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US National Arboretum



Image of varieties of basil in the Herb GardenSummer’s heat can have you retreating back into the A/C with only a sideward glance at your dejected garden. But don’t let the cool air tempt you away for too long or you’ll miss out on the bounty your garden has to offer.  Basil—one of the most beloved of culinary herbs—really hits its stride during the height of summer, so take advantage of the fresh leaves for as long as you can. Let’s face it, fresh basil pesto is far better than anything from a jar!

A tip to remember when growing most types of basil is to pinch off any developing flowers or flower buds as you see them. When the plant starts to flower, it shifts its focus away from making leaves and into making seeds for the next generation. Pinching or cutting off the emerging flower stalks helps your basil stick to the task at hand—producing tasty leaves! 

Image of Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflorum 'Siam Queen'Exceptions to flower pinching are those types of basil grown more for their decorative flowers than for their taste. Basils such as ‘Siam Queen’ (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflorum ‘Siam Queen’) have beautiful purple flower buds that contrast nicely with the surrounding green foliage. So, you wouldn’t want to remove them in this case. Most other varieties, though, will benefit from flower pinching to extend their harvest season.

Image of lemonade and brownies with added basilIf you’ve never grown—or known—any basil other than that most commonly used in Italian-style cooking, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn there are many more varieties available to the home gardener or chef. ‘Mrs. Burns’ lemon basil (Ocimum basilicum var. citriodora ‘Mrs. Burns’) or lemon basil (Ocimum americanum) are two basils with a clean, aromatic lemon scent—perfect for adding to lemonade or even ice cream. Thai cuisine wouldn’t be complete without the distinctive licorice-flavored Thai basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflorum ‘Siam Queen’) added to many of its dishes, or, for a unique culinary twist, how about adding either of the cinnamon-flavored basils (Ocimum basilicum or Ocimum ‘Baja’) to your favorite chocolate or cinnamon-y dessert. Move over, Emeril!

The National Herb Garden showcases over 25 different types of basil every year, and now is the perfect time to see them. Planted side by side, it’s easy to compare and contrast their colors, scents, growing habits, and more. Not only are they tasty, but they make beautiful additions to your garden as well. For flavor and fun—basil can’t be beat!

Basil varieties in the arboretum's Herb Garden (top image);Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflorum 'Siam Queen' (middle image); Lemonade and brownies with added basil (bottom image).

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Last Updated   June 6, 2007 12:35 PM
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