What Is Purple Basil?

Anna Harrison
Anna Harrison
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Purple basil is a perennial herb that is beautiful as well as flavorful. It’s deep purple color adds interest to the garden as well as the dining table. There are several different varieties which are used in the same way as standard sweet basil. Native to India, purple basil can be tricky to grow but with some special care it can produce very rewarding results.

Like all basils, this variety needs several hours of hot sun each day, which increases the amount of flavorful essential oils within the plant. Basil differs from many other herbs in that it requires very fertile, rich soil. It should not be watered until it has dried out a bit, however, because too much water will kill the plant. Flower buds should be removed as soon as they appear, otherwise the plant will go to seed and will produce no new leaves.

Occasionally a purple basil plant will regress back to a light green color. This problem can be avoided if small green leaves and shoots are removed as soon as they appear. When harvesting purple basil, leaves should be removed from the top of the plant to help keep it bushy and healthy. Any leaves that are brown, spotted, or have insect damage should be discarded.

Purple basil can be started from seed quite easily in pots or directly in the ground after all danger of frost has passed. The seeds should be planted very close to the surface, just barely covered, and kept moist until they germinate. Seedlings should appear in a week or two and can be transplanted to their permanent location when they have three or four sets of leaves.

When cooking with purple basil, it is best to start out with a smaller amount than called for in the recipe because it can be stronger and more pungent than other basils. It complements just about any type of Italian dish or anything with a tomato base and can be added to many vegetable and poultry recipes. Fresh basil is always best, but dried can be substituted when necessary.

Osmin purple basil and sacred purple basil are two of the most popular basil cultivars. These robust plants have the dark coloring of all purple basils and a compact, bushy shape. They both reach about 20 inches (51 cm) tall, which makes them a good choice for growing in planters and other containers.

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