There are many kinds of basil, and one of them is the sweet basil. This is one of the very common types of basil.
For many years, people has been using sweet basil for cooking and for curing ailments. As the name suggests, this type of basil lends a slightly sweet flavor to the dish when used for cooking. It is also grown as an ornamental plant and people love it because not only does it look great, it smells great too!
Sweet Basil Trivia
- It is not uncommon to read or hear about how sweet basil and Genovese basil are one and the same. That is not exactly correct. Genovese basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Sweet Genovese’) is a specific, unique type of sweet basil which grew in Genoa (or Genova) and is now ascribed with the label for denomination of origin. Every Genovese basil is a sweet basil, but not all sweet basil are Genovese basil.
- BASILICO GENOVESE DOP or DOP Genoese Basil is similar with PDO Genovese Basil. DOP is Italian for Denominazione di Origine Protetta, and in English, it is PDO or Protected Designation of Origin. Both refer to the legal designation issued by the European Union, ascribing the geographic origin of a product or item and all the exclusivity that comes with it.
- Genovese basil or Genoese basil? It is common to call sweet basil Genovese basil. You’ll also encounter the use of the term “Genoese basil” (like this article) and you might wonder if it is the same thing. Yes, it is. The website Thesaurus.plus explained that “Genoese” and “Genovese” are semantically related mutual synonyms that can be used interchangeably.
- Today, there are more than 150 varieties of basil known to man.
- According to Alice Arndt, author of the book entitled Seasoning Savvy: How to Cook with Herbs, Spices, and Other Flavorings, sweet basil is one of two basils (the other one is holy basil) that have been cultivated for thousands of years. Arndt also added that sweet basil is also called garden basil.
- The scientific name of sweet basil – Ocimum basilicum L. – translates quite interestingly in English. Ocimum, from the Greek word okimom which means “aromatic herb”, while the Greek word basilicum means “king” in English.
- The ancient Egyptians practiced the custom of throwing flowers and herbs upon the coffin when burying the dead. Among the herbs strewn on the dead is sweet basil, according to a book published in 1822.
Sweet Basil Buying Guide
If you are buying sweet basil for cooking, you can buy fresh cut leaves. Local growers may also sell freshly harvested sweet basil in farmers markets, packed or loose. You can also buy dried sweet basil, if fresh sweet basil is not available.
When buying fresh sweet basil leaves, inspect the color and condition of the leaves. If the leaves appear dry or wilted, do not buy it. When buying dried sweet basil, check the label because there are different kinds of basil (lime basil, cinnamon basil, Thai basil, purple basil, lemon basil, etc.) While there are online vendors selling fresh sweet basil leaves, it is better to opt for dried sweet basil if you are buying online.
You can also buy basil to plant in your backyard or garden. You can buy seeds, potted young basil ready for transplant, or full-grown potted basil. There are many herb farms and nurseries in Texas selling basil.
If you are thinking of buying sweet basil you can grow, consider these cultivars:
- Mammoth basil
- Spicy globe basil
- Fino verde basil
- Lettuce leaf basil
Sweet Basil Production & Farming in Texas
Aromatic in the ground as well as in sauces, sweet basil is commonly grown not just in commercial farms but in windowsill gardens, containers, and garden beds as well, in different parts of the world.
If you are thinking of planting and growing this annual herbaceous plant, consider these tips. Regarding what soil to use, choose well-draining mildly acid, neutral, or mildly alkaline sandy or loamy moist soil. While others plant do well in the shade, sweet basil is not that kind of plant. This is because sweet basil plants prefer full sun. If you grow this plant somewhere warm, this helps them grow hardy. A minimum of 6 hours of full sun every day is important to turn sweet basil plants into big, bushy plants with a full canopy of leaves.
Sweet basil can grow in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11 (and in UK hardiness zone 10) as perennials. As an annual, it will last until the first frost before quickly dying off, or it can be planted after the last signs of spring frost. If you live in a place where there cold weather and very low temperature occur regularly during specific periods in a year, expect your sweet basil to die off because they can’t tolerate cold weather.
Sweet basil plants like a bit of room to grow. Plant them 15 to 18 inches apart. The plant will grow up to 16 to 18 inches high and a good foot to 16 inches across.
When the leaves are already perfect size for picking, make sure to do so because picking the leaves off the sweet basil plant helps promote the plant’s overall growth.
According to one study published in 2016 in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Plant Science focused on advancing our understanding of fundamental processes in plant biology, narrow-bandwidth illumination can help improve the commercial production of sweet basil.
A study indicated that cultivation of sweet basil under foil tunnels is preferable in central European climatic conditions.
Pesticides, Additives, and Chemicals
Growing sweet basil may require the use of fungicide or pesticide to manage pests and diseases. Consumers who are wary that pesticides and fungicides have tainted the fresh leaves of sweet basil opt for leaves from organically-grown plants.
These chemicals could be present on sweet basil leaves if pesticides and fungicides were used by growers on sweet basil to protect the plants from pests and diseases.
- Dimethomorph, Dithiocarbamate, Fosetyl aluminium, Metalaxyl-M, and Propamocarb hydrochloride – These chemicals are used to manage the problem of downy mildew.
- Neem oil, insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, malathion, or rotenone – This is used to manage aphid problems when growing sweet basil.
- Pyrethrin – Japanese beetle is a common problem to basil plants including sweet basil. To rid sweet basil of Japanese beetle, use pyrethrin, which is a combination of six chemicals (pyrethrin I, pyrethrin II, cinerin I, cinerin II, jasmolin I, and jasmolin II). An organic version of pyrethrin involves the use of chrysanthemum flowers. When using pyrethrin, make sure to mix 7.5 to 15 oz of concentrate in 5 gallons of water and apply enough to cover the upper and lower leaf surfaces.
- Slug bait or a copper tape is an effective pest-control method against slugs.
How to avoid using chemicals: for those who want an organic or natural approach, one option is planting sweet basil near tomatoes and roses. This will help keep the sweet basil plants safe and free from whiteflies.
A study entitled “Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum L.) Productivity and Raw Material Quality from Organic Cultivation” conducted by Katarzyna Bączek, Olga Kosakowska, Małgorzata Gniewosz,Iwona Gientka, and Zenon Węglarz and published in 2019 in Agronomy, the flagship journal of the American Society of Agronomy (ASA) that publishes articles that convey original research in agriculture, natural resources, soil science, crop science, and more, described sweet basil as “one of the most important culinary herbs” and pointing out that sweet basil produced using organic methods is preferred by consumers because of the lack of pesticide residues and overall food safety issues.
Basil is native to tropical Asia. This is also found in Africa, Central America, and South America.
From tropical Asia, sweet basil spread worldwide because of trade and travel. Milo Miloradovich, in the 2012 book entitled Growing and Using Herbs and Spices, wrote: “Like so many of the ancient herbs of history, sweet basil found its way from the Near East, Greece, and Italy into Spain, Portugal, and England. As early as 1610 in North America the herb was cultivated in Newfoundland. Later sweet basil became a great favorite among the culinary herbs of our first colonists.”
According to Frederick J. Simoons, in the book entitled Plants of Life, Plants of Death, “sweet basil reached Greece from Iran” while also pointing out that the credit on the introduction of sweet basil into Greece should be given to “plant collectors who accompanied Alexander the Great in his conquests and who may have obtained the plant in Iran, Afghanistan, or western India.”
Freshly-cut and freshly-packaged sweet basil are sold in the market or the produce section of the grocery in a transparent clamshell plastic container. Dried and powdered sweet basil come in plastic or glass bottles, or a plastic pack.
Enjoying Sweet Basil
When you eat sweet basil, you will notice that it has a warm, licoricey taste, and there is a noticeable flavor similar to the taste of clove (from the eugenol in the leaves) and anise. In the book entitled The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, it describes the taste of sweet basil as “bright and pungent.”
Common in sweet basil is the hint of spicy flavor; it is not minty unlike most basils.
What’s left unused of the fresh sweet basil after cooking can be stored in the refrigerator. Just put them in a bottle or jar with water and cover it with plastic. It should last for 2 to 4 more days.
Here’s another creative and useful way to store sweet basil – use it to make flavored vinegar! This way, your vinegar is already packed with the delicious flavor of sweet basil.
If you are cooking Italian, Indian, Greek, or Southeast Asian dish, you will find sweet basil very helpful and useful.
You can use fresh sweet basil leaves as well as dried sweet basil leaves for cooking. And when it comes to that, the first thing that comes to mind is making a delicious pesto. But there is more to sweet basil than this green, delicious pasta sauce, especially since sweet basil is widely used in the South Asian cuisine.
Sweet basil helps improve the flavor of many different types of dishes. Use this if you are cooking meat (beef, veal, lamb, pork, etc.), fish, poultry, vegetables (beans, peppers, aubergine/eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, parsnips, spinach), olive oil, pine nuts, parmesan and other hard cheese, pasta, and yes, even with rice. Mix this with cheese, eggs, garlic, thyme, and lemon. This aromatic herb is great for tomato-based dishes.
Sweet basil is used in making the Middle Eastern dish called sabzi khordan. Here, sweet basil showcases its ability to blend well with flavors from other ingredients like marjoram, mint, tarragon, watercress, radish, spring onions, and feta cheese.
You can use sweet basil to give fruits pies like peach pie, apple pie, and mango pie a nice twist. Or simply add sweet basil in a bowl of mixed fruit!
A good thing about sweet basil besides its versatility in terms of complementing other flavors is that it can sustain better in high-temperature cooking compared to common basil.
Alice Arndt, author of the book entitled Seasoning Savvy: How to Cook with Herbs, Spices, and Other Flavorings, shares a tip on when to use your fingers and when to use a knife to prepare sweet basil: “Basil should be torn-out of respect, opines one Italian culinary expert; and indeed tearing the leaves into pieces with your fingers rather than chopping them with a knife, is usually the best way to deal with fresh basil…exceptions to this rule occur when you are slicing a large number of leaves into a chiffonade or pounding them into a pesto.”
Antioxidant, neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, vasodilator, and hepatoprotective, sweet basil is an herb which, when eaten, can help treat a variety of illnesses – digestive, stomach, and midsection problems like vomiting, intestinal colic, diarrhea, menstrual pains; kidney problems; and hyperlipidemia.
Sweet basil has a high level of beta carotene, vitamin A, and lutein. It also contains cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin. Cryptoxanthin is a precursor of vitamin A which will help in improving immunity, eyesight, and growth development. Zeaxanthin helps in lowering the risk of incurring eye disease.
A diet that includes sweet basil is good for the body because sweet basil does a lot of good, like help facilitate digestion and help lower the risk of inflammatory bowel conditions; help lower the risk of heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis; help people get better when they have fever, headache, sore throat, cold, cough, or flu; help strengthen the immune system through antioxidants found in sweet basil (orientin and viceninare); help in slowing down the release of sugar in the blood, which is good for people with diabetes; and help prevent fat buildup in the liver, keeping the liver healthy.
An article about sweet basil by Plants For A Future (PFAF) explained how sweet basil is used in both Chinese medicine (used for kidney disease and gum ulcers) and in Indian medicine (used for ear ache, rheumatoid arthritis, anorexia, itching, menstrual disorders, and malaria).
There is a long list of ailments that sweet basil, which have antispasmodic, aromatic, carminative, digestive, galactagogue, stomachic and tonic properties, can help cure.
- Abdominal cramps
- Insect stings
- Loss of smell
- Skin infections
- Snake bites
- Stomach cramps
The research study entitled “Chemical composition and antimicrobial activity of the essential oil of Ocimum basilicum L. (sweet basil) from Western Ghats of North West Karnataka, India” by researcher Rajesh K. Joshi published in Ancient Science of Life (the oldest peer reviewed scientific journal in Ayurveda) in 2014 described sweet basil as a “traditional medicinal plant for the treatment of headaches, coughs, diarrhea, constipation, warts, worms, and kidney malfunctions.”