12 Types of Basil

Written by Larissa Smith
Updated: July 11, 2023
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Traditional medicine has made use of basil for many centuries thanks to its antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. Basil is a wonderfully versatile herb, and its leaves can be used in soups, salads, and sauces. You can choose different types of basil filled with an explosion of flavors, sweet, spicy, and earthy, and use it fresh or dried.

Now let’s dive in and learn basil’s mysteries!

Basil in Traditional Medicine: Uncovering This Ancient Herb’s Healing Properties

Basil can aid in many ways to improve health. For example, it can improve the liver’s detoxification processes. The herb extract can aid the liver in producing health-promoting enzymes and boost its antioxidant defenses, making it a helpful tool for people with trouble maintaining optimal health.

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The high amount of eugenol in sweet basil can aid in lowering high blood pressure by blocking calcium channels in the body. As a result, it stops calcium from entering the heart and artery cells by blocking calcium influx. Blocking calcium influx lets blood vessels relax and thins the blood, which helps lower blood pressure.

Basil is a great way to reduce swelling and inflammation. The eugenol in basil reduces inflammation by blocking the enzymes that cause swelling and pain. In addition, holy basil can lower the risk of diseases like diabetes, high cholesterol, and arthritis linked to inflammation.

Infographic of 12 Types of Basil
Dark opal basil, cinnamon basil, and African blue basil are less well-known types of basil.

Green Thumbs Up: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Basil

Planting, tending, and harvesting basil leaves is a rewarding experience. It can enhance sauces and pizzas, salads, and many more dishes. Although sweet basil prevails over other basil, a few different kinds offer intriguing flavors and are fun to grow.

Basil grows best in settings that receive six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily, although it can also thrive in partial shade. The soil should be moist, nutrient-rich, and well-draining. For optimum drainage, plant the herb in pots or raised beds. Plant basil six weeks before the final spring frost and wait until the soil has warmed to at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit before planting outside.

Raising basil is straightforward. Keep the soil moist and apply mulch around the plants to control weeds and retain moisture in a hot climate. Fertilize sparingly throughout the growing season. Harvest your basil whenever cold weather is near because freezing temperatures will harm your plants.

Picking your basil allows your plants to continue developing. If temperatures reach 80 degrees, your plants will begin to branch out. Start harvesting your plants when they reach 6-8 inches tall. Early morning will provide you with the most excellent leaves to harvest. Twelve basil plants can generate four to six cups of leaves per week if picked regularly.

holy basil

Grow your own basil and enjoy the fresh and delicious flavor all summer long.

©A Studios/Shutterstock.com

From Sweet to Spicy: 12 Different Types of Basil

1. Dark Opal Basil

Their vivid purple leaves distinguish basil plants of the dark opal kind. Not only are the leaves of this plant aesthetically beautiful, but they are aromatic with a sweet, slightly spicy, and earthy flavor frequently utilized in various dishes, especially in Mediterranean cuisine.

perennial or annual

Dark opal basil’s blooms will add beautiful purple shades to a herb garden.

©iStock.com/Nadya So

2. Lemon Basil

In northeast Africa and south Asia, lemon basil is a perennial herb, often called “hoary basil.” This variety that is sweet, tangy, and lemony contains vitamins A, K, and C, making it a nutrient-rich variety that strengthens bones, boosts the immune system, and improves eye health.

Closeup of green lemon basil leaves.

Lemon basil is a perennial in northeast Africa and south Asia.

©TairA/Shutterstock.com

3. Lime Basil

Lime basil, a near relative of the more popular lemon basil, has a zesty flavor and a pleasant, lemony scent. It will complement Thai cuisine, poultry, fish, sauces, fruit salads, and other fresh, summery foods. Moreover, it will elevate a delicious iced tea. 

Closeup image of green lime basil plant.

Lime basil adds zesty flavor to Thai cuisine, poultry, fish, sauces, and fruit salads.

©pilialoha/Shutterstock.com

4. Christmas Basil

Christmas basil is another basil cultivar and a beautiful hybrid of Thai and Genovese basil. It’s a stunning plant with lustrous, vivid green foliage, dark purple stems, and lighter purple blossoms with a robust and herbal aroma that conjures images of winter getaways. In addition, Christmas basil has a salty flavor making it a wonderful accent to sauces, soups, and meat dishes.

close up of Genovese basil, also known as sweet basil plants consisting of bright green leaves. Genovese basil is ,.

Christmas basil is a hybrid of Thai and Genoese basil.

©Hortimages/Shutterstock.com

5. Greek Basil

The Greek basil plant is one of the most miniaturized varieties of basil. It only reaches a height of 8 inches, and the leaves have a pale green color and a pointed appearance. They form tight, globular clusters as they mature. Basil is a fantastic herb garden addition and grows well in containers. Due to the size of its leaves, it is an excellent complement to a salad and may also serve as an original garnish.

Top view of Greek basil in garden.

Also known as dwarf basil, Greek basil looks beautiful and has a peppery flavor.

©AN NGUYEN/Shutterstock.com

6. Cinnamon Basil

Also called “Mexican spice basil,” cinnamon basil has a mildly spicy flavor and hints of cinnamon. This basil variety is often used in Asian cooking, and the fresh leaves taste great in a fruit salad or as a garnish in the summer. It has bright green leaves with thin purple lines running through them. The purple stems hold light purple or pink flowers, adding a pop of color to your herb garden.

Cinnamon basil and plants with green leaves and purple flowers growing in summer garden.

Cinnamon basil is a popular variety of basil because of its sweet and spicy flavor.

©Nadya So/Shutterstock.com

7. Globe Basil 

Globe basil is also known as “spicy bush basil” and “boxwood basil.” It is a dwarf sweet basil thought to have originated in India and Asia. This plant develops in the shape of a globe because its tiny leaves grow in clusters. Globe basil is ideal for garnishes and in salads.

A bunch of fresh Spicy Globe Basil in a metal mug.

Globe basil has a strong flavor that’s similar to lemon balm or mint.

©Elena Veselova/Shutterstock.com

8. African Blue Basil

African blue basil is a hybrid of dark opal basil and camphor basil. It may be cultivated in warm climates and can reach 4 feet. Originating from camphor basil, it has a mild camphor aroma with traces of clove and mint. It has a peppery and minty complex flavor profile. African blue basil is appealing since its blossoms are a delicate pastel blue or purple shade. If you want to attract helpful pollinators, such as bees, to your garden, planting African blue basil is a good idea.

African blue basil herb with purple flowers.

The African blue basil herb has a similar taste to sweet basil and is well known for its intense blue color.

©EQRoy/Shutterstock.com

9. Holy Basil

Also known as “tulsi,” holy basil resembles other basils in appearance but is distinguished by its unique flavors and qualities. The pale, purple stems and small purple flowers resemble Thai basil, but holy basil leaves are wavy and slightly wrinkled, whereas Thai basil leaves are flat and smooth. Holy basil is used in Indian cuisine due to its spicy flavor and is a popular herbal tea available at most supermarkets and health food stores.

Field of holy basil in flower with purple blooms

Holy basil has a slightly spicy taste to it and is often used in Indian cuisine.

©muthugpd/Shutterstock.com

10.  Genovese Basil

Genovese basil is the most extensively used and farmed basil for culinary purposes, often known as Italian basil. It features mint and clove flavors and a complex spicy flavor. Many gardeners and cooks know Genovese basil’s huge, glossy, rounded leaves. It’s one of the best herbs for pesto and may also be eaten fresh in salads.

close up of Genovese basil, also known as sweet basil plants consisting of bright green leaves. Genovese basil is ,.

Genovese basil grows in a small bush and has mint and clove flavors and a peppery taste.

©Hortimages/Shutterstock.com

11.  Sweet Basil

Similar to Genovese basil, sweet basil is also widely used in cooking, especially for many Mediterranean, and particularly Italian, dishes. Although the form of sweet basil leaves is less rounded and more pointed, the color of sweet basil leaves is often lighter than Genovese basil. In addition, there is a hint of licorice taste in sweet basil.

Sweet Basil green plants with flowers growing.

Sweet basil has small white flowers and a slightly bitter flavor with notes of citrus and mint.

©Nadya So/Shutterstock.com

12. Osmin Purple Basil

Osmin purple basil is one of the most popular types of purple basil. However, it is one of the darkest strands of basil due to its strikingly dark purple hue with blue and black undertones. Osmin purple basil has a clove-like, peppery flavor, making it delicious in fresh salads and as a garnish.

Fresh dark purple sweet basil leaves close up.

The striking osmin purple basil leaves have an intense purple color that fades to a lighter lavender at the tips.

©Natalia Garidueva/Shutterstock.com

Summary of 12 Types of Basil

Here’s a recap of the delicious dozen basil varieties that we took a look at.

NumberBasilUses
1Dark Opal BasilUsed in Mediterranean cuisine for its sweet and earthy flavor
2Lemon BasilNutrient-rich variety that can help strengthen bones, boost the immune system, and improve eye health
3Lime BasilUsed in Thai cuisine, poultry, fish, sauces, fruit salad, and iced tea
4Christmas BasilWonderful accent to sauces, soups, and meat dishes
5Greek BasilExcellent complement to a salad due to the size of its leaves
6Cinnamon BasilOften used in Asian cooking, and great in a fruit salad or as a garnish in the summer
7Globe Basil Ideal for garnishes and in salads
8African Blue BasilHelps to attract pollinators, such as bees, to your garden
9Holy BasilUsed in Indian cuisine due to its spicy flavor and is a popular herbal tea
10Genovese BasilMost extensively used and farmed basil for cooking
11Sweet BasilWidely used in cooking, especially for Mediterranean, and particularly Italian, dishes
12Osmin Purple BasilDelicious in fresh salads and as a garnish

Final Thoughts

Basil is more than simply a culinary herb. It is an ancient remedy with numerous healing potentials, including enhancing liver function, regulating blood pressure, and reducing inflammation and swelling. Basil is simple to grow and harvest and can be grown indoors and outdoors. It’s certainly not surprising that basil is so widely utilized, given the variety of basil types and the variety of purposes it can serve.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/TShum


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About the Author

Larissa Smith is a writer for A-Z Animals with years of experience in plant care and wildlife. After years spent in the South African bush while studying Nature Conservation, she found her way to writing about animals and plants in her work. She hopes to inspire others to appreciate and care for the precious world around them. Larissa lives in Florida with her two sons, a miniature golden retriever named Pupples, and a colorful succulent garden. In her spare time, she is tending to her garden, adventuring with her kids, and hosting “Real Housewives” watch parties with her friends.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How many types of basil are there?

There are anywhere between 50 and 150 different types of basil cultivars and hybrids plants.

What kind of basil is best for cooking?

Sweet basil is one of the most widely used basil for cooking as the flavor has a great balance between sweet and savory.

Is fresh or dried basil better?

Fresh basil tastes best in food as it can lose flavor through the drying process.

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