Basil is ‘the royal herb’ it’s a legendary antidote to basilisk venom and very tasty in curry and pasta dishes. Have you grown it? It’s a simple herb to grow at home, so let’s find out if basil is perennial or annual. The answer isn’t straightforward.
Basil: Perennial Or Annual?
Basil is annual in areas touched by frost or strong winds. It’s so tender that the majority of gardeners have to grow it indoors or annually from seed.
Perennial VS Annual Plants
Perennial are long-lived plants that have a lifecycle exceeding two years. They can be evergreen or deciduous (they lose their foliage in winter) but they spend a portion of the year gaining size and flowering.
In contrast, annual plants pack their lifecycle into one year only from germination to producing their own seeds before dying.
There are biennials too! Biennials live for two years. They germinate in their first year then flower and produce seeds in year two before dying off.
What Is Basil?
Basil Ocimum basiliscum is a green leafy herb with aromatic leaves and flowers. It’s a short-lived tender perennial that grows year-round in its native tropical regions of Central Africa and Southeast Asia, but is widely naturalized in tropical and sub-tropical areas worldwide. It arrived in Britain in the 16th century and was taken by settlers when they colonized the Americas and Australia a few centuries later.
It’s a surprise, but basil is a member of the Lamiaceae mint family. Members of this plant family have juicy stalks and aromatic leaves. Culinary basil can reach five feet tall in tropical areas, but it usually reaches around one foot. People don’t tend to use basil flowers very often, but they are small, pinky-white, and sit on a spike above the foliage.
Its name is Latin basileus and means ‘royal plant’. Over 4,000 years ago in ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt basil was a component of perfumes, used in medicines to treat wounds and soothe pain, and was thought to open the doors of heaven.
One of the more legendary uses was an antidote to the giant serpent Basilisk venom! If only Harry Potter had known.
The Many Cultivars of Basil!
Basil is a very popular culinary herb and it’s been cultivated for thousands of years. This means there are lots of varieties, some with purple leaves.
Culinary basil is often called sweet basil, or great basil. Other popular basil types include Greek basil, Thai basil, lemon basil, and African blue basil. All are very tasty!
Camphor basil, clove basil, and holy basil use the name, but they are not true basils. Holy basil Ocimum tenuiflorum is a medical herb traditionally used in India. It has a hot peppery taste that’s very different to culinary basil.
How To Grow Basil
Basil is easy to grow but it’s sensitive to the cold. In tropical climates, it grows year-round, but in temperate areas, it’s best to grow seeds under glass each spring.
Basil seeds are quite large and easy to handle. Sow them into damp compost and pop them on a sunny windowsill or in a warm greenhouse and keep the compost damp.
Once they are large enough to handle, transfer them to their own pot and grow on. Once all chance of frost has passed basil can be moved outside to a sunny, protected spot. Water basil when the soil begins to dry out and fertilize it if the leaves start to turn yellow.
If it’s cold outside, basil thrives on a sunny windowsill. You don’t have to move it outdoors – in fact, it’s handy to have a pot of fresh basil in the kitchen!
If you already have a basil plant, take a cutting just above a pair of leaves and place it in a glass of water. Roots will emerge within a week or two. Pop these sprouted cuttings into compost and they will grow full-sized.
Are There Any Perennial Basil Plants?
Lots of basil, including culinary basil, is perennial in tropical regions or US zones 10-11. It’s also perennial on a sunny windowsill in a home. In other zones, basil is annual not perennial, simply because it’s too cold.
Does Basil Survive Winter?
Basil doesn’t survive winter anywhere there are frosts or cold winds. It’s a tender perennial that’s grown as annual outside zones 10-11 and in northern Europe.
How to Grow Basil Indoors
Basil enjoys a warm sunny windowsill and loves growing indoors! Follow the sowing steps above and keep it well-watered, but don’t leave basil soaking overnight. It hates wet roots, especially when the sun goes down.
If you don’t fancy growing from seed, pick up a basil plant in store and repot it into fresh soil. Basil is a great way to keep your kitchen smelling great. Rub the leaves as you pass through and the tasty scent of basil will fill the air.
Will Basil Grow Back After Cutting?
Yes, basil grows back after cutting if you are gentle. When you harvest its leaves, only take 1/3 at a time then let it rest for a week or two. It needs enough foliage to regenerate. Basil stems bruise easily and this leads to wilt and eventual death before its time. Carefully pluck off leaves to keep your basil thriving.
If you only need a few, pinch out the top. This encourages a bushy basil plant that’s more attractive than a tall spindly one and less vulnerable to wind.
Should I Let Basil Flower?
Basil flowers are tasty and they don’t impact the foliage’s flavor, so it’s fine to let basil flower. If it’s growing outside pollinators will enjoy its nectar. Bees and butterflies like basil nectar and it encourages pollination of nearby fruit and vegetable gardens.
Basil flowers can be used in the same way as foliage, they make very pretty edible garnishes.
Is Basil Toxic To Pets?
The ASPCA doesn’t list basil as toxic to cats and dogs, so you can safely grow this herb in your house and yard. However, it’s never a good idea to let pets chew on garden plants. Although basil is safe for dogs and cats, excessive consumption may cause an upset stomach.
5 Basil Fun Facts
- The ancient Egyptians used basil to embalm mummies
- The ancient Romans used basil to flavor their wine
- Some Christians believe basil was found growing around Christ’s tomb and use it in holy water
- Basil is chock full of vitamin K
- It’s grown and eaten on every continent except Antarctica
- It was used to treat scorpion stings in ancient India
Basil Is A Tender Perennial Or An Annual
So there we have gloriously tasty basil. There isn’t a straight answer to whether it’s perennial or annual because it all depends on the local climate, but those of us in temperate climates shouldn’t be disappointed. Basil will happily grow on a warm windowsill and flavor pizza, pasta, or curries all year round.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/TShum
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- ASPCA, Available here: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/basil
- RHS, Available here: https://www.rhs.org.uk/herbs/basil/grow-your-own
- Royal Botanic Gardens, Available here: https://www.kew.org/read-and-watch/brilliant-basil