Types Of Basil: How To Grow and Use Different Basil Varieties (2022)

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Basil plants can be used in many different ways, including in your food, beverages, and even in DIY body products. Learn about the most common types of basil plants, how to grow them, and how to use them!

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

Basil is well-known for being easy to grow – you might even say it’s vigorous when the weather gets hot. Once you learn how to grow basil, it becomes time to decide which types of basil plants you want to grow!

Whether you want to grow your basil plants indoors or outdoors, check out this list of the most common varieties of basil. I’m also including basic information on how to care for and use each variety.

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 licorice 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.

Why learn about different varieties of basil?

Ok, great, there are dozens of different types of basil. Why should you bother to learn about more than one? That’s easy: because they all taste and look from each other and are used in different ways!

Trust me and keep reading. You’ll see for yourself.

Various types of basil herb on white background

7 Deliciously Fragrant Types Of Basil To Grow

Thanks to its pleasant flavor and aroma, basil is now a staple in many different cultures and cuisines all over the world. Here’s your guide to the most common varieties and how to use them.

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

How To Identify Sweet Basil

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 Sweet Basil

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 Sweet Basil 

Fresh, dried, or frozen 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. 

Sweet Genovese basil branch isolated on white background. Flat, Top view.

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 variety 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

How To Identify Thai Basil

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

How To Grow Thai Basil

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 Thai Basil

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

Thai sweet basil isolate on a white background.

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

How To Identify Greek Basil

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

How To Grow Greek Basil

Like most basil plants, Greek basil is very 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 Greek Basil 

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

A greek basil plant growing in a red terracotta pot against a bright white background.

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

How To Identify Lemon Basil

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

How To Grow Lemon Basil

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

Ways To Use Lemon Basil

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 also tastes incredible when added to cookies, cakes, and other desserts!

Lemon basil isolated on white.

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

How To Identify Holy Basil

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 Holy Basil

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

Ways To Use Holy Basil

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

Holy Basil isolate on white background.

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

How To Identify Cinnamon Basil

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

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

Ways To Use Cinnamon Basil

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!

Cinnamon basil growing in an outdoor garden.

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

How To Identify Purple Basil

Thanks to its dark burgundy leaf color and white or purple flowers, purple basil provides a striking contrast to 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

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

Purple basil tastes similar to sweet basil, but it’s a little 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!

If you’ve never eaten any types 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 other “type of basil”!

Purple basil. Isolated on white background
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 “basil”.

What is the sweetest basil?

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

Can I grow basil indoors all year round?

Yes! Basil does exceptionally well indoors, and will continue to grow all year.

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.

Editorial Note: This post was originally published on July 6, 2021, and was updated on February 13, 2022.

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