What Is The Basil Plant And Its Most Common Uses?

Basil (Ocimum Basilicum) is an easy to grow herb used for culinary purposes, but it has found its purpose in the medicinal field too. This herb suits into different cuisines, and that’s why it’s used all over the world from the famous Italian pesto to delicious Thai basil chicken. And if we’re talking about Asian dishes, which is also a great transition from one topic to another, basil originates from central Africa and Southeast Asia! But now, let’s focus, and find out what is the basil plant?

Basil has many different names, and the one we talked about earlier, which you might be most familiar with is the one used in Italian cooking called sweet basil. The reason for its use is that it doesn’t have the same minty flavor that Thai basil has.

Basil is a herb in the Lamiaceae family, or plain English, in the mint family. Other plants that you might be familiar with in this same category include rosemary, lavender, and sage.

  1. How To Grow Basil Indoors? “The King Of Herbs.”
  2. How to Grow Herbs Indoors? (In The Comfort Of Your Home).
Common NameBasil
Botanical NameOcimum Basilicum
Plant TypeAnnual / Perennial (This Depends On The Climate)
Size (Fully Grown)Depending On The Variety, 1 To 4 Feet (About 30 To 130 cm)
Sun ExposurePart Sun, But Preferably Full Sun
Soil TypeMoist, Nutrient-rich Soil That Drains Well
Soil pHNeutral (5.5 To 7.5)
Flower ColorWhite, Pink, And Purple
U.S. Hardiness Zones5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10
Native AreaCentral Africa To Southeast Asia

Different Basil Types

Thanks to the worldwide spread of this plant, many cultures have adopted basil into their cuisines, so we are lucky to have many basil varieties! Below we have listed the most common types, and they include:

  1. Thai Basil
  2. Holy Basil
  3. Lime Basil
  4. Greek Basil
  5. Sweet Basil
  6. Purple Basil
  7. Lemon Basil
  8. Lettuce Basil
  9. Summerlong
  10. Cardinal Basil
  11. Green Ruffles
  12. Genovese Basil
  13. Cinnamon Basil
  14. Spicy Globe Basil
  15. African Blue Basil

You can find even more basil varieties from Wikipedia!

Origins And The History Of Basil!

It’s tough to determine how long we’ve grown basil because there is a lot of debate about this subject, but we believe that it has been cultivated for over 5 000 years, and its origins coming from Asia where it spread globally. One of the advantages and one of the reasons why basil spread into colder climates is that it’s not a big plant, so growing it inside is possible and even recommendable.

Basil also had a bigger medicinal and religious meaning in ancient times as it has nowadays. Ancient people believed that it would give them strength during religious fasting, and they also used it as an antidote for snake bites, among other things.

Although we currently know basil as an excellent ingredient we use in cooking, it had some surprising uses. Archeologists have found that people in ancient Egypt used basil for embalming purposes. If you’re not sure what it means, it’s using ways to forestall decomposition, which was a common practice in those days.

How about the uses of basil in these days? Apart from its extensive use in culinary purposes, you might find basil from perfumes, incenses, and herbal remedies.

How To Recognize A Basil Plant?

The “Big Picture”

Recognizing a basil plant isn’t that hard even though it might sound hard because most plants in the world are green. The first differentiating factor is the basil’s bushy growing style with many different branches growing from its stem. Although basil has a bushy growing style and the ability to grow into heights of over 4 feet (130 cm), it rarely becomes overgrown. I say it this way because you probably prune the plant and use the leaves in your cooking: A WIN-WIN situation.

Let’s Look At Basil A Bit Closer

When we take a closer look at a basil plant, we can see that it has square-shaped hairy stems. The stems look similar to a tree structure because the stems near the ground look a lot woody and thin out near the end. The reason why the basil plant looks so bushy is that it grows many branches. You can notice that the branches grow in pairs across from each other, and all sides of the plant. This is one of the factors that make the plant look bigger.

Let’s Zoom In To The Leaves

The identification instructions might be in a wrong order because when you’re trying to identify a plant, always try to look at the leaves! Basil leaves are pretty easy to recognize because they have an elongated shape. Another great way to recognize a basil plant (at least sweet basil) is to look at the sharp point at the end of the leaf.

For example, the leaves of sweet basil grow between 2 to 4 inches (about 5 to 10 cm) long and have a “shiny” look that makes them easy to identify.

You Can Even Smell It!

Another way to recognize a basil plant that you might not realize first is to use your sense of smell. If you’ve ever touched/smelled a basil plant before, I bet that you instantly know what it smells like. But as a little reminder, all basil varieties smell like basil, but a bit different from each other.

It’s tough to explain what something smells like, and the best way to say it is like that; the difference between the smell of basil varieties varies a little bit from variety to another. This sounds like useless information on paper, but you realize it when you get to smell them.

Basil And A Person's Hand
© tab62 – stock.adobe.com

What Kind Of Climate / Growing Conditions Are Best For Basil?

It’s always good to know what kind of climate and conditions help your basil plant thrive because I bet that you don’t want to sow the seeds and notice that cold took your basil. “Why Mother Nature, why have you forsaken me?”

The Temperature

Basil is a plant that needs both warm air and soil to grow well, so patience is one of the most important things to remember when the spring comes, and you’re eager to start planting. If you grow basil outside and live in a climate that faces temperatures under 32°F (about 0°C), be careful! By the way, 32°F (about 0°C) is an optimistic number, and the temperature that might already affect your basil negatively is somewhere between 40 to 50°F (5 to 10°C).

What I suggest is that if the temperature outside is below 50°F (about 10°C) in the spring, including nighttime, don’t plant yet! If you have already planted basil outside, you can dig them up and try again when the outside temperature allows for it, or you can cover the plant and protect the plant from cold that way. But I warn you, covering the plant won’t work with too cold temps either!

If you want to be even more sure about the right condition, use 60 to 70°F (about 15 to 20°C) as your “sweet spot.”

The Climate

People grow basil all around the world, so I bet that the place where you live suits for basil growing. But let’s talk about the kind of climate suitable for basil. Like I already mentioned, basil is a plant that needs a warm and sunny growing spot. The amount of sunlight basil needs is about six to eight hours, but it can survive in partial shade pretty well as well.

I want to mention that if you are lucky enough to live in a hot climate, I recommend you move the plant into the shade when the afternoon comes.

If you got interested in growing basil, check out our article – How To Grow Basil Indoors? “The King Of Herbs”

Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Basil?

Here we have listed information about the safety of eating or consuming basil, whether you have a common medical disease or growing a new life inside you. You can also find if the plant is pet-friendly from the info below.

Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women

The basil leaves are completely safe, even advisable to eat during pregnancy. Don’t “overeat” when breastfeeding though, because it can diminish milk supply.

Children

Basil is a safe plant to eat, and you’re in luck if your kid(s) like to eat veggies and herbs like basil. But, medicinal amounts might not be completely safe since basil contains estragole, which is known to cause liver cancer in lab mice.

People With Allergies

Basil allergies aren’t common, and if you haven’t eaten basil never before, I wouldn’t worry about it, because it’s extremely rare. I need to warn you, though, that allergy reactions due to basil can be mild, but even a life-threatening reaction is possible. Basil has the same similarities with plants like mint, thyme, sage, and oregano because they all belong to the Lamiaceae family. Remember that if you already have trouble with these plants, basil might be another plant on your no-no list.

People With Diabetes

If you have prediabetes or even type two diabetes, basil is an excellent addition to your grocery list. Especially the variety, holy basil, is known to reduce blood sugar levels and other symptoms such as high cholesterol and weight gain, to name a few.

Pets

Basil is a safe plant for both cats and dogs, so no need to worry about anything if you have pets around!

Featured image credit – © topotishika – stock.adobe.com

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