16 Types of Basil to Grow in Your Garden

Green and purple basil leaves

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Fragrant, spicy, a standard herb in summer cuisine: who doesn't love fresh basil? And while you may only know one of few basils from their presence at the grocery store, there are actually many types of basil.

This annual herb from the Lamiaceae (mint) family is grown in temperate regions and is prominent in many cuisines worldwide. Basil (Ocimum basilicum) can be grown as a perennial in warm zones (USDA 9-11), and commonly grown worldwide as an annual. There are many different types of basil, and some of them are associated with specific regions or cuisines (Genovese basil, for example, is associated with Italian cooking, and there are a number of Thai basils used in Thai cookery). Although native to the tropical regions of Asia and Africa, there are some basils that originated in warm regions of Italy, and basil is often considered a classic plant to grow in Mediterranean herb gardens.

Basil is relatively easy to grow from seed, in your garden or in containers. It likes plenty of sun, though will tolerate a bit of shade, and does best in well-drained, rich and loamy soil; a bit of sand may be added also. It likes regular water but be careful not to overwater. Basil can be planted outdoors in spring after the last frost, and new crops can be sown through mid summer. There are so many different types of basil that it can seem overwhelming to choose. We've gathered some of our favorites into a diverse sampling for you to consider growing at home.

Tip

When flowers appear on your basil plants, gently pinch them off to allow the leaves to continue producing and reach full size. You can add the flowers to a salad if you like!

  • 01 of 15

    Genovese Basil (Ocimum basilicum 'Genovese')

    Bright green basil leaves growing closely together seen from above

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    Genovese basil, also known as Italian basil, is perhaps the most widely used and widely-grown basil for culinary purposes. It has a complex spicy flavor with aromatic notes of mint and clove. Its large, shiny, rounded leaves are familiar to many cooks and gardeners, and it's considered the best herb for making pesto and serving raw in salads. Easily grown from seed, Genovese basil does well in containers.

    • Native Area: Africa, Asia
    • USDA Zones: 9 to 11
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Height: 12 to 24 inches
  • 02 of 15

    Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

    Sweet basil, close up of light green pointed oval leaves on plant

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    Sweet basil is very similar to Genovese basil, and the names are often used interchangeably, though they are in fact two different plants. The color of the leaves is often somewhat lighter than Genovese basil, and the shape of the leaves is less rounded and more pointed. Its flavor is slightly sweeter and milder than Genovese, and it is sometimes thought to have a slight hint of anise/licorice flavor.

    • Native Area: Central Asia, Southeast Africa
    • USDA Zones: 9 to 11
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Height: 12 to 24 inches
  • 03 of 15

    Osmin Purple Basil (Ocimum basilicum 'Osmin purple')

    dark purple basil plant with flowers with green garden in background

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    There are a number of purple basils. Osmin purple basil is one of the most common varieties, and is a striking shade of deep purple with blue-black tones; most agree it is the darkest of the purple basils. With a spicy, clove-like flavor, it is best used fresh in salads or for garnish. The deep purple flowers can also be snipped and used in a salad.

    • Native Area: Africa, Asia
    • USDA Zones: 9 to 11
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Height: 12 to 24 inches
  • 04 of 15

    Cinnamon Basil (Ocimum basilicum 'Cinnamon')

    Cinnamon basil plant with purple stems and flowers

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    Cinnamon basil, also known as Mexican spice basil, has a mild spicy flavor with notes of cinnamon, and is popular in Asian cuisine. The fresh leaves are delicious in a summer fruit salad or as a garnish with a cheese and fruit plate. Its bright green leaves have subtle purple veining, and the purple stems bear light purple or pink flowers.

    • Native Area: India, Asia
    • USDA Zones: 9 to 11
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Height: 12 to 24 inches
    Continue to 5 of 15 below.
  • 05 of 15

    Lemon Basil (Ocimum basilicum citriodorum)

    Lemon basil in garden with slender ovate pointed green leaves

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    Lemon basil is also known as Thai lemon basil (or amenglak) or hoary basil. It's a hybrid that is popularly used in South Asian cooking. It has a delightful lemony fragrance and light lemon flavor to go with its spicy basil flavor. The leaves are firmly textured and hold up well to high cooking temperatures.

    • Native Area: Africa, Asia
    • USDA Zones: 9 to 11
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Height: 12 to 24 inches
  • 06 of 15

    Thai Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora)

    Thai basil plants with purple flowers

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    Thai sweet basil is a popular herb in South Asian cooking, particularly Thai cuisine. Its beautiful plants are a show-stopper in the herb garden, too, with deep purple stems and flowers. The leaves are somewhat thicker in texture than sweet basil, and the flavor is mild and complex. Thai sweet basil's flavor holds up well in cooking at high temperatures.

    • Native Area: Africa, Asia
    • USDA Zones: 9 to 11
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Height: 12 to 24 inches
  • 07 of 15

    Greek Basil (Ocimum basilicum var minimum 'Greek')

    Greek basil with small pointed green leaves in a container

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    Greek basil is one of the smallest basil plants, usually no taller than eight inches. The compact plants produce light green slightly pointed leaves that grow in small rounded clumps. It grows easily in containers and makes a nice addition to the herb garden or front of the border. The tiny leaves make it perfect for a decorative garnish or as part of a salad or other fresh summer dish.

    • Native Area: Africa, Asia
    • USDA Zones: 9 to 11
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Height: 6 to 8 inches
  • 08 of 15

    Dark Opal Basil (Ocimum basilicum 'Dark Opal')

    Dark opal basil with purple leaves edged dark green

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    Dark Opal basil is an aromatic, spicy basil that can be used like any other basil, but its stunning color makes it a a very showy plant for your herb garden as a cut flower, and of course at the dinner table in a salad. It is somewhat smaller than other basils, seldom growing more than 20 inches

    • Native Area: Africa, Asia
    • USDA Zones: 9 to 11
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Height: 12 to 20 inches
    Continue to 9 of 15 below.
  • 09 of 15

    Christmas Basil (Ocimum basilicum 'Christmas')

    Basil plants with purple stems and pale purple flowers

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    Christmas basil is a hybrid that is a cross between Thai and Genovese basil. It has dark purple stems and lighter purple flowers that are similar to Thai basil, though the leaves are the bright shiny green of Genovese. It has an herby, complex scent that many find reminiscent of winter holiday smells, like pine needles and the fruity spice fragrance of mulled wine. Its savory flavor is good for cooking sauces, soups and meat dishes.

    • Native Area: Africa, Asia
    • USDA Zones: 9 to 11
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Height: 12 to 18 inches
  • 10 of 15

    Cardinal Basil (Ocimum basilicum 'Cardinal')

    Cardinal basil with deep burgundy flowers atop green leaves

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    Cardinal basil is a cultivar that was developed in Israel. The showy flowers on these large plants are a dramatic addition to the outdoor herb garden. It is strongly scented and often used for flavoring oils and herb vinegars.

    • Native Area: Israel
    • USDA Zones: 9 to 11
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Height: 24 to 30 inches
  • 11 of 15

    Globe Basil (Ocimum basilicum 'pistou')

    Globe basil plant with small leaves and rounded shape in a garden

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    This plant is also known as pistou basil, spicy bush basil, or boxwood basil. It is a dwarf sweet basil that is believed to descend from sweet basil varieties in India and Asia. The tiny leaves grow in small branching clumps, forming a small round globe shape. It is perfect for snipping for bits of garnish or to use raw in salads or other dishes.

    • Native Area: India, Asia
    • USDA Zones: 9 to 11
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Height: 6 to 10 inches
  • 12 of 15

    Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)

    Holy basil plant with pale purple stems and green leaves

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    Also known as tulsi, holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum ) is somewhat similar in appearance to other basils but has different flavors and qualities. The pale purple stems and small purple flowers somewhat resemble Thai basil, but the leaves have a wavy, slightly wrinkled appearance. It is loved for its spicy taste in Indian cooking, and is also revered as a medicinal herb in Indian traditional medicine. It is a common herbal tea available in most grocery or health food stores.

    • Native Area: India, Asia
    • USDA Zones: 9 to 11
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Height: 12 to 24 inches
    Continue to 13 of 15 below.
  • 13 of 15

    African Blue Basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum × basilicum ‘Dark Opal’)

    African blue basil with pale purple flowers in herb garden

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    This colorful plant is said to be a hybrid of dark opal basil and camphor basil. It can be grown as a perennial in warm regions, and reaches up to 4 feet tall. Its camphor basil origins give it a slight camphor fragrance, along with notes of clove and mint. Its taste is peppery, minty and complex. The flowers of the African blue basil are a delicate pale blue or purple color, and very attractive to pollinators, especially honeybees, so letting some of this go to flower is a good idea if you want to attract beneficial pollinators to your garden. It is flavorful for salads or hot dishes, and a beautiful fragrant addition to cut flower arrangements.

    • Native Area: Africa, Asia
    • USDA Zones: 8 to 11
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Height: 24 to 48 inches
  • 14 of 15

    French Basil (Ociumum basilicum 'Marseilles')

    Basil in a garden with small oval green leaves

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    French basil is also known as Marseilles basil. It is an heirloom globe basil, and its compact plant has slightly larger leaves than other globe basils. It has a strong delicious fragrance. In French cuisine it is used to make pistou, which is a sauce similar to Italian pesto.

    • Native Area: India, Asia
    • USDA Zones: 9 to 11
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Height: 8 to 10 inches
  • 15 of 15

    Napoletano Basil (Ociumum basiclium 'Neopolitan')

    This basil is native to Naples, Italy and is widely grown and used in Europe. It has large, ruffly, dark green leaves with a strong flavor, and is considered one of the best basils for making caprese salad. This variety is slow to bolt, giving it a slightly longer growing season than other basils. It is also sometimes known as large leaf basil, or lettuce leaf basil; despite having very large leaves, the plant remains fairly small.

    • Native Area: Italy
    • USDA Zones: 8 to 11
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Height: 10 to 12 inches