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Bush Basil

( Originally Published 1933 )


Labiatae Annual

According to Bailey, this is probably a variety of Ocimum basilicum, and it, too, is a neat, bushy little plant from eighteen inches to two feet high but more branched, more compact, dwarfier, and having smaller leaves than the sweet basil.

It is a charming little plant, fragrant of lemon and spice, and having a bitter, resinous, and stimulating taste.

It is delightful in bouquets or for bordering beds of vegetables or of other herbs.

Stem. The stems are ridged and slightly hairy.

Leaf. The leaves are not over one-quarter of an inch long and pointed at the tips, also folded up and having toothed margins, while the surface glistens with the glandular dots.

Flower. It flowers the same time as the sweet basil, and the white blossoms, less than one-quarter of an inch long, have the lower lip much extended and crinkled. The buds are creamy and a little greenish.

Other basils are:

Small-leaved green basil, le basilic fin vert of the French seed catalogues.

The whole plant is crisp and fresh looking and is about fifteen inches high.

Stem. The stem is slightly ridged and angled.

Leaf. The leaves are larger, measuring one-half to three-quarters of an inch in length and are pointed at the tips, of a shiny yellow green and with the margins entire except for the faintest nick here and there. As in the others, the leaves are turned up on either side of the central vein, and are hairy on their under surface. It smells, like the others, of lemon and spice, and when fresh tastes peppery, bitter and of fragrant oil.

Flower. The flowers are whitish in whorls forming a raceme, and are about the same size as those of O. mini-mum.

Seed. The seed is round, purplish-brown, tiny, plump, with a little tannish dot at one end, and has no smell or taste.

Compact green bush basil, basilic fin nain compact, is a low, very leafy plant, about fifteen inches across and eight inches high. The leaves are one-quarter of an inch to half an inch long with entire margins and pointed at the tips. It is a buxom plant and smells and tastes much like the others.

Lettuce-leaved basil, basilic a feuille de laitue.

This is a coarser plant and is from eight to twenty inches high, sweetly and strongly fragrant of resin and spice.

Stem. The stem is downy, with short little hairs.

Leaf. The leaves are large, up to three inches long, and one and one-half inches across. They are a shiny, light green, slightly notched at the margins, pointed at the tips, and turn up, but not as much as the other varieties. They are covered with almost microscopic hairs.

Flower. The flowers are greenish and inconspicuous as in the others.

Curled leaf basil, basilic frisť.

This is a round plant with stiff and squarish stems. It is temperamental looking with its yellow-green leaves, twisted, and having the margins denticulated a little. It is not pretty but is most pleasantly fragrant of spice and anise.

Purple bush basil, or large purple sweet basil, basilic grand violet, is about eighteen inches high in my garden and handsome, with large dark red leaves and pinkish flowers. Some plants are less red than others and have green leaves and stalks, others are all purplish-red except for a slight green tinge which gives a bronzy tone to the upper surface of the leaves.

Stem. The stems are purplish and red, slightly ridged and tomentose.

Leaf. The leaves point out and turn their backs.

Flower. The flowers are pinkish, less than one-quarter of an inch long, chunkier than most others, otherwise similarly shaped.

Compact purple basil, basilic fin violet, is a small, dark red plant, which grew eight inches tall in my garden with tiny leaves one-half to one-quarter of an inch long. The stems were reddish, quite purple at the tips, and round. The leaves stand up and point out and the margins are bright green with a nick in them here and there. The plant smells spicy.

0. gratissimum, L., the East Indian, or tree basil. It is just coming up in the garden now, too late to be described in this book. It is grown in India for medicine. According to Vilmorin it is worth while in the vegetable garden, is an annual, forming a pyramidal bush from twenty inches to two feet high and one foot to sixteen inches in diameter. It has an agreeable perfume, but is late growing and therefore more suitable for a warm climate.

Ocimum sanctum, L., the Tulsi of India, is said to be grown out of a hollow pillar before every Hindu dwelling and in gardens near temples. It is the most celebrated of the basils in history and legend. The root is made into beads and worn around the neck and arms of the Vishnu-Brahmans. It is sacred to Vishnu and Lakshmi, his wife, and a leaf of it is placed on the breast of every dead Hindu. Unfortunately, although we obtained several packets of seed of this basil, we were unable to keep it alive after it had germinated.


The Greeks and Romans thought one should curse when sowing the basil to insure its germination, and hence the French expression, "semer le basilic," which means using abuse. Pliny says it is an aphrodisiac and was given to horses and asses at the mating season, and further-more that to stimulate rapid germination it should be watered with boiling water after sowing it.

In Italy the women wear it because of its supposed efficacy in engendering sympathy. A young peasant going to call on his beloved often wears a sprig of it behind his ear. A pot of basil is placed in the window by the lady as a signal to her lover that she is expecting him. Isabella, immortalized in Keats' poem, kept the head of her lover in a pot of basil.

Ibn Al Awam mentions many kinds with instructions for growing them. Ibn Baithar mentions O. minimum as being good for medicine, and O. pilosum to counteract the effects of inebriation if taken in a decoction, but says if too much is taken it will darken the face.

Bacon says, "It is strange which is reported that basil too much exposed to the sun doth turn into wild thyme"; and Culpeper adds that it will not grow near rue, and continues, "This is the herb which all the authors are together by the ears about and rail at one another like lawyers: Galen and Dioscorides hold it fitting to be taken inwardly; and Chrysippus rails at it with downright Billingsgate rhetorick, Pliny and the Arabian Physicians defend it."

It was offered for sale in the Virginia Gazette in 1775, and Bartram had it in his catalogue.


Basil is a popular flavoring herb. In France it is used in turtle soup and stews, and in Italy it is an important ingredient in bean soup, and many other dishes. The dried leaves are put into snuff.

Medicine. An oil distilled from O. basilicum is said to be antiseptic and stimulant.

Perfume. The above oil is used in concocting the per-fume of mignonette, which it recalls, and also in bouquets of violet and jonquil.

Food. I find it a pleasant flavoring in all dishes having tomatoes, in cheeses, fruit drinks, and in soups with other herbs. The flavor is flower-like.


All the basils except O. sanctum and O. gratissimum, are easily raised from seed sown out-of-doors when danger from frost is past. They germinate readily and produce sizable plants from which a few leaves can be cut in about six weeks after planting. They seem to like a well-drained, sunny exposure.

Harvest. The leaves can be cut off as soon as the plants are big enough to stand the operation, but they are cut in quantities for drying when the flowers begin to open. French growers advise stirring a little fertilizer around the roots to stimulate them after cutting back the leafy stems, and, like most annuals, the more they are cut the thicker they grow. A few plants could be potted up and brought indoors for the winter.

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