Herb Plants: Basil and Its Benefits

Do you love basil but are curious how to grow, preserve and use it yourself? Of all herb plants, basil is a lovely, tasty and fragrant addition to your yard. Here are some simple things to know about basil and it’s benefits. basil plant

Interested in growing herbs but are short on space or new to them? Start with a few basic but wonderful herbs and grow them in containers! To learn how, please consider our book, Herbs in the Bathtub. This book outlines and educates you on several basic culinary and wellness herbs, including how to grow them and use them. To learn more, click below: 

An Herb Question

Recently, a reader posted this:

“HOW do you get Basil to GROW?? I buy the little basil plants at Harmons… but I eat it SO FAST, my poor plant can’t/WON’T ever grow back!? So, I bought FOUR plants… but they all look all twiggy and pathetic! :0(  (It COULD be they’re not getting QUITE enough sun, as they are in my kitchen window, which doesn’t get sun till after 3pm…)  Does basil grow well outside? Is it susceptible to bugs? Tell me what you KNOW, so I can actually grow enough to eat AND make pesto someday!! ”

Brilliant questions, Natalie, and I’m glad you asked them. Any time someone asks me about an herb it’s like they’ve asked me the golden question of “What can you tell me about your church?” I can run on this subject for, literally, hours so I’m going to make a concerted effort to stick to your questions. To begin, here’s a little general information about one of the best herb plants: basil.

Herbal Plants Basil and It's Benefits l Homestead Lady (.com)

Herb Plants: Basil

Here’s an excerpt about basil from our book, Herbs in the Bathtub:

“Beautiful Basil – Ocimum BasilicumOnce used in Indian courts to solemnize an oath. Basil is my all time favorite herb and I plant it everywhere because I think it’s lovely! There are so many yummy varieties for the kitchen. Try Thai, Genovese, Sweet Dani, Lime, Lettuce leaf, Cinnamon.

  • Site –  Grows best in full sun in growing zones 8-10 – needs warm sun, protection from frost

  • Great  indoor plant

  • Soil should be well drained and moist

  • Propagation – Best method is direct sow after danger of frost has passed. If starting indoors, be cautious with moisture as seedlings are prone to damping off. Germinates best at 70 degrees.

  • Can be used fresh, dried or frozen (brush with olive oil before freezing if drying leaf whole). Try it fresh in your next garden salad! As with most herbs, when using in the kitchen, tear up leaves – avoid cutting.”

Basil Basics

Basil is one of my favorite all time herbs because, aside from a particular aversion to frost, it’s relatively easy to grow. It’s also beautiful anywhere in the garden. Throw it into your flower beds and it will add dimension, color and fragrance.

There are many varieties and they’re all tasty and gorgeous – for a few ideas, please click here. Try Genovese or Sweet Dani to begin with as they’re the flavors that will most likely be those you’re already familiar with. Unless you have the great privilege to have been raised eating Thai food, in which case, go for the Thai basil.

How to Grow Basil

You can start seeds outside once all danger of frost has past. You can start it in pots indoors pretty much any time you take the notion. Plan to put five to twenty plants in the ground in order to have some for pesto making to last you throughout the year.

Basil can be grown indoors but like all indoor plants it must be watered and fed regularly. It’s best to set the pot in a bowl of water with some compost tea every now and then. Terra cotta pots allow water to soak up from the root zone of the plants at the bottom of the pot. I like terra cotta pots for that reason. Well, that and I think  they’re pretty. 

I usually keep some solution of fish emulsion on hand to fertilize anything I have indoors in case I’m too lazy to make compost tea. My husband loves the smell. Kidding.

You want the soil to be damp but never soggy and let basil dry just a little between waterings once the plant has matured. Basil loves the sun so whether indoors or out, give it a full 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. Morning into afternoon sun is usually better than afternoon into evening.

Basil will be a reseeding annual in temperate zones (some place without harsh winters). It’s incredibly easy to save basil seed, though, if you’re not in an area where you can just expect it to pop back up in the spring. 

To make garden plans and keep better track of things like re-seeding, I suggest you use a garden notebook. The one below is the one I use.

How to Choose Which Basil to Grow

Google images of basil to find varieties that look appealing. A picture won’t convey taste or smell, of course, but it can peak your interest.

You can also read seed catalog descriptions, although I hesitate to encourage people to crack open those enticing little volumes. I have an addiction problem when it comes to reading seed catalogs! And I’m so vulnerable to certain adjectives like “healthful”, “flavorful” and the worst one, “robust”. Gullible seed girl, that’s me.

Getting Basil Plants

Basil can be grown from seed for indoor use or outdoor transplanting. 

You can also buy it from the nursery and there’s no shame in that. (Your secret will be safe with me.)  Honestly, the only reason to start your own seed is:

  • if you can’t get the variety you want at a local nursery
  • you can’t get the plants you want at the time you want them – if you’re doing year round gardening, for example

To buy basil seed, try Seeds for Generations below:

Heirloom Seeds from our Family to Yours

One More Reason

Actually, there’s another reason to plant basil from seed and that’s the volume of plants you need. If you need a lot of one kind of plant, it can work out to be cheaper to start the seeds yourself. 

Basil grows readily from seed as long as you can keep the soil warm enough inside. If you’re planting outside, the soil the soil should be about 70F/21C degrees for basil seeds to germinate. Keep the seed bed moist throughout germination and maturation time.

To get you started with seed starting, here’s a quick overview by Attainable Sustainable – please click here.

Possible Basil Problems

One last little note, basil can be prone to a fungal disease called damping off. To prevent that, make sure you have good air circulation and sprinkle some powdered cinnamon over your seed bed after you plant your seed. Cinnamon is an anti-fungal and it works like a charm.

Bugs rarely bother herbs, particularly what we consider culinary herbs, because they have such a high concentration of volatile oils the bugs would just rather not mess with. Sometimes you see white flies or aphids but usually only if your natural bug systems are out of whack.

This is one of the reasons I like to encourage people to incorporate herbs into their landscaping, not just chuck them in with their veggies – they’re lovely and useful plants anywhere.

Ways to Use Basil

Besides, if you have lots of basil, you can make these herbed croutons from Common Sense Home – click here.

Basil bunches make great gifts for neighbors! You can also add it to:

Oh, wait, here’s a strawberry shortcake with basil. Hmm…maybe you should plant thirty basil plants instead of five…

Or, learn how to incorporate basil into your soap making ventures. Need to learn how to make soap? Click below:


Learning More About Herb Plants

If you’re interested in learning more about herbs in general and specifically herbs as medicine, be sure to visit The Herbal Academy. Their online courses can be taken at your own pace and include all kinds of materials. There are also several different levels of learning to suit your current needs.

To get a glimpse of a preview lesson, just click here: Preview Lesson from the Introductory Herbal Course

You can also click on the picture below. Let me know if you have questions!

Share All Good Things.

9 thoughts on “Herb Plants: Basil and Its Benefits

  1. Lots of great information, Tessa. I love growing basil. I have about 30 plants that have popped up all over our garden since I let it go to seed each year. This year I did plant some purple and Thai just for fun.

  2. My roommate and I both retired almost a decade ago. Since that time we have both discovered and immersed ourselves in herbal medicine .. We have found things of our own making, balms, wolves, poultices, teas, and the like work as well or better than the store bought equivilants…. The more we find things working, the more we research, investigate, produce, and test out products. My mentor, here in the states, is 7Song from the great northwest. I, or rather we, find your publications have awesome great new stuff for us to investigate…. CONGRATS , and thanks… Rachel.

  3. Oh my gosh. I planted one thai basil plant 4 years ago and it now pops up everywhere. I had so much thai basil last year, I had to find a pesto recipe for it, the flavor of thai basil is quite different from sweet basil. I see it popping up now, which is quite early for us. Would love to know some medicinal information and applications if there is any for this thai basil.
    Sadly, sweet basil has yet to reseed like the crazy thai and I have yet to get purple basil to thrive at all from seed.

    1. What a gift, Whitney! Although, even the most desired plant can turn into a pest, so I understand feeling like you’re drowning in it. All basils have the same medicinal properties, for the most part, so find an herb book you love and read up on basil and all of it’s cousins like mint and bee balm. Here’s a quick, well cited article online, but there are scores of them. Any herb book Rosemary Gladstar wrote will be worth your time. One of my favorite herb books is an old one by Leslie Bremness that you can get on Amazon for about a penny.

      What growing zone are you? If you can’t get sweet basil to reseed, have you tried any of the other large leaf basils? Horizon Herbs and Baker Creek both have fun herb selections – Horizon’s is bigger.

  4. Great post, Tessa! Until this year, I haven’t really been all that successful with basil. I think it has to do with the fact that I didn’t really understand how it behaved, so it would feel like I would plant it, then it would die within a few months. Ha ha, I think it was supposed to do that! Ok, so this year, I’m working on learning about it and cultivating a nice little plant. Since we are in a new location, I think it’s been easier. I’m growing it in a pot this time around, so I’m not sure how well it will reseed itself, but I think I’ll move it into a huge pot and let it do its thing from year to year. Thanks for the info!

    1. Yeah, the life of an annual can seem really, really short! Basil does beautifully in pots and every year I tell myself I’m going to grow some inside during the winter and every year I’m still too burned out from the harvest come December to bother with it. Good luck with yours – what variety are you growing?

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