Basil Discovery

Here in Zone 6, Mother’s Day traditionally is considered the safe-planting date for frost-sensitive plants, such as tomatoes and eggplant. It’s also a fine time to plant basil, which thrives only in warm weather. (An annual native to Asia, Africa and Central and South America, basil can take the heat, but seems to shrivel at the mere mention of frost.)

I was thrilled to find a basil I’ve never encountered before at my local farmers’ market this past Sunday, Mother’s Day–just in time for planting. According to the grower, “mountain basil” is the same species as standard Mediterranean basils (Ocimum basilicum), yet the tall, purple-green plants are a bit more resistant to frost. (Makes sense if it originates in a mountain region.) The leaves are deep green with an attractive purple-red hue; stems also are purple red. Already 6 inches tall with multiple branches, the plant is about twice the size of the ‘Genovese’ basils I set out. The leaf I sampled had the characteristic basil flavor, but with a bit more spice.

Eager to learn more about my new mystery basil, I did a quick Google search and also checked the “Dave’s Garden” website for other references to the plant … but found very little. (Other than a reference to Mountain Basil “required for Tier 2 Cooking Mastery recipe” on a Lord of the Rings site!) The plant resembles photos of Indian holy basil, or sacred Thai basil (O. sanctum). I also wonder if it could be ‘Ararat’, a basil offered by Johnny’s Selected Seeds and J.L.Hudson Seeds; it also has mottled purple/green leaves and grows to 28 inches tall. Does my supplier really have something unique, or is it a familiar plant sold under a different name? I’ll try to learn more this weekend.

Worth noting: Of the seven or eight stands at my little community farmers’ market this past weekend, about half sold fresh herbs or herbal products! Several growers I spoke with said they used to grow and market veggies but have switched over to mostly herbs because they can be more profitable.

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