Mother Earth Living

Herb to Know: Green Pepper Basil

Learn how to use green pepper basil in the kitchen and tips to grow it in your garden.
By Jim Long
February/March 2004
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Genus: Ocimum selloi

• Hardy to Zone 9

More than two dozen varieties of basil grow in Madalene Hill’s Round Top, Texas patio garden. Among them, one of the real standouts is green pepper basil, a remarkable old herb with centuries of use in various cultures. Ocimum selloi is becoming increasingly popular now in the United States, with a distinctive flavor that is just as its name implies—a combination of green pepper and basil. Its deep-green leaves are considerably longer than those of other basils, making it more closely resemble a pepper plant. This unusual plant has a milder, more complex flavor than most of its cousins.

O. selloi was first collected near Chiapas, Mexico, by botanist Dennis E. Breedlove, curator emeritus of the California Academy of Sciences. The area is well known for producing an array of fascinating edible plants, including several varieties of chilhuacle peppers.

Art Tucker, Ph.D., of Delaware State University, who has done a preliminary analysis on green pepper basil, reports smelling the green pepper pyrazines in the plant but says he has not completely isolated the chemicals. He said, “My nose smells the green pepper pyrazines so they’re probably there, but I can’t report a level yet.”

Basil essential oils traditionally have been used to kill or repel insects, to flavor foods, in fragrances, in folk medicine and as condiments. In Brazil, O. selloi has been used to treat stomachaches and as an anti-inflammatory remedy. A 2003 study conducted at the State University of Ponta Grossa in Brazil found green pepper basil’s oil to be an effective mosquito repellent that wasn’t irritating to human skin.

The writings of Berlin, Breedlove and Raven also discuss this species in their book, Principles of Tzeltal Plant Classification (Elsevier Science and Technology Books, 1974), under the herb known as “san mikel wamal” (St. Michael’s herb, also known as green pepper basil). They report a reference that said the plant was used for “stomach trouble and baths for those recovering from fevers in Meso-America.”

Green Pepper Basil In The Garden

A blessed ornamental and culinary delight, green pepper basil’s rich, shiny green leaves form the perfect background for reddish pink flowers that continue blooming. Pinch back blooms to encourage bushier leaf growth. While it’s one of the more cold-hardy basils, this tender perennial herb prefers shade and some sun, loamy soil and regular watering. If grown in full sun, the leaves will be tough and inedible.

Green Pepper Basil In The Kitchen

The flavor of the basil is more pronounced in summer than in colder months. Rose Marie Nichols McGee, at Nichols Garden Nursery in Oregon, has been developing recipes for green pepper basil, including this one, for a delectable soup.

• Green Pepper Basil Recipe:  Corn Soup with Green Pepper Basil  

I’ve found the flavor to be quite pleasing in a number of recipes. Try it chopped and mixed with cream cheese and spread on a cracker, as well as chopped up in scrambled eggs. Both of those mild flavors allow the herb’s flavor to come through. It’s also an intriguing flavor to add to sandwiches.

The possibilities for this basil are exciting. Try it this year in your garden and let us know about your experience.

Plant Sources

• Mulberry Creek Herb Farm
3312 Bogart Rd.
Huron, OH 44839
(419) 433-6126  

• Nichols Garden Nursery
1190 Old Salem Rd. NE
Albany, OR 97321
(800) 422-3985  

Further Reading

“Chemical composition, toxicity and mosquito repellency of Ocimum selloi oil.” Journal of Ethnopharmacol. 2003 Oct; 88(2–3): 253 – 260.

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