Basil - The King of Herbs

Basil has been cultivated and used for culinary purposes for thousands of years. The Greek word for the common name is actually derived from the abbreviation of Basilikon phuton and is referred as ‘Kingly Herb’.

Basil is grouped under the genus ‘Ocimum’ within the Lamiaceae family of plants. Other familiar herbs found in this family include mints, rosemary and lavender.

Basil can be easily cultivated and grown in both outdoor and indoor conditions. Here are some growing tips and examples of culinary and ornamental Basils that you can try cultivating in your home:

 

Photo credit: Jennie Tang

 

1. Thai Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

This is an annual herb, a plant that last only for one life cycle, from seed to flower, which normally lives for a year, that emits a sweet scent when its leaves are rubbed lightly, hence, it is also known as Sweet Basil.

 

This is the most popular basil for use in cooking and, being sweet, is always used in pasta sauces and salads, especially when served with tomato. Do be reminded that it is not recommended to let the plant develop flowers if using for cooking as this will compromise the taste.

 

Photo credit: Vicky Lim Yen Ngoh

 

2. Cinnamon Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’)

This is an annual cultivar with medium-sized leaves and a strong aromatic flavour with a touch of cinnamon. It bears pretty purplish flowers which often attract bees to the garden.

The leaves taste spicy and are often added to salads and stir fry dishes.

 

Photo credit: Vicky Lim Yen Ngoh

 

3.Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)

Holy Basil is an annual or short-lived perennial that is native to the Indian subcontinent. Although sometimes used as a spice, it is more often used for medicinal purposes such as treating asthma, fatigue and the flu.

 

According to the Hindu belief, Holy Basil is a sacred plant and some people believe that during a lunar eclipse, water should not be offered to the plant!

Due to the pungent flavour it produces when its leaves are crushed, it can be used as a culinary herb that helps to enhance flavour in dishes such as curries.

 

Photo credit: Vicky Lim Yen Ngoh

 

4. Amethyst Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Amethyst’)

Occasionally found on sale in local nurseries, the gorgeous Amethyst Basil is used both as an ornamental and in cooking.

 

While its glossy, dark purple leaves add a bold splash of colour to flower beds and containers, it is also an excellent herb for enhancing flavours in soups, as well as fish and meat dishes. The leaves have a sweet flavour that is similar to the Genovese Basil.

 

Photo credit: Jennie Tang

 

5. Genovese Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Genovese’)

Genovese Basil is an annual herb with broad, shiny leaves that emit a fantastic sweet and refreshing aroma that will waft into the surroundings with the slightest brush of your hand.

 

The leaves have a sweet, yet slightly spicy taste and add  a great Mediterranean taste to cuisine especially when used in used in pesto.

 

Photo credit: Vicky Lim Yen Ngoh

 

6. Lemon Basil (Ocimum africanum)

An annual or short-lived perennial herb that has smooth and light green leaves and produces white to cream-coloured flowers. Its leaves emit a light sweet fragrance that resembles that of a lemon, hence, the derivation of its common name.

 

Besides using the leaves for salad dressing and in pesto, Lemon Basil can be used for herbal tea infusion. When doing so, ensure the temperature of the water does not exceed 80 degree celsius as this will damage the natural properties of the leaves.

 

Photo credit: Vicky Lim Yen Ngoh

 

7. Tree Basil (Ocimum gratissimum)

A strong, aromatic perennial herb, Tree Basil is native to India, Southeast Asia and tropical Africa. The leaves emit a strong clove aroma and is, hence, also referred to as Clove Basil. As such, the leaves are often used as a food enhancer and for herbal tea infusion.

 

Besides culinary applications, it is an effective insect repellant too!

 

Photo credit: Vicky Lim Yen Ngoh

 

8. Green Pepper Basil (Ocimum selloi)

A perennial herb that does not taste nor smell like the basils that we tend to grow in our herb garden.

The Green Pepper Basil has serrated, glossy leaves that emit a smell that resembles plants in the pepper genus (Capsicum). The leaves are often harvested and used as a flavour enhancer in soups and salads.

It produces numerous small violet flowers that tend to attract pollinators, and hence is a must-have for gardeners who are growing other fruited vegetables such as cucumbers and eggplants.

 

Growing Tips for Basils
Growing basil in your garden is actually quite simple if you follow these tips:

 

Sun
Choose a location where the plant can receive plenty of sunlight with a minimum of four hours of direct sun exposure. For plants that are grown indoor, you can either choose to place them near a windowsill or under LED grow lights.

 

Soil
Regardless of growing the basil under outdoor conditions or in a container garden under indoor conditions, ensure the plant is grown in a well-drained media. Drainage is very important as basil roots dislike being soaked in water for a prolonged period.


Water
All basils love water but do not like it when it is either too dry or too wet. Regular watering of at least once a day will be well received. Ensure the soil of your potted plant is not allowed to dry out as this will stress the plant.

 

Use the finger test  or insert a wooden chopstick to determine the watering needs – poke your finger or insert the chopstick to about 3 to 5 cm into the soil. If it feels dry to touch or no soil particles are sticking onto the chopstick, water the plant thoroughly. If you have a dish saucer under the pot, make sure to empty any water after half an hour, to prevent mosquito breeding.


Fertiliser
Feed the basil plants with a well-balanced, all-purpose fertiliser every one to two months. Do be mindful that the fertiliser regime will need to be increased for potted basils that are more frequently watered as nutrients tend to leach quicker than in ground plants. Gardeners can also apply liquid fertilisers and alternate this with organic fertilisers for optimum growth.


Gardening with Edibles
Watch this Gardening with Edibles on ‘How to Propagate Mint and Basil’ clip to learn more about basil.

The City in Nature vision seeks to bring greenery closer to all residents. The community plays a key role in the ownership and stewardship for nature which will benefit our health and well-being.

NParks is partnering residents to make Singapore our City in Nature and spark a love for community gardening through the Gardening with Edibles initiative launched in June 2020. Under this programme, some 400,000 free seed packets have been distributed to interested members of the public. Relevant resources are also available online, to guide gardeners along the way.

Also, NParks is expanding the allotment gardening scheme and the Community in Bloom programme, to welcome even more residents into the gardening family.

The Gardening with Edibles initiative is aligned with Singapore’s national strategy to strengthen our food resilience. The “30 by 30” goal, led by the Singapore Food Agency, aims to produce 30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs locally by the year 2030. The programme is jointly funded by founding partners DBS Bank and Tote Board through the Garden City Fund.

Learning More
If you are a gardening newbie, visit NParksSG, our refreshed YouTube Channel that serves as a one-stop repository for close to 300 video resources. It covers topics ranging from types of soil needed for your garden and how to plant, harvest and even cook your edibles.

 

For more information about the flora and fauna found in Singapore, please visit Flora and Fauna Web.

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Text by Vicky Lim

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