Purple Basil

Tips on Growing and Using Purple Basil

            The combination of both culinary and ornamental values makes growing purple basil a double bonus in the home garden.  Although many cooks focus on green basil in their herb gardens, the purple variety has great merit that necessitates a second look at this fragrant herb.



            The many different varieties of basil offer a palate of flavors and aromas, both in the garden and on the plate.  Basil is first and foremost a leaf crop, which means that the plant needs and holds more moisture than most.  It is a plant that appreciates being utilized often; harvesting leaves from the upright plant every week or so will not only provide fresh, delicious seasoning for your food but will also result in your basil plant growing even larger and bushier.  The purple variety is no exception; its wonderfully dark leaves makes a dramatic presentation in salads but will also be an eye catching display in the garden as a mid-sized bushy plant that is as lovely as it is fragrant.

            Starting basil in your herb garden can be done using seeds or buy purchasing seedlings from the local garden shop.  They can be planted in pots or directly into the garden and perform equally as well.  Since the purple basil variety can grow to about 20” in height when mature and bush out to around 16” in diameter, be sure to provide a large enough pot or enough space between plants to allow the growth.  The rich purple leaves of this basil variety complement a number of other plants in the garden; tomatoes, yellow blooming flowers and white, airy sprays are particularly attractive.

            There are several sub varieties of the Purple basil plant; one extremely popular type with large, ruffled leaves called “Purple Ruffles”; “Purple Dwarf”, “Rubin” and “Dark Opal” are a few others that also see great demand.  Most people use the royal hued basils strictly for ornamental purposes, allowing a feature that is normally discouraged with standard sweet basil.  Flowering usually turns sweet basil bitter, and as result, pinching the buds off before flowering begins is strongly encouraged on green basil varieties.  On the purple varieties, however, flowering is not encouraged but a much anticipated event by both the gardener and the bees who love the blossoms.  Some of the blossoms should still be pinched back, and leaves harvested in order to achieve the rounded, bushy habit that is so attractive.

            To harvest leaves of the basil plant, choose the uppermost leaves first.  If there are several plants at your disposal, harvest leaves from a variety of the plants instead of just one.  This will keep all plants growing at the same rate.  And, unlike many plants, there is no specific harvest time for basil; it can and should be harvested throughout its lifetime.  To harvest the leaves, the general method is to snip off the first set of leaves, pinching off just above the second set.

            Once you have harvested your basil, it is ready to be used in your recipe.  Purple basil is both an attractive and delicious addition to salads, to vinegars and used as a garnish to your finished meal.  If you will not be using the fresh basil immediately, it can be frozen for use in cooked dishes at a later date.  It can also be dried, however, basil loses flavor when dried and will not be as flavorful as the frozen leaves.  

            Basil is one of the most popular culinary herbs, and planting purple basil has the added benefit of being of ornamental value as well.  Its versatile nature of beauty, aroma and flavor is making it a very popular herb, indeed.