Types Of Basil: 7 Top Varieties for Your Garden

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For those who love cooking and exploring new flavors, understanding the different types of basil you can use can be fascinating and helpful. This article is designed for anyone interested in growing their basil, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced gardener. We’ll look closer at the various kinds of basil, from the classic sweet basil to more exotic varieties like Thai and lemon basil. Exploring their unique flavors, scents, and growing tips, we aim to provide you with practical knowledge that you can apply in your own kitchen adventures.

Sweet and purple basils tied with string hanging to dry against a rustic white wooden board.

By learning about the different types of basil, you’ll be able to decide which basil will meet your gardening and culinary needs. Whether you want to add a twist to your favorite recipes or experiment with new flavors, understanding basil varieties will help you make informed choices. This guide offers easy-to-understand information about basil’s flavors, how to grow it, and ways to use it in your dishes. With this knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to explore the wonderful world of growing basil and bringing its aromatic goodness into your cooking.


Table of Contents

    Basil Plant Basics

    Basil is an herb in the Lamiaceae family, which is a very large family that’s also home to mint, rosemary, and lavender. It’s aromatic and has a sweet, sometimes slightly liquorice or lemon taste (depending on the variety).

    Basil is part of the mint family, which means it is a vigorous grower, and can spread quite quickly. That’s why it is a good idea to grow basil in a container garden, where it will have a hard time escaping.

    In general, it’s a warm-weather-loving plant that’s sensitive to cold. As such, it’s grown as an annual in most climates unless it’s part of an indoor herb garden.

    There are many different types of basil (more than 50!). While most varieties are green, some may be red or purple. Each one is just a little different from all the rest. I won’t bombard you with all the unnecessary or rare varieties; this list has been culled down to the 7 most essential varieties to make your decision easier.

    Various types of basil herb on white background

    Sweet Basil

    You could say that sweet basil is the king of basil. It’s the most common and popular variety because it’s such a great all-around herb. It’s the one that’s typically used in pesto and other Italian dishes such as tomato sauces, soups, and Italian seasoning. Genovese basil is one of several types of sweet basil.

    This very aromatic herb naturally grows in Southern Asia, but it has been brought to areas all over the world. In all but the warmest of hardiness zones, it grows as an annual or indoor herb.

    • Scientific Name: Ocimum basilicum
    • Hardiness Zone: 10-11 (Not sure which zone you’re in? Check here!)
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil: Moist, well-draining soil
    • Water: Maintain moist soil
    Sweet Genovese basil branch isolated on white background.

    How To Identify

    The distinctive oval-shaped leaves grow about 2-4 inches long and have a glossy-green appearance and point at the end. It has a familiar, sweet, spicy clove flavor that many people love.

    How To Grow

    Of all the herbs in the mint family, basil needs a little more water. In fact, it just needs to be consistently moist (but not soggy). Other than that, as long as the temperatures are above 70, it’s an easy plant to grow,

    Ways To Use

    Fresh, dried, or frozen sweet basil has a wide variety of culinary, medicinal, and beauty purposes. You can use basil in beverages, sauces and soups, face masks, toners, and more. 


    Thai Basil

    This basil variety is becoming more popular and has a stronger aroma and flavor profile than common sweet basil. Thai basil is used often in, you guessed it, Thai cuisine. It is a little less sweet but adds a pop of liquorice flavor when added to dishes. Also, this type of basil tolerates cooking temperatures and retains its flavor longer than sweet basil does.

    • Scientific Name: Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora
    • Hardiness Zone: 9-11
    • Light: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil: Rich, well-draining, slightly acidic
    • Water: Maintain slightly moist soil
    Thai sweet basil isolate on a white background.

    How To Identify

    Thai basil has square stems (like other members of the mint family) that are dark purple and pink flowers and deep green, narrow, slightly serrated leaves. The plant has a spicy, pungent, anise-like aroma.

    How To Grow

    Thai basil prefers moist, slightly acidic soil (pH of 6.0 – 7.0). The soil should be well-draining and rich in compost or other organic matter. It prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade

    Ways To Use

    This variety is an essential ingredient in Vietnamese pho and is often used in curries, salads, noodle dishes, and stir-fries. It’s very prominent in cuisine from Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. 


    Greek Basil

    Also known as “fine leaf basil”, this type of basil grows in a compact, rounded manner that makes it beautifully ornamental. Its small leaves carry a potent basil aroma and flavor. Keep your eye out for these varieties: “Aristotle”, “Pluto”, and “Spicy Globe”.

    • Scientific Name: Ocimum basilicum var. minimum
    • Hardiness Zone: 5-11
    • Light: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil: Well-draining
    • Water: Maintain moist soil
    A greek basil plant growing in a red terracotta pot against a bright white background.

    How To Identify

    Greek basil grows as a low, compact shrub with bright green or purple leaves and light pink flower spikes.

    How To Grow

    Like most basil plants, Greek basil is easy to grow and will do well in most environments. The key is to prevent it from getting dry because it won’t tolerate dry soil.

    Ways To Use

    Sweet basil may be the most common to add to soups and sauces, but Greek basil tastes even better. Use this variety of basil the same way you would use Sweet or Genovese basil.


    Lemon Basil

    Lemon basil is native to India and is prominently featured in the country’s cuisine. It combines two of the best flavors for cooking: basil and lemon (yum!).

    • Scientific Name: Ocimum × citriodorum
    • Hardiness Zone: 4-9
    • Light: Full sun 
    • Soil: Well-draining soils with a pH of 6.1 – 7.3
    • Water: Maintain moist to wet soil
    Lemon basil isolated on white.

    How To Identify

    The leaves look very similar to sweet basil, but they’re usually narrower with a silver tinge and have serrated edges with white flowers towards the end of summer.

    How To Grow

    Lemon basil craves heat and water. Ensure it gets full sun, plenty to drink, and adequate air circulation to keep your lemon basil plant happy.

    Ways To Use

    This variety of basil will enhance the flavor of many foods and drinks. Throw it into salads or soups, include it in your favorite chicken or fish recipe, or make an herb vinegar or a jug of lemon iced tea. It tastes incredible when added to cookies, cakes, and other desserts!

    Holy Basil

    Also known as tulsi or sacred basil, this type of basil is native to Southeast Asia and plays an important role in the Hindu religion. It’s delicious, highly nutritious, and great for immune system support.

    • Scientific Name: Ocimum tenuiflorum
    • Hardiness Zone: 5-9
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil: Well-draining
    • Water: Maintain moist soil
    Holy Basil isolate on white background.

    How To Identify

    Holy basil has stems with hairy leaves opposing each other along the stem. The fragrant leaves are green or purple and oval-shaped with serrated edges. Purple flowers will grow on the plant.

    How To Grow

    This basil variety grows as a perennial in tropical regions. However, in cooler climates, it will grow annually.

    Ways To Use

    Holy basil is a fixture in Southeast Asian and Thai cuisines. And it happens to make my favorite tea!

    Cinnamon Basil

    This basil type is different from sweet basil but still common. You can typically find it in a lot of larger nurseries or home improvement stores. It has a deliciously sweet scent and spicy flavor.

    • Scientific Name: Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’
    • Hardiness Zone: 9-11
    • Light: Full sun 
    • Soil: Dry, well-draining soil with a pH of 6.0 – 7.0
    • Water: Water regularly
    Cinnamon basil growing in an outdoor garden.

    How To Identify

    This basil variety has dark purple stems, narrow dark green, shiny leaves with serrated edges, and red-purple veins. Thanks to its coloring, people can sometimes confuse it with certain varieties of mint. It will produce small pink flowers in late summer. 

    How To Grow

    Cinnamon basil needs full sun, adequate moisture, and well-draining soil full of rich organic matter.

    Ways To Use

    I love using cinnamon basil in many different ways, including flower arrangements, garnishes, herb salads, custards, baked goods, pasta, jellies, and herb vinegar and butter. It’s delicious!


    Purple Basil

    Purple basil is one of the most striking-looking types of basil. It has larger leaves than sweet basil that are dark burgundy in color.

    • Scientific Name: Ocimum basilicum var. purpurascens
    • Hardiness Zone: 4-10
    • Light: Full sun
    • Soil: Rich, moist, well-draining soil
    • Water: Water frequently never letting the soil dry out
    A bundle of purple basil on a white background.

    How To Identify

    Thanks to its dark burgundy leaf color and white or purple flowers, purple basil contrasts the rest of your herb garden. The leaf shape is similar to sweet basil, but the leaves are slightly larger than most basil varieties.

    How To Grow

    Purple basil craves full sunlight and moist, well-draining soil. Once it has those things, it tends to stay pretty happy.

    Ways To Use

    Purple basil tastes similar to sweet basil but is slightly less sweet and has a stronger clove flavor. It’ll turn black when cooked, so I don’t recommend cooking with it. Instead, toss it in your pesto or favorite salads. It’ll also look amazing, steeped in oil or vinegar!

    Expert Tips

    1. Consider your culinary preferences: Different types of basil offer varying flavors and aromas, so think about the dishes you love to cook and which basil varieties would complement them best.
    2. Research growing conditions: Basil thrives in warm, sunny conditions with well-drained soil. Make sure to choose basil varieties suitable for your climate and growing environment.
    3. Explore flavor profiles: Sweet basil is the classic choice for Italian cuisine, while Thai basil adds a unique anise-like flavor to Asian dishes. Lemon basil imparts a citrusy twist, while cinnamon basil offers a warm, spicy aroma. Consider which flavors appeal to you and your cooking style.
    4. Assess growth habits: Some basil varieties, like Genovese basil, have large leaves and grow tall, while others, like bush basil, stay more compact. Choose basil plants that fit well in your garden space and desired growing conditions.
    5. Seek advice from local experts: Visit local nurseries or gardening centers and seek advice from knowledgeable staff members. They can offer insights into which basil varieties thrive in your region and provide tips for successful cultivation.

    FAQ

    How many varieties of basil are there?

    It’s estimated that there are 50 to 150 varieties of basil. It is tough to say for sure, because hybrids form so easily.

    What is the most common type of basil?

    Sweet Basil is the most common type of basil. It can be found at the grocery store, and is usually labelled simply u0022basilu0022.

    What is the sweetest basil?

    Sweet basil gets its name because it is the sweetest variety of basil.

    Is lemon basil the same as lime basil?

    Lemon basil and lime basil are two different varieties of basil, with flavors of lemon and lime, respectively. Lime basil is more rare and harder to find than lemon basil.

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    Final Thoughts

    If you’ve never eaten any type of basil other than sweet basil, you’ve been missing out! I hope you’ll feel adventurous and try growing one of these varieties of basil plants in your garden this year. There may be a lot of varieties of this herb, but fresh basil straight from the garden tastes way better than any basil you can get at the grocery store.

    Author: Laura Kennedy

    Writer & Owner of Little Yellow Wheelbarrow

    Laura is a highly skilled gardener and fervent flower enthusiast. Despite her playful battle with plant spacing guidelines, Laura’s work inspires gardeners to create thriving, beautiful spaces that reflect both creativity and sustainability.

    Editor’s note: This post was originally published July 6, 2021, and was updated on February 11, 2024 to add expert tips and improve reader experience.

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