Basil Varieties: 10 Uncommon Basils

uncommon basil 9

'Purple Ruffles' basil has especially showy leaves in a deep, rich purple hue, festooned with a rippling trim.

Photo by Rob Cardillo

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‘African Blue’ A beautiful addition to the herb patch or ornamental bed, ‘African Blue’ basil erupts into a haze of soft purple flowers by midsummer. Its leaves are also ornamental, with a purple stain in the center and soft texture. Strong camphor odor. (Click here for a photo of  'African Blue' basil .)

‘Blue Spice’ Another “blue” basil with lavender flowers. Unlike ‘African Blue’, its leaves are bright green with no purple flush. Stems are purple. Spicy-sweet fragrance. (Click here for a photo of  'Blue Spice' basil .)

‘Cardinal’ Cardinal stands out for its stunning burgundy flower bracts. The flowers within the bracts are white with a lavender tinge. While you can use the main leaves as you would those of any basil, the little red leaves that make up the bracts should be used where their color will stand out—try them sprinkled over a salad or a cream soup. (Click here for a photo of  'Cardinal' basil .)

‘Cinnamon’ ‘Cinnamon’ basil has a distinctive fragrance—cinnamon, yes, but sharper and more potent than the dried bark of Cinnamomum verum. Its shiny leaves on dark purple stems, accented by wands of pale flowers, make this another excellent choice for places where you need beauty plus amazing fragrance. It’s good with fruit; try adding a few leaves to a poaching liquid for pears or peaches.  (Click here for a photo of  'Cinnamon' basil .)

‘Oriental Breeze’ This attractive basil bears head-turning purple bracts that are similar to those of ‘Cardinal’ but purple rather than deep-red. Use it as you would sweet basil. Also useful as a cut flower. (Click here for a photo of  'Oriental Breeze' basil .)

‘Pesto Perpetuo’ ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ stands out in the kitchen for its sharp peppery flavor and in the garden for its beautiful pale green leaves edged in cream. Its tight rounded habit and dark stems combine with its other admirable attributes to make this an unforgettable choice for container plantings. As you harvest, keep it pinched to a rough round shape. Garden visitors may well imagine that it’s some rare form of boxwood. (Click here for a photo of  'Pesto Perpetuo' basil .)

‘Purple Delight’ This is the standard purple basil. A reliable grower, now replacing ‘Dark Opal’ due to that variety’s loss of stability. Typical sweet basil scent and flavor. Steep it for a few minutes in white wine vinegar—it will give the vinegar a lovely magenta color and light basil aroma. (Click here for a photo of  'Purple Delight' basil .) 

‘Purple Ruffles’  Not the strongest grower but very attractive in the garden and in containers. Its ruffled purple leaves will darken if cooked, so tear them coarsely and toss in salads. Typical sweet basil aroma and taste. (Click here for a photo of  'Purple Ruffles' basil .)

‘Rubin’ Burgundy-red, rather than the true purple of ‘Purple Delight’ and ‘Purple Ruffles’. Shiny burgundy leaves look good in the garden or as a garnish. They taste great, too, like sweet basil. Vigorous and reliable. Good for containers. (Click here for a photo of  'Rubin' basil .)

‘Siam Queen’ An improved Thai basil variety chosen as an All-America Selections winner in 1997. Shiny dark green leaves and reddish purple inflorescences. Flavor and aroma typical of the Thai group—spicy with heavy anise notes. (Click here for a photo of  'Siam Queen' basil .)

Caleb Melchior studies landscape architecture. When not working in the studio, he writes about food and gardens. 

Click here for the main article,  Basil Varieties: A Cook's Guide to Uncommon Basils .