Herb Garden
Published December 15, 2022 by Nicole Burke

The Best Types of Basil to Grow in an Herb Garden

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herb garden
herbs you can start from seed

The Benefits of Growing Your Own Basil

Basil is an incredible herb, a must-have for any edible garden. Garden-fresh basil is, after all, one of the quintessential tastes of summer.

If you've been getting your basil leaves from the store, you might think there's just one type of basil to enjoy—most likely Genovese basil, a type of sweet basil (pictured below). In actuality, there are many varieties, each with different levels of spice and sweetness, and each as beautiful as the last.

genovese basil

Basil Is One of the Easiest Herbs to Grow

The best way to experience as many different types of basil as possible (not to mention the freshest flavor) is to grow them yourself.

Don't worry: This sun-loving herb is easy to start from seed, it grows prolifically, and the more leaves you cut from it, the more it gives you.

Basil is often grown as an annual throughout the warmer parts of the year, but if you live somewhere with mild winters, you might just get to enjoy your basil plant for several years.

I grow my favorite varieties in my pollinator garden, in containers, in my raised beds, and in sunny windowsills. I plant basil anywhere I can, and once you've tasted some of these varieties fresh from the garden, I'm betting you will too.


The Herb Garden Guidebook

Based on Gardenary's Introductory Gardening Online Course, Herb Garden Guide, this comprehensive guidebook will lead you through the step by step so that you know exactly how to grow all the culinary herbs you love right in your very own space.

My Favorite Basil Varieties to Grow

There are about a million different basil varieties (okay, like 150), but these are some of my favorites based on the flavor they add to food, their beauty in the garden, and their ease of care.

The best variety to grow for flavor is sweet basil

If you only ever grow one type of basil, I recommend this one. Thanks to its incredible fragrance and flavor, sweet basil is one of the most popular and widely used herbs around the world. Sweet basil, specifically a variety of sweet basil called Genovese basil, is the star of the Italian classic, pesto, as well as many other sauces and soups. It's also really easy to grow and will give you an abundance of big leaves you can toss onto your meals.

While this is also the type you'll most frequently find available at the grocery store, I recommend growing your own. You'll find the flavor is so much better and will have fresher leaves for longer.

The best variety to grow for basil flowers is Thai basil

Thai basil has purplish stems, produces long stalks of the most beautiful purple flowers, and boasts a licorice-like aroma. It holds up to cooking at high temperatures better than other types of basil, making it the basil of choice for many Southeast Asian recipes. If you really love the flavor of licorice and anise, try licorice basil, a type of Thai basil.

Thai Basil

The most striking variety to grow is purple basil

This variety is just so pretty, especially when its deep purple leaves stand in contrast to the typical greens of your herb garden. Flavor-wise, purple basil can add a slightly spicy, clove-like kick to your meals. I love a type called dark purple opal basil, which has purple, almost black, leaves and pink flowers. 

purple basil

Other Favorite Basil Varieties

African blue basil

This variety produces beautiful purple flowers beloved by bees. Note that this type can't be started by seed.

Red Freddy basil

This is a type of Genovese basil but with deep purple leaves instead of green.

aromatto basil

The leaves of this basil have a spicy scent but taste even sweeter than Genovese basil. This is a great type to grow for cut flowers.

lettuce leaf basil

Another type of sweet basil, lettuce leaf basil grows huge but mild-flavored leaves that are great for salads.

lime basil

Every bit as citrusy as you'd expect, this zesty variety is great in iced tea, salad dressing, or marinades.

purple ruffles basil

This variety has ruffled edges and green leaves streaked with purple. It looks beautiful as a garnish or added to cut flowers in a bouquet.

purple ruffles basil

Greek basil

This type has smaller leaves but grows tall and wide, making it a great ornamental plant for large containers. Its leaves boast a sweet flavor.

"Pesto Perpetuo" Basil

The harvests just keep coming with this variety, which never flowers and grows into tall columns. Because it never flowers, you won't be able to start this one from seed, and plants can be tricky to find. If you see one, definitely grab it!

Holy basil

This variety, known as "the queen of herbs," is native to India and used more for medicinal purposes than culinary ones. The leaves have a peppery flavor and are believed to reduce pain and inflammation and lower blood sugar. The plant produces beautiful flowers and has a wonderful sweet but musky aroma.

green ruffles basil

Bet you've never seen a basil like this one before! The leaves are curly, and the plant can grow up to two feet tall!

cinnamon basil

This fragrant basil smells of—you guessed it—cinnamon! With reddish-purple stems and pink flowers, this variety makes a beautiful addition to any herb garden. Dry the leaves for a cozy cup of tea.

lemon basil

This tangy variety is great for making pesto or tossing onto pasta. Crush or tear the leaves to release the aroma. It's a more compact plant that's great for containers.

lemon basil
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My Favorite Sources for Basil Plants

basil seeds

Basil grows really well from seed. If the temperature is consistently warm, you can sow basil seeds outdoors directly in the garden; otherwise, your seeds will be more likely to germinate and grow if you start them indoors in anticipation of warmer weather to come. (Learn more about indoor seed starting, including the best trays, LED lights, and seed starting soil mix to use.)

Basil seeds typically sprout in only five to seven days. (Explore four other herbs you can easily start from seed.)

When buying basil seeds, be sure you're buying from a source that's serving up organic, non-GMO seeds. Most of my favorite herb seeds come from Baker Creek, Botanical Interests, Southern Exposure, High Mowing, and Johnny's Selected Seeds.

Just one packet of each variety is plenty to fill your herb garden with loads and loads of fresh basil. If you want to try out lots of different types without spending a small fortune on seeds, I recommend getting together with a buddy to split the order. Or ask gardener friends to save seeds from their favorite basil plants and share with you for next year.


basil starter plants

If you're already experiencing warm weather in your area, you can maximize the time you'll be able to enjoy basil in your garden by purchasing a plant from a local nursery or grower.

Avoid buying herbs from big box stores. Most of them will have traveled quite a distance before reaching the store and have most likely been treated with fungicide or synthetic fertilizers so they look great when you see them at the store. If you don't continue to feed them the same fertilizers or fungicides when you get them home, chances are, they'll either sit there and not grow or just give up being green entirely. In my experience, the more local the nursery you buy your herb plants from, the better.

basil cuttings

Basil is also extremely easy to propagate from cuttings taken from a mature plant. Ask friends, family members, or even friendly neighbors if you can take a small cutting from their basil plant to make a new plant. Most gardeners are more than happy to share.

Here's how to propagate basil using herbs bought from the grocery store or cuttings from a mature plant.

freshly cut basil leaves

Once you've got your own favorite varieties of basil growing, learn how to harvest from your basil plant to get more leaves. Use the leaves fresh or dry them for future use. Basil leaves are great in soups, stews, and tomato-based dishes, as well as herb butters and vinegars. When your basil plants produce flowers, save seeds from your favorite plants for next year—that way, you never have to buy basil seeds again!

Here's to trying out all the different basil varieties and finding your favorites to grow in the herb garden.


Learn the step by step to building, planting, and growing your own delicious herb garden for a year-found supply of herbs. Your Gardenary 365 membership includes access to the Herb Garden Guide, plus our entire content library.

The Best Types of Basil to Grow