Basil – characteristics, cultivation, use and curative effects

basil plants
basil plants

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is probably one of the best known and most popular herbs that will be available in most kitchens. Many Italian dishes, such as tomato sauce, pasta, pesto or pizza are barely imaginable without basil. But not only as a spice herb it is used, but also as a herb against numerous complaints.

Profile of Basil:

Scientific name: Ocimum basilicum

Plant family: mint family (Lamiaceae)

Other names: kings herb

Sowing time / Planting time: March – April

Flowering period: June- September

Harvest time: from May

Location: sunny

Soil quality: nutrient-rich and well-drained soils, moderately watering

Use as a medicinal herb: stomach trouble, fever reducing, mild cold symptoms

Use as aromatic herb: mediterranean herb, for tomatoes, pasta, pesto, salads

Plant characteristics and classification of Basil

Origin and distribution of basil

Basil comes originally from the tropics of Africa and Asia. Today, the plant is found almost in all parts of the world and is cultivated accordingly.

Plant order of basil (Ocimum basilicum)

Basil belongs to the mint family or to the subfamily Nepetoidea and is related to herbs such as rosemary and sage. The genus basil is quite rich in species with more than 60 therof. In addition to the basil known to us (Ocimum basilicum), the types of Greek basil (Ocimum minimum) and Indian basil (Ocimum sanctum) are still relatively well known.

There are many varieties of basil. To call here are among others the following:

  • fine-leaved basil
  • red-leaved basil (Dark Opal)
  • horapa (Thai basil)
  • cinnamon basil
  • anise basil
  • neapolitan basil
  • lemon basil

Other types such as the Tulsi (Indian basil) count as a separate species and have a completely different spectrum of active ingredients than basil.

basil plant
basil plant

Characteristics of the basil

Basil is a typical herbaceous plant that reaches heights of growth between 20 and 60 cm (8 and 25 inch ). In its natural environment, the plant is usually perennial, whereas for us, due to the weather conditions, it is usually only annual. This popular herb often produces very deep and rather narrow roots, which can be light brown to dark brown in color.

The leaves are ovate and visually very distinctive compared to many other herbs. The surface of the leaves is slightly curved upwards. Depending on the variety, the leaves can be up to 6 cm (2.3 inch) long and 4 cm (1,6 inch) wide. The distinctive scent is emitted through the numerous oil glands of the leaves. These contain the essential oils, which are perceptible by volatilization as a fragrance. The plant can grow very bushy under good conditions.

Basil blooms primarily between June and September and forms relatively inconspicuous blossoms. The blossoms are usually white to pale pink and symmetrical (zygomorphic). However, some subspecies also develop red or reddish blossoms. Afterwards, the clusters are formed from the blossoms typical for the plant family, with each hermitage containing a seed.

Basil – cultivation, sowing and care


The herb needs light to germinate, which prefers a sunny, warm and sheltered location. Basil prefers nutrient-rich and well-drained soils. For a magnificent growth on loamy soil, it is advisable to slightly loosen the ground of the basil with additives. Suitable for this in particular are pumice and lava in smaller grains, which are mixed into the soil.


Sowing should start at the beginning to the end of March. The seeds should be preferred at about 20-25 ° C (68 -77 °F) in a bowl or glass container. The soil should always be a little damp. Care should be taken to ensure that the seeds and the soil are not too moist, otherwise there is a risk of mold. Also, it is better to use a spray gun because the delicate seedlings are very unstable in the beginning. In general, the seedlings germinate within 1 to 2 weeks and can be separated as soon as the cotyledons are fully formed.


In the field, basil must rarely fertilized, as far as the soil is nutritious and was previously mixed with some compost. For pot crops it is recommended to fertilize the plant about every 4 weeks. Commercially available fertilizers especially for herbs or organic liquid fertilizers with low phosphorus contents are well suited.


Basil needs quite a lot of water during the summer months. The soil should never completely dry out as the plants may not fully recover or may undesirably enter the flowering phase. If possible, the soil should always be slightly damp, but not wet. Too much moisture up to waterlogging leads to the formation of plant diseases to root rot.

basil in a plant pot
basil in a plant pot

Basil and its use

Basil is one of the most versatile herbs that can be used for a variety of different uses. The herb has in addition to its function as a kitchen herb also use in medicine.

Basil in the kitchen

Basil can be used for many dishes and meals. Its aromatic, slightly sweet and slightly peppery taste is especially popular in Italian cuisine. It can be used in sauces, fish dishes, herb pestos, pasta dishes as well as salads. Fresh basil harmonizes perfectly with tomatoes, zucchini or aubergine.

In addition to the Mediterranean basil, there are many other types, which are mainly used in the South Asian cuisine. For example, Thai basil is one of the most popular Asian herbs. Especially glass noodle dishes, soups and numerous salads are spiced with it and so get their typical taste.

Basil should be used as fresh as possible when consumed, as its flavorings are gradually lost after heating. When cooking food, it is therefore recommended to add the only after cooking, frying or baking.

Basil leaves can also be dried and frozen. However, freezing is the better option, as it gradually loses its aroma when it dries. Dried and chopped basil leaves should be stored in an aroma-sealed container. It can also be pickled in neutral oils, e.g. olive oil. Even with this type of preservation, the aroma is excellent.

Basil as a medicinal herb

Basil also has a number of positive medicinal properties. Here are mainly the relief of flatulence, the relief of throat diseases and colds as well as a remedy for fever and stress. It is often given as a tea or pure.

Basil has a variety of healing substances, including u.a. Linalool and camphor. The herb has antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anticonvulsant properties.

Basil has been known as a medicinal herb since ancient times and has been used against many ailments. Itwas used against hearing discomfort, dizziness of the head, nausea and as remedy after birth. The herb was even used for heart disease or fainting. Externally, the herb was usually administered for the treatment of warts and in the treatment of cracks (torn skin).

In today’s natural medicine basil is rarely used. This is i.a. based on the fact that there are significantly better and more effective medicinal herbs for which it would be used. Occasionally basil is used for the following ailments and diseases:

  • joint pain
  • arthritis
  • eczema
  • acne
  • mild indigestion
  • flu-like infections
  • migraine
  • possibly preventive and supportive of hepatitis

Research in recent years has shown that the essential oils of basil may be effective against certain types of herpes and hepatitis viruses. Responsible are primarily the substances contained in the leaves ursolic acid, linalool and apigenin. Some substances manage to prevent the viruses from replicating/multiplying. In the future, an active substance complex may help to at least treat illnesses such as hepatitis or conjunctivitis. Further research is still pending.

Side effects

Due to the high Estragol content, it is not recommended to use basil for therapeutic purposes. Basil should also not be used during pregnancy as the containing camphor can cause uterine spasms.

Buy basil – What is there to pay attention to?

When purchasing basil, the quality should be considered first and foremost. High quality varieties are characterized by rich foliation, aromatic scent and rich green colors. Mostly, plants from the supermarket are overbred, meaning with the addition of high fertilizer doses within a short time ready for sale. Here are often significant differences in quality compared to plants of garden centers or plant breeders. When buying plants, pay particular attention to yellowing and stains, which are often caused by plant viruses or fungi.

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