Flavor Your Summer with Basil

Go beyond the traditional sweet variety and try the delicious range of unique and fresh basils you can grow at home
Article: Gene B. Bussell

Summer begins with basil plants—a perfect complement to homegrown tomatoes, it's completely at ease in any Southern garden. Bryan Benefield loves basil so much that he named his nursery after his favorite selection, 'Red Rubin.' Every year, Red Rubin Nursery in Cullman, Alabama, produces thousands of basil plants from seeds and sells them at the local farmers' market.

"Basil likes warmth," says Bryan. Grow it in a sunny spot with a little protection from late-afternoon sun. Whether you plant it in a pot or in your vegetable garden, it prefers fertile, slightly moist, well-drained soil. Cut basil plants frequently to keep it producing new leaves for your kitchen table.

Among Bryan's favorite newer basil plants are 'Genovese Compact,' which has the classic basil flavor on a smaller plant. It doesn't take up as much room in your garden, so it's great for containers. 'Pesto Perpetuo' has creamy, variegated leaves and doesn't flower. Bryan also loves heat-tolerant 'Boxwood,' which is ideal for pots and borders. It has tiny leaves that make it easy to use in the kitchen.

Our Favorite Basil Plants to Grow Now:

'Purple Ruffles'
Frilly, deep purple leaves and a rich, spicy anise scent. Use fresh as a garnish or to color vinegars. Plant it late; it doesn't like cool days.

'Mrs. Burns' Lemon'
Tastes like lemon drops and brings citrus perfume to your yard. Has dainty, white flowers. Use it in sauces and teas and with fish.

'Genovese'
Popular Italian selection that is great for pesto. Plant lots! You'll use it fresh in pastas and with fish, chicken, and veggies.

'Red Rubin'
Has sweet, purple leaves that are ideal for salads and vinegars. Mix it into your bouquets for its pink flowers and aromatic scent.

'Lime'
Its subtle citrus flavor is delicious in salads, salsas, pestos, teas, and even desserts. Also good with fish and in Thai recipes.