Basil can be grown all through the year in the Wet Tropics. Unlike other Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme, basil is a tropical plant. Basil, Ocimum basilicum was taken from Asia, its natural home to Europe in the era of the spice trade. How fortunate for Italians that this herb had come to them from Asia when they found it to be the perfect mate for the tomato that later came to Italy from America. Today, because of popular culinary uses, we wrongly think of tomatoes and basil as Italian plants.
Ocinnum basilicum varieties can be found all over Asia and northern Australia but India is regarded as the home of basil. Basil is sacred to the Hindu gods Krishna and Vishnu. Basil leaves are spread around homes in India as insect repellents and to sweeten the air.
The aromatic flavours of basil are an essential ingredient in Indian curries.
Across Australia, northern Aboriginal people used basil as a medicinal plant. Basil leaves were gathered to make an infusion for fevers, persistent sores were bound with a poultice of leaves and a tea made by infusing leaves was taken as a blood tonic. The explorer Ludwig Leichhardt took basil infusions as a blood tonic. He was also known to add basil to his tea, soups and stews.
Basil has many uses in the garden as a beneficial plant: it repels flies and mosquitoes and deters nematodes. It can be planted as a rotation crop during summer in the vegetable garden.
There are many varieties of basil and some have distinct flavours.
Basil bush has small pointed aromatic leaves and is suitable for growing in pots.
Basil dark opal has dark purple foliage and a fine sweet anise flavour. It is excellent for seasoning and for basil vinegar, turning it an attractive red colour.
Basil dwarf creek has small edible and ornamental leaves and is exceptionally fragrant.
Basil East Indian clove can be used as a clove substitute and it is particularly good in curries.
Basil Genovese is a large leafed variety with dark green leaves. It is spicy and fragrant and has some resistant to leaf rots.
Basil holy or sacred basil has slender green leaves with hairy purplish stems. It is often grown in houses, gardens and near temples in India. Use in salads and curries. Holy basil will repel black hibiscus beetle.
Basil lemon is intensely fragrant and can be added to tea and sauces. It is only a small bush and needs to be replanted every year as it is an annual plant.
Basil lettuce leaf has large wide light green aromatic leaves that are slightly crinkled. The leaves are ornamental and look good in salads or as a garnish on plates.
Basil sweet is the Italian large-leaf variety popular as a culinary herb. However, it is prone to leaf rot and can only be grown on the wet coast during periods of low humidity.
There are many good reasons to grow some basil plants in your backyard.