Basil is a culinary herb and is grown for its flavorful leaves and is used in cuisines worldwide.  Basil is an annual plant but in some warmer locations, it can be a perennial plant.  Basil is native to central Africa and Southeast Asia and is a member of the mint family.  Basil is a companion plant for other plants including the tomato.  It is believed basil may repel pests. There are many varieties of basil which include:

Genovese basil: This variety is the most popular and widely grown basil. It is known for being used in Italian dishes.

Thai basil: Widely used throughout Asia and has widespread use in Vietnamese cooking.  It has a licorice-like aroma and taste.

Cinnamon basil: Also known as Mexican spice basil. It has a spicy fragrant scent and flavor. The plant has slightly jagged shiny dark green leaves with reddish-purple veins. It is used in teas, cookies, and pies. It also has been used as a potpourri. 

Lettuce basil: Has large leaves which are crinkly and grow on a short wide plant. Often used in salads and to wraps.

As previously mentioned Genovese basil is the most popular basil. This variety is native to Italy. It has large, bright green leaves that smell wonderful and test great.  It thrives in warm weather and can be grown in containers. This variety is known for making pesto and is also used in a Caprese salad, which is sliced tomatoes topped with mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves (one of my favorite dishes).  There are many varieties of Genovese basil and some of them are new.  I recently attended a plant showcase and got to taste test 4 varieties and wanted to introduce them to you.

Dolce Fresca Basil: A tidy plant with an abundance of savory leaves that can be used in any dish calling for basil.  The plant grows very well in a container or in the ground. The plant has bushy shorter stems. The plant is a medium green with smooth leaves. It is a Genovese with a sweet, fruity, medium flavor.  The blooming season is early spring through autumn.

Culinary Use: 

                Fresh eating – chopped on bruschetta

                Light cooking – add last to pasta sauce

Newton Basil:  A fast-growing variety with a traditional Genovese flavor, it also features high resistance to fungus. Unlike similar varieties, Newton has large, bright green, crinkled leaves. It has a medium flavor and does not have a licorice aftertaste. Blooming season is spring through late summer.

Culinary Use: 

                Fresh eating – try as a wrap for chicken, shrimp, or tofu

                Light cooking – add last to a stir-fry

Pesto Party Basil (Exclusively available from Burpee): The plant has an abundance of leaves offer good sweet Italian basil flavor.  From its name you can figure it is perfect for fresh pesto and salads. This basil has a robust, sharp, long-lasting flavor. It is also disease resistance and is somewhat resistance to Downy Mildew and Fusarium.  Late-flowering habit of this basil will allow you to harvest for many weeks.

Culinary Use: 

                Fresh eating – pesto flavor will hold after refrigerating

                Cooking – holds up to high-temperature cooking perfect for pasta sauce

Everleaf Emerald Towers: This dark green, glossy-leafed basil is ideal for any garden. It has a mild, light flavor. It started blooming in spring and you will have huge harvests of leaves throughout the summer. 

Culinary Use: 

                Fresh eating – whole leaves perfect for Caprese salad

                Light cooking – chop and infuse in oil for bright dressing

I enjoyed sampling all of these Genovese plants, but my favorite was the Dolce Fresca Basil. If you have tried any of these basils, let us know your favorite!

Photos and some content courtesy of Ball Seed. We received no compensation from Ball Seed for this article. 

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