Basil: The Ultimate Guide to This Incredible Herb

Here is everything you need to know about basil, from its origin to growing and caring, to harvesting and storing. Even some recipes too!

Basil is an amazing herb to grow in your homestead herb garden. It is a great addition to many dishes, especially those of Italian nature.

It is a warm-weather herb that is mostly known for being the main ingredient in homemade pesto and it is loved by herb gardeners everywhere.

In this Ultimate Guide, you will learn everything you need to know about this wonderful herb.

Basil in a basket

General Information

This herb is commonly also called great basil and is considered a culinary herb of the family Lamiaceae, (commonly known as mint). It is a plant that is native to southeast Asia to central Africa, and India and is a tender plant.

The herb is an annual, but sometimes a perennial herb that is used for its leaves. Its leaves are very green and ovate in shape. It has a thick, central taproot and its flowers are small and white and grow from the center at the top of the main stem.

basil

Taxonomy

The true exact taxonomy is actually unknown due to the number of cultivars in existence. Most of these herbal plants, however, are cultivars of sweet basil. Examples of these include the following varieties:

  • Anise basil, (O. basilicum ‘Licorice’)
  • Cinnamon basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’)
  • Dark opal basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Dark Opal’)
  • Lettuce leaf basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Crispum’)
  • Purple basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Purpurescens’)
  • Rubin basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Rubin’)
  • Globe Basil, (Ocimum basilicum ‘Minimum)
  • Thai basil (Ocimum basilicum thyrsifolium)
Purple basil

There are also hybrids which include:

  • African blue basil (Ocimum basilicum X O. kilimandscharicum)
  • Spice basil (Ocimum basilicum X O. americanum), which is sometimes sold as holy basil)
  • Lemon basil (Ocimum basilicum X O. americanum

Other varieties include:

  • Camphor basil, African basil (O. kilimandscharicum)
  • Clove basil, also African basil (Ocimum gratissimum)
  • Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum, formerly known as O. sanctum)

Planting Basil

Basil seeds should be started 6 weeks before the last spring frost. It is fairly easy to grow, however, it only grows outdoors in the summer in warm soil (at least 50 degrees F. but prefers closer to 70 degrees F.).

This pleasant-tasting herb will need 6 to 8 hours of full sun each day to grow. It is possible to grow it in partial shade but it probably will not thrive as if in full sun. The soil should stay moist but be well-drained.  It can be grown indoors, too, in a pot and, like most herbs, will do best on a sun-facing windowsill.

Seeds or seedlings should be planted 1/4″ deep and about 10 to 12 inches apart. Allow more room for larger varieties. A great companion in the garden is tomatoes.

basil in the garden

Care While Growing

One thing you must keep in mind when caring for basil plants is that they prefer moisture, so in hotter climates, you may want to provide mulch around your plants. If in a dry climate you may want to water more often.

To encourage new plants to start branching and grow thicker leaves you should prune the above the second set of leaves making sure there are the original 6 new leaves in place first.

harvesting the herbs leaves

Each time your plants grow a new set of leaves, prune them again back to their original set of six leaves. Repeat this until the plant is about six weeks old at which time you will pinch back the center shoot to keep the plant from producing flowers.

Do not allow the cold or frost to reach your basil plants, if so, they will die. If its leaves are wilted a good watering should perk the leaves right back up. Yellowed leaves are a sign the plant is stressed. Just give it less water and less or more fertilizer.

damaged leaves

Basil can suffer from several pathogens. These include:

  •  Fusarium Wilt: is a soil-borne fungal disease that will quickly kill your younger basil plants.
  • Gray Mold: can cause infections and kill an entire plant.
  • Black Spot
  • Downy Mildew
  • Powdery Mildew

The main pests you need to watch for on your plants are Aphids.

Harvesting

Harvesting basil should be done regularly. The best time to harvest is in the morning hours. At this time the leaves are the best. Make sure your plants are 6 to 8″ tall and the outside temperatures stay around 80 during the day before harvesting.

Harvesting your plants this way will encourage the plant to continuously supply new leaves for you. Pick them whether you need them or not. 6 basil plants should produce around 2 to 3 cups of basil leaves each week.

harvesting

It can be propagated easily from cuttings with the stems of short cuttings suspended for two weeks or so in water until roots develop.

Once a stem produces flowers, foliage production stops on that stem, the stem becomes woody, and essential oil production declines. To prevent this, pinch off any flower stems before they are fully mature.

Storing

Freezing is by far the best method for storing your basil leaves. Simply bag whole leaves or chopped leaves after being blanched in airtight freezer storage bags. Doing this prevents the leaves from losing its flavors the best.

harvesting basil

If freezing is not an option you can also dry the leaves in a well-ventilated area for 3 to 4 days until they are completely dry. Use only the leaves though, no stems. Please note your leaves will almost completely lose their flavor when dried.

Fresh leaves can be kept in a plastic bag for a few days in the fridge also.

Health Benefits

Basil may provide health benefits in the diet, as herbal medicine, and as an essential oil. Common uses as treatment include snakebites, colds, and inflammations.

This powerful herb includes vitamin K, calcium, and a range of antioxidants. These antioxidants are essential for removing free radicals from the body. These antioxidants are bad news for cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and other health issues.

Foods with Vitamin K

Basil is also known to support liver health, protect against skin aging, reducing high blood sugar, supporting cardiovascular health, boosting mental health, reducing inflammation and swelling, and combating infection.

Common Pesto Recipe

Pesto

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cups packed fresh Basil leaves
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • 1/4 Cup Pine Nuts
  • 2/3 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, divided
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup grated Pecorino Cheese

Directions:

  • Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor until coarsely chopped.
  • Add 1/2 Cup of oil. Process until smooth like peanut butter.
  • Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth again.
  • Transfer to a bowl and mix in the cheese thoroughly.

This recipe can be frozen for 3 months. You may want to add a bit of oil to the top before freezing.

Final Thoughts on Basil

Basil is an amazing, tasty, nutritious, and healthy herb that every homesteader should be growing. This ultimate guide should have given you more than enough information to start growing it in your homestead garden.

Do you grow Basil in your homestead gardens? Share with me your tips, tricks and recipes in the comments below!

Download the FREE Herb Companion Planting Sheet!

No Sign Up Necessary! Just Click the Image Below!

Herb Companion Sheet

For even more information pertaining to basil, please check out Kathi’s post 10 Ways to Use Basil on her site Oak Hill Homestead.

For a great E-book packed with information on herb gardening from growing to harvesting and even using your herbs, check out my newest e-book, Herbs 101: Herb Gardening and Preserving for the Beginner.

8 Comments

  1. I’m so jealous! All my basil was wiped out in two days by grasshoppers. This was even with garlic/pepper spray on them. I think Texas just has grasshoppers that like Italian food. 😉

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Author

      I have to admit I never heard of grasshoppers eating basil! Maybe try a raised bed next time with netting over it!

  2. I do love basil!
    We will be moving soon and I hope to do some container gardening. Basil will be the first thing I put out!

    1. Author

      Basil grows so well in containers! I have 4 containers of Basil doing better than most others on my porch!





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