Of the approximately 65 species of the genus Basil (Ocimum), at least seven are cultivated as kitchen and medicinal herbs. Some of them were already used as seasonings in Egypt, ancient Greece and Rome. In India they are still important tea herbs of the Ayuvedic health teachings. Basil belongs to the family of labiates (Lamiaceae) and is native to the tropical regions of Africa, Asia and South America. These are annual or perennial shrubs or semi-shrubs which are mainly short-lived but like to be warm and frost-free.
The best known is basil (Ocimum basilicum), which is used in Central Europe as a culinary herb. Along with pepper, it is one of the most widely used spices in the United States and is an indispensable ingredient in light, healthy cuisine. The name Ocimum goes back to the Greek word “ozein” and already indicates the strong scent of the aromatic herb. The species name basil comes from the Greek word basilieus and means “the king”, therefore basil is also often called king’s cabbage.
The aromatic smell is caused by the high content of essential oils. Most basil species contain 0.3 to 1.5 percent aromatic substances in their leaves. Species especially with high content (over three percent) are Ocimum gratissimum and Ocimum kilimandscharicum. The pure basil oil is produced by steam distillation of various types.
Appearance and growth
Usually all parts of the plant are hairy, only the leaf blade is usually not. The slightly woody stem is square, a typical distinguishing feature of the labiate flowers. The stemmed, uniform to elongated leaves with smooth to toothed margins are arranged crosswise. Basil always grows upright and branches more or less strongly. However, the main axis is always recognizable. The inflorescences are arranged quirlarly around the stem and consist of two to ten mostly white individual flowers. The sepals of the hermaphroditic flowers have grown together to form a tubular to bell-shaped, mostly double-lipped calyx. The five petals are also intergrown and form a divided lip.
Location and soil
Basil thrives best in a sunny location. The soil should be rich in nutrients and always sufficiently moist. Basil also thrives without problems in the pot on the balcony or terrace. The herbs are suitable for the garden only with one year culture. Perennial species should be kept in pots on balconies and terraces and wintered indoors if necessary.
Planting and care
Basil can be sown from the end of April directly into a warm, sunny garden bed with humus- and nutrient-rich, evenly moist soil. Pre-cultivation at home or early sowing in pots under glass extend the harvest time. In order to promote the bushy habitus of the herbal plant and prevent premature death, not only individual leaves should be plucked during harvest, but the stems should always be cut off as well – this is the only way new shoots can form at the interfaces.
The various types of basil are mainly used as culinary herbs – not only in European cuisine, but also in African and Asian cuisine, such as perennial Thai basil.
All basil species are sensitive to frost, so the perennially cultivated must be wintered indoors. A very bright location on the windowsill or in the winter garden is best – if possible without dry heating air. The ideal wintering temperature is 15 degrees.
Basil can be propagated by sowing outdoors or by pre-culture. In perennial species it is also possible to multiply the cuttings – cut off shoots quickly form their own roots even in a water glass.
Basil has become an indispensable ingredient in the kitchen. This video will show you how to sow the popular kitchen herb correctly. Credit: our store/ Alexander Buggisch
Diseases and pests
If the basil is watered too little or too much, the plant dries or decays quickly. A stem bottom rot can often be observed in bought pots from the supermarket, as the plants are sown very closely and are susceptible to fungal infestation due to strong nitrogen fertilization. Basil is very susceptible to snails in the open – this is another reason why it is best cultivated in pots or in raised beds.
Basil in the MY BEAUTIFUL GARDEN SHOP
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.