variety of sizes available at Eden Brothers.

3. Dark Opal

‘Dark Opal’ has wonderful deep purple leaves and pinky-lilac flowers that give it great ornamental value. The flavor is anise-based with a hint of ginger and it can be used in savory or sweet dishes.

Brought to market by Ferry-Morse in the 1950s, ‘Dark Opal’ was a winner of the All-America Selections Award in the flower category in 1962.

A close up of the freshly harvested leaves of Ocimum basilicum 'Dark Opal' set on a wooden surface.

‘Dark Opal’

Delightful in containers, mixed beds, or anywhere you want to attract pollinators, this variety grows to a mature height of 14 inches in a compact, bushy form.

Find seeds in a variety of packet sizes available at Eden Brothers.

4. Emerald Towers

‘Emerald Towers’ is a tall, multi-branched Genovese type with a tidy columnar habit that produces an outstanding harvest. It has a full licorice taste and a scent of spicy cloves.

A close up of a blue ceramic pot with Ocimum basilicum 'Emerald Towers.' An upright, columnar plant with bright green foliage. In the background is a wooden chair and stone wall in soft focus.

‘Emerald Towers’

A generous herb in containers or in the ground, give these plants plenty of space to grow into as they can reach a mature height of 24-36 inches with a spread of 8-12 inches.

You can find 100 seeds or a set of three plants available at Burpee.

5. Genovese

‘Genovese’ is the traditional heirloom Italian type with a pronounced anise flavor, sweet clove fragrance, and large, lustrous leaves. This cultivar grows to a mature height of 16 inches tall, with a spread of 12 inches.

A close up of a white pestle and mortar with freshly harvested Ocimum basilicum 'Genovese,' set on a wooden surface, fading to soft focus in the background.

‘Genovese’

A must-have for the kitchen garden, it is perfect for pesto, fresh salads, and all things savory.

Seeds are available by the packet or in bulk at Eden Brothers.

Or get a jump on the growing season with a set of three plants available at Burpee.

6. Greek

The Greek type, O. basilicum var. minimum is a compact variety with small leaves, tiny white flowers, and a neat, globular growth habit that makes it attractive in containers, edging, or rockeries.

A close up of the small green leaves of Ocimum basilicum var. minimum on a light background. To the bottom right of the frame is a white circular logo with text.

O. basilicum var. minimum

It has a deeply spicy fragrance and strong flavor that’s best used in salad dressings, sauces, soups, and stews. Perfect for container gardens, this dwarf variety grows to a mature height of just eight inches, with a similar spread.

You can find packets of seeds in a variety of sizes at True Leaf Market.

7. Italian Large Leaf

This classic cultivar has the largest leaves of all basil plants. With a sweet and mild flavor, this variety is versatile in the kitchen and makes a delicious pesto.

A close up of the large foliage of Ocimum basilicum 'Italian Large Leaf' on a soft focus background. To the bottom right of the frame is a white circular logo with text.

‘Italian Large Leaf’

Plants grow to a mature height of 24-30 inches, with a 12-inch spread. Plant in containers, in a sunny spot in your herb garden, or on a windowsill.

Find seeds in a variety of packet sizes at True Leaf Market.

8. Lemon

A key ingredient in Indonesian cuisine, the ‘Lemon’ variety, O. basilicum var. citriodorum, is a hybrid with a fresh lemon scent and sweet-tart flavor. Plants grow to a mature height of 20-24 inches, with a 12-inch spread.

A close up of the leaves of Ocimum basilicum 'Lemon,' freshly harvested and set on a wooden surface, fading to soft focus in the background.

‘Lemon’

It’s popular eaten fresh in salads and wraps or incorporated into curries, soups, stews, and stir-fries.

Find packets of seeds in a variety of sizes available at Eden Brothers.

9. Lime

‘Lime’ plants have a light, floral-citrusy flavor and fragrance – ideal for adding a touch of zest to beverages, salad dressings, sauces, and desserts.

A top down close up of Ocimum basilicum 'Lime' growing in the garden on a soft focus background.

‘Lime’

A lovely container plant wherever the tangy fragrance can be enjoyed, this cultivar grows to a mature height of 16-24 inches, with a 12-inch spread.

Packets of seeds in a variety of sizes are available at Eden Brothers.

10. Mammoth

O. basilicum crispum ‘Monstruoso,’ aka  ‘Mammoth,’ is a lettuce leaf cultivar that features huge savoyed leaves with ruffled edges and uniform growth.

A close up of the large foliage of Ocimum basilicum 'Mammoth' with wrinkled foliage on a soft focus background.

‘Mammoth’

It has a spicy clove fragrance and a sweetly pungent flavor similar to ‘Genovese,’ but stronger. Perfect for use in Italian recipes or for pesto, ‘Mammoth’ grows to a mature height of 16 inches, with a 12- to 16-inch spread.

You can find packets of seeds in a variety of sizes at Eden Brothers.

11. Minette

‘Minette’ is a compact, small-leaved Greek cultivar, O. basilicum var minimum, with a mounding habit that’s adorable as an edging plant, in containers, or in knot gardens.

A close up of three terra cotta pots containing Ocimum basilicum 'Minette' set on a concrete surface with a variety of other plantings in the background.

‘Minette’

With a sweet anise flavor and scent of cloves, this variety grows to a mature height of just 10 inches with a comparable spread, and it forms a beautiful spherical shape.

You can purchase seeds at Eden Brothers.

12. Siam Queen

O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora, ‘Siam Queen’ is a Thai variety with a sweet licorice flavor that’s rewarding in the kitchen and as an ornamental. This heirloom type has lush green leaves and purple stems, and it grows to a mature height of 10-24 inches, with a similar spread.

A top down close up picture of Ocimum basilicum 'Siam Queen' with pale green leaves and a small purple flower, on a soft focus background.

‘Siam Queen’

‘Siam Queen’ was an All-America Selections Winner in the vegetable category in 1997. Use it to flavor curries, soups, and stir-fries but sow enough to allow some plants to bloom – the purple flower heads and pale pink blooms are gorgeous!

Packets of seeds in a variety of sizes are available at Eden Brothers.

13. Sweet

One of the most popular varieties, ‘Sweet’ basil has a full licorice flavor and spicy clove fragrance that’s just as nice when used fresh in salads, sandwiches, and wraps or added to pesto, sauces, and savory dishes.

A close up of freshly picked leaves of Ocimum basilicum 'Sweet,' set on a wooden surface, on a soft focus background.

‘Sweet’

Often called “common” basil, plants grow up to 24 inches tall and wide. Aromatic and flavorful, it goes fast, so be sure to plant plenty.

You can purchase seeds by the packet or in bulk at Eden Brothers.

Pesto and Beyond

Delicious, fragrant, and delightfully easy to grow, basil lends its unmistakable flavor to pesto and much more! If you are new to growing herbs, check out our guide to starting your own herb garden.

A close up of two different varieties of Ocimum basilicum, the top of the frame shows a green-leaved type, and at the bottom a cultivar with dark purple foliage.

And don’t forget to refer to our basil growing guide for additional tips and useful information.

Are you ready to add basil to your herb garden? Let us know in the comments what variety you are planting!

To learn more about growing herbs, put these articles on your reading list next:


Don’t forget to Pin It!

A collage of photos showing different types of basil plants.

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Burpee, Eden Brothers, and True Leaf Market. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Clare Groom and Allison Sidhu.

About Lorna Kring

A writer, artist, and entrepreneur, Lorna is also a long-time gardener who got hooked on organic and natural gardening methods at an early age. These days, her vegetable garden is smaller to make room for decorative landscapes filled with color, fragrance, art, and hidden treasures. Cultivating and designing the ideal garden spot is one of her favorite activities – especially for gathering with family and friends for good times and good food (straight from the garden, of course)!

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments