Herb to Know: Green Pepper Basil

Learn how to use green pepper basil in the kitchen and tips to grow it in your garden.


| February/March 2004



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Jim Long

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.





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