Fruit and Vegetables

Basil - Ocymum basilicum


Basil is one of the most aromatic plants cultivated in Italy; in fact it is a small herbaceous plant, native to Asia, which came to Europe centuries ago, and has been cultivated both in Europe and in Asia for a very long time. In fact, the basil we are used to eating and seeing in the garden is a hybrid plant, whose botanical name is Ocymum basilicum "Genoese", testifying to the city where the use of basil is more widespread. It is a perennial plant, generally cultivated as an annual, as it fears the cold, and temperatures below 10 ° C cause its rapid deterioration. Basil, as we know it, is just one of several varieties spread in cultivation; in fact, in the Italian kitchen we particularly appreciate the so-called sweet basil, with a large leaf and a delicate aroma; but it is not so everywhere, in Asia ad) example, where basil is a fundamental ingredient of many regional cuisines, it is appreciated more variety with aroma of licorice, lemon or more spicy; in France and Greece the so-called ball basil is preferred: a variety of small-leaved basil, Ocimum basilicum, var. minimum. But there are many varieties of basil, and also species spread all over the globe; there is purple or purple leaf basil, with a pungent aroma, and also basil with a high limonene content in the leaves, which gives them an intense lemon scent.
All the plants are however similar, with lance-shaped, smooth leaves, with clearly visible veins, of a beautiful intense green color; the thin stems are erect and not branched, and at the apex, towards the end of the summer, a small ear of purple flowers is produced, followed by woody fruits, capsules containing small black seeds.

Basil cultivation

Family and gender
Lamiaceae, Ocymum basilicum
Type of plant Annual herbaceous plant
Exposure Sun, half-shade
Rustic Not rustic
Ground rich
Irrigation plentiful
Composting Periodic with liquid or granular fertilizers
Multiplication seed
Collection period From April to October

How to grow basil
Basil cultivation is very simple and gives great satisfaction. This is why almost all cooking lovers try their hand at it. In Italy it is difficult to miss a jar of this precious aromatic plant in the family, even if only cultivated on a windowsill.
Basil is grown with great ease, both in the ground and in pots; it is easy to find small basil plants, even simply at the supermarket; however, if we want to obtain our basil crop, we can obtain many plants by simply sowing it directly. Basil is a plant of Asian origin, which needs a warm climate, but without excesses of drought or heat; therefore, to place it as a dwelling, choose a semi-shaded plot, where it can enjoy a few hours of sunshine, but not in the hottest hours of the day. The basil plants excessively moved to solar light tend to take on a dull color, with yellowish veins, and the leaves tend to lose consistency and to wither quickly. We prefer more and more shady locations, the more we find ourselves in an area characterized by hot summer weather. Clearly, however, we choose a non-dark area, but very bright and well ventilated.
Watering must be regular, also because the basil plants collapse quickly if left without water. We water regularly, but avoid leaving the soil moist for a long time, and watering only when the soil is dry.
Basil sprouts only when the climate is already spring-like, with minimum temperatures above 15-20 ° C, so if we want an early harvest of basil leaves we will have to sow it in a warm bed, already in February or March, in order to have seedlings already high on the arrival of the first tomatoes from April to May. Sowing in the open field takes place starting in April.
Basil plants develop rapidly, and once the climate is warm and the place is bright, they tend to have a continuous cycle of production of new shoots; for this reason it is often possible to grow basil even at home, in small pots, throughout the winter months.

A few tricks

The basil cycle is however annual; even in the areas of origin, basil tends to fade away when the autumn season arrives, but not because of the cold. The basil, in late summer, begins to produce flowers; when the flowers wither and the plant produces the seeds, the leaves lose their aroma, as the plant tends to produce smaller quantities of essential oils and the leaves always become of lower quality as aromatic herbs. To prevent this from happening, we tend to trim the branches that are about to bloom, so that our basil plants continue to produce fragrant and aromatic leaves; moreover, the flowers are edible, and add a colorful note to summer salads.
The basil leaves, once detached from the plant, perish rapidly, losing their aroma; they can be kept in the refrigerator, but they must be covered with transparent film or with a damp cloth, because the essential oils they contain are very volatile. Typically the basil leaves are kept frozen, because their aroma persists for months if preserved by frost; or they are stored shredded and placed in extra virgin olive oil. In some areas it is also used to dry the basil, this practice is not recommended, however, because the leaves, by drying up, lose almost the entirety of their perfume, and the finished product retains only a slight aroma of hay, not entirely pleasant.

An aromatic plant and a medicinal plant

Basil is a typical aromatic plant of Italian cuisine; it is generally used fresh, or otherwise raw, to prepare the famous pesto (a sauce made with pesto, cheese, pine nuts, garlic and extra virgin olive oil), but also to flavor salads, bruschetta, tomato and mozzarella caprese. The combination of tomatoes and basil is almost omnipresent in Italian cuisine, both with raw tomatoes and in sauces, sauces, various seasonings; if added to the sauces, the basil must enter the preparation only at the end of cooking, with the stove off, because only in this way the essential oils contained in it remain in the finished dish. A slow and prolonged cooking, evaporates all the aroma of the basil, leaving only a slightly bitter taste.
Basil is also used in herbal medicine, as a stomachic, anti-inflammatory, digestive, and for this reason it is often added to herbal teas and decoctions and to maintain a good aroma.

Botanical characteristics of the bailico

It is a herbaceous plant widespread throughout Europe and Asia, already known in antiquity. Its name derives from the Greek and means "real plant". In general we can say that plants, depending on the variety and type of farming, can have heights from 20 to 60 cm. The leaves, opposite on the four sides of the stem, have a lanceolate shape and the color goes from a light green to violet, with a shiny front and a more opaque back. The measure is also very variable, from 2 to even 5 cm in total length. Some types have curly or large bubble leaves. The flowers are apical, bilabiate, small and white. They are grouped in elongated clusters. If left undisturbed they lead to the production of small black, oblong seeds.

Rusticity and temperature

It is an annual herbaceous plant. Hardly able to spend the winter, even if grown indoors. The best time to make it grow is from April to July, although well-tended plants can even reach October. Its ideal climate is temperate-warm, but it adapts to living even in cooler areas. The minimum tolerated temperature is 10 ° C, but the ideal is when it goes from 20 to 25 ° C. The more the degrees increase, the more it will need a humid environment.


It adapts well to every type of soil, but prefers those rather rich and of medium texture, with organic substance and well drained. In fact it is rather sensitive to water stagnation that can cause root rot.


Irrigations must be frequent and environmental humidity must increase with increasing temperature. This is why greenhouse cultivation is becoming more and more advisable as we move further south. At home level we can overcome this problem with frequent sprays and avoid, if we live in very hot areas, to expose the plants to the sun during the hottest hours.


Usually they are not necessary at home. In the open field cultivation is preceded by the incorporation of 2-3 kg of mature manure per square meter. We can also follow this indication if we grow basil in our garden. If we keep it in a pot we can already choose a rather rich substrate in organic matter from the beginning or mix a few handfuls of flour or compost. If we consider it appropriate, in the latter case, we can distribute a nitrogenous liquid fertilizer every 15 days. However, we avoid both those with a high content of this element (which would push the plant to grow a lot and produce very large leaves with an unpleasant taste) or those with large amounts of potassium which would quickly lead to the production of flowers and therefore to the exhaustion of the plant for our purposes (the collection of leaves).


He wants a sunny exposure in the northern areas. As it goes southward it is better to place the plant with an increasingly sheltered exposure, so half shade or even a bright shadow.

Sowing and planting

Sowing is the easiest and fastest way to get basil seedlings. If you have a small lock or in your home you can proceed as early as March. It is however possible to continue with this practice in a scalar manner until July so as to always have small plants, with fresh leaves, abundant and not excessively aromatic. A simple system for obtaining seedlings is sowing in alveoli or small pots. These should be filled with a rich but well-drained mixture.
For each alveolus it is good to distribute three seeds, (creating a triangle) and cover them with a thin layer of agricultural compound or vermiculite. Then put the alveolar jars or trays on a tray that should be kept constantly wet. The best results are obtained by covering the surface with a slightly perforated plastic kitchen film. At this stage the ideal exposure is the partial shade. Within one or two weeks, the first leaves will appear. When we arrive at the third pair of leaves we can begin to thin out and eliminate the weakest individuals and then proceed with numerous and frequent topping to induce a good tiling and then obtain a full and well branched shape.
However, if you want to avoid sowing, you can always find seedlings for sale either at large retailers (usually in rather large pots) or at nursery gardens. In these it is also easier to choose between multiple varieties and find plants suitable for transfer to the garden or balconies.

Pot cultivation

As we have already stated, the cultivation of basil in pots is very common and widespread. All you have to do is choose a good rich compote and create a thick draining layer on the bottom with gravel, expanded clay or pumice. If we want we can also mix with the substrate of agricultural agriperlite to aerate it and favor the drainage of excess water. The irrigations in these conditions must be moderate, but continuous. The ideal exposure is generally the partial shade with sun in the morning and shade in the hottest hours. The repottings are usually not necessary since the plant is not particularly vigorous, it is inevitably kept small and in any case it is an anulaule. In any case, the container must have a depth of at least 25 cm. The best ones are deep and rather wide.

Crop care

The most important cultivation treatments are topping and cleaning of the tips.
When the plants are small they should be regularly cched to induce a good body.
Later, instead, it will be necessary to proceed with good regularity to the cleaning of the tips. It is necessary to avoid for as long as possible that the plant goes to flower and eventually produces seeds. This is because it would be the first cause of emptying from the leaves of the lower part. Furthermore, the plant would stop producing new vegetation and later perish. We instead want to encourage the growth of the aromatic part that can be used for culinary purposes.

Pests and adversities

Unfortunately, basil can be affected by various pests and molds.
Frequently it is a victim of Pythium sp., The root rot. It is always necessary to avoid too abundant irrigation and to prevent it is important to use a well-draining substrate. If we grow in a greenhouse (where it is more frequent) we can resort to the previous sterilization of the soil. If it appears, you can try to administer propamocarb.
Other root rots are the tracheofusariosis, the black leg and the neck pain: they are mostly preventable with the correct cultivation practices. In some particularly rainy and cool vintages, late blight spreads easily. It is treated with products based on metalaxyl or possibly propamocarb. Basil can also be attacked by various types of insects. Being a plant for food use it is not recommended to use systemic products. The ideal is to rely, in the case of serious infestations, on pyrethrins or, at most, pyrethroids with very short waiting times.

Basil: Variety

There are so many varieties of basil, as it is an aromatic herb widely used all over the world. It is in fact very frequent in the cuisine of the whole Mediterranean area, but also in eastern countries such as India.
Here are the most widespread varieties of which you can find seedlings or possibly seeds from specialist retailers
Common basil (O. basilicum 'Crispum') has large, very aromatic leaves. It is the most widespread type in Italy.
Greek basil (O. basilicum 'Minimum'), has smaller, lanceolate leaves and a more delicate taste. It is more rustic and when the growth is completed the plants naturally take on a rounded appearance and for this reason it is also called "basil ball",
Thai basil (O. basilicum var. Thyrsiflora), has an aroma much stronger than the Italian one. Brings together hints of mint and licorice. It is used in combination with other spices for soups or fish
Basil lettuce (O. basilicum) and Neapolitan basil (O. basilicum 'Napoletano'), very common in our country, has very large leaves, sometimes with bubbles. The aroma is more markedly mentholated.
Mexican purple basil (Ocymum basilicum 'Purple Ruffles'), is widely used for decorative purposes. The leaves are very dark red and have a fruity aroma and aroma. It is used for the production of a particular red pesto.
Genoese basil (Ocymum basilicum 'Genovese Gigante'), is the most famous one. It is a particular variety characterized by a very delicate aroma and an almost total absence of mint aroma. The leaves, for best results, should be harvested in the morning and when they are still very small. It is the indispensable basis for the production of authentic pesto.
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October- March Cultivation in heated greenhouses or at home, bright room
March, April, May, June Sow scalar
April, May, June Topping, cleaning of the apices, collection of leaves
September October Possible seed collection
November Exhaustion of plants