List of basil cultivars

This list of basil cultivars is a comprehensive list of cultivated varieties (cultivars) of basil. Each is used as a culinary herb. Several are also used as decorative plants. All true basils are species of genus Ocimum. The genus is particularly diverse, and includes annuals, non-woody perennials and shrubs native to Africa and other tropical and subtropical regions of the Old and New World. Although there are an estimated 50 to 150 species of basil, most, but not all culinary basils are cultivars of O. basilicum - sweet basil. Some are cultivars of other basil species, and others are hybrids. It is particularly challenging to determine which species a basil belongs to. This is because basil cross-breeds easily, and drawing boundaries between species is particularly difficult. In fact, recent studies have led to reclassification of some portions of the genus.

Basil cultivars vary in several ways. Visually, the size and shape of the leaves varies greatly, from the large lettuce-like leaves of the Mammoth basil and Lettuce leaf basil to the tiny leaves of the Dwarf bush basil. More practically, the fragrance of the basil varies due to the varying types and quantities of essential oils contained in the plants. The most important are 1,8 cineol, linalool, citral, methyl chavicol (estragole), eugenol and methyl cinnamate, although hardly any basil contains all of these in any significant amount.

! colspan="3" style="background-color:#efe;font-size:120%;" | Ocimum basilicum cultivars
! Common name
! colspan="3" style="background-color:#efe;font-size:120%;" |Ocimum americanum cultivars
! Common name
! colspan="3" style="background-color:#efe;font-size:120%;" |Ocimum ×citriodorum cultivars
! Common name
! colspan="3" style="background-color:#efe;font-size:120%;" |Other cultivars
! Common name
Species and cultivars Description
Sweet basil O. basilicum The best known, with a strong clove scent when fresh.
Thai basil O. basilicum var. thyrsiflorum 'Siam Queen' Called Horopa (ต้นโหระพา) in Thai, scent of licorice from estragole.
Genovese basil O. basilicum 'Genovese Gigante' Almost as popular as sweet basil, with similar flavor.
Cinnamon basil O. basilicum 'Cinnamon' Also called Mexican spice basil, with a strong scent of cinnamate, the same chemical as in cinnamon. Has purple flowers.
Licorice basil O. basilicum 'Licorice' Also known as Anise basil or Persian basil, silvery leaves, spicey licorice smell comes from the same chemical as in anise, anethole. Thai basil is also sometimes called Licorice basil.
Spicy globe basil O. basilicum 'Spicy Globe' Grows in a bush form, very small leaves, strong flavor.
Purple ruffles basil O. basilicum 'Purple Ruffles' Solid purple, rich and spicy and a little more anise-like than the flavor of Genovese Basil.
Fino verde basil O. basilicum piccolo Small, narrow leaves, sweeter, less pungent smell than larger leaved varieties.
Nufar basil O. basilicum 'Nufar F1' Variety of Genovese resistant to fusarium wilt.
Magical Michael O. basilicum 'Magical Michael' Award-winning hybrid with an uncommon degree of uniformity, and nice flavor for culinary use.
Lettuce leaf basil O. basilicum 'Lettuce Leaf' Has leaves so large they are sometimes used in salads.
Mammoth basil O. basilicum 'Mammoth' Another large-leaf variety, stronger flavor than sweet Genovese.
Red rubin basil O. basilicum 'Red Rubin' Strong magenta color, similar flavor to sweet basil, also called Opal basil.
Dark opal basil O. basilicum 'Purpurascens' Award-winning variety, developed at the University of Connecticut in the 1950s.
Cuban basil O. basilicum Similar to sweet basil, with smaller leaves and stronger flavor, grown from cuttings.
Mrs. Burns lemon basil O. basilicum var. citriodora 'Mrs. Burns' Clean, aromatic lemon scent, similar to lemon basil.
Osmin purple basil O. basilicum 'Osmin Purple' Dark shiny purple with a jagged edge on the leaves, smaller leaves than red rubin.
Species and cultivars Description
Lemon basil O. americanum Contains citral and limonene, therefore actually does smell very lemony, tastes sweeter. Originally, and sometimes still, called "hoary basil"
Lime basil O. americanum Similar to lemon basil.
Species and cultivars Description
Greek column basil O. ×citriodorum 'Lesbos' Columnar basil, can only be propagated from cuttings.
Thai lemon basil O. ×citriodorum (แมงลัก in Thai) Citrus odor, with a distinct balm-like flavor
Species and cultivars Description
Holy basil O. sanctum
(alt. O. tenuiflorum)
Also Sacred basil, Tulsi (तुलसी) in Hindi, a perennial breed from India.
Greek bush basil O. minimum
(alt. O. basilicum var. minimum)
Forms a nearly perfectly round globe, with thin, tiny leaves and a delicious scent.
Dwarf bush basil O. minimum Unusually small bush variety, similar to Greek bush basil.
African Blue basil O. kilimandscharicum × basilicum A sterile perennial hybrid, with purple coloration on its leaves and containing a strong portion of actual camphor in its scent.


General references

  • Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay "Basil for the Gardener's Kitchen: Herb of the Year, 2003". The Herbarist 69 43.
  • Helen H. Darrah The cultivated basils. T. E. Thomas, Buckeye Printing Co.. ASIN B0006E2MDS.

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