Our Favorite Basil Varieties

The most versatile herb to complement fresh, light food in the heat and heart of the summer.

Perfumed Summer Basil

Photo: Caleb Chancey

Perfumed Summer Basil

"Basil is a cinch for us in this Alabama heat," says Mary Beth Shaddix, master tender of the Cooking Light Garden. "If you've got the right environment for tomatoes, then it's pretty easy to grow basil."

Italian sweet basil is what you'll find in most supermarkets. But there's so much more, and a home garden—even a window box or two—lets you explore basil's wider range. Some kinds offer bright citrus on top of the familiar peppery anise flavors; the deep purple colors of others make a striking garnish for simple picnic dishes. These varieties are perfect partners for summery foods such as ripe, meaty tomatoes, field peas and beans, and even sweet stone fruit and cocktails.

See More: Use Your Basil Bounty


Photo: John Autry

Cardinal Basil

This plant sports gorgeous, glossy green leaves and thick purple stems. It has a heavy, strong licorice flavor—a little goes a long way.


Photo: John Autry

Lemon Basil

Strong lemon-pine scent and flavor distinguish this one. It's a good choice for fish, curries, and summery vodka cocktails.

Siam Queen

Photo: John Autry

Siam Queen Basil

Extremely fragrant and more intensely flavored than sweet Italian basil, this Thai basil is great for Southeast Asian salads and stir-fries.

Round Midnight

Photo: John Autry

Round Midnight Basil

This variety's drama comes from its striking purple color. It offers mild anise flavor and can be mixed with stronger-flavored green varieties or used alone as a garnish for light-hued dishes.


Photo: John Autry

Lime Basil

A hint of lime tops the traditional anise flavor. The plant blooms often, so to ensure the best flavor and avoid bitterness, pinch it back regularly to keep it from flowering.

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