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.
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.
13 Favorite Basil Varieties for Your Herb Garden
‘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.
Wonderful for containers, edging, and knot gardens and the strong flavor is superb in pesto.
You can find packets of 100 seeds or 3 plants available at Burpee.
‘Cinnamon’ is a sweet-flavored cultivar with a distinctive cinnamon taste that’s delicious in baked goods, jellies, and vinegars.
Also known as Mexican spice bail, 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 tall, with a similar spread, ‘Cinnamon’ makes a lovely addition to your container garden or flower beds.
Find packets of seeds in a variety of packet 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 American Selection Award in the flower category in 1962.
Delightful in containers, mixed beds, or anywhere you want to attract pollinators, this variety grows to a mature height of 14 inches tall, 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 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 3 plants available at Burpee.
‘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 must-have for the kitchen garden, it is perfect for pesto, fresh salads, and all things savory.
Seeds are available by the packet or bulk at Eden Brothers.
Or get a jump on the growing season with a set of 3 plants available at Burpee.
The Greek variety, O. basilicum var. minimum is a compact variety, with small leaves, tiny white flowers, and a neat, globular growth that makes it attractive in containers, edging, or rockeries.
It has a deeply spicy fragrance and strong flavor that’s used in salad dressings, sauces, soups, and stews. Perfect for container gardens, this dwarf variety grows to a mature height of just 8 inches tall, 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.
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.
A key ingredient in Indonesian cuisine, the ‘Lemon’ variety, O. basilicum var. citriodorum, is a hybrid with a fresh lemon scent and sweetly tart flavor. Plants grow to a mature height of 20-24 inches, with a 12-inch spread.
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.
‘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 lovely container plant where 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.
O. basilicum crispum ‘Monstruoso,’ aka ‘Mammoth’ is a lettuce leaf cultivar that features huge, savoyed leaves with ruffled edges and uniform growth.
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 tall, with a 12- to 16-inch spread.
You can find packets of seeds in a variety of sizes at Eden Brothers.
‘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.
With a sweet, anise flavor and scent of cloves, this variety grows to a mature height of just 10 inches tall and wide, 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 variety has lush green leaves and purple stems and grows to a mature height of 10-24 inches, with a similar spread.
‘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 flowerheads and pale pink blooms are gorgeous!
Packets of seeds in a variety of sizes are available at Eden Brothers.
One of the most popular varieties, ‘Sweet’ basil has a full, licorice flavor and spicy clove fragrance that’s used fresh in salads, sandwiches, and wraps or added to pesto, sauces, and savory dishes.
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.Comm
You can purchase seeds by the packet or 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.
And don’t forget to refer to our basil growing guide for further 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:
- How to Grow Oregano
- Summer Savory: The Peppery, Piquant Love Herb
- How to Grow Parsley in the Home Herb Garden
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© 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)!