Black Basil: the famous culinary herb with dark foliage

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In addition to the well-known green-leaved basil, there are also black and red-leaved varieties. We’ll show you everything about the variety of basil.

Black basil: the famous culinary herb with dark foliage

The intense coloring is caused by a high content of anthocyanins in the cells [Photo: Cristina Ionescu /]

Basil ( Ocimum basilicum L. ) belongs to the lamiaceae plant family. Most species of this genus thrive in the tropical climates of Asia, Africa, Central and South America. The basil probably comes from India. However, the popular leaf herb has enjoyed great attention for several thousand years in the form of targeted cultivation for cultural purposes and for cooking. In Egyptian pyramids, relics of the basil could be found during excavations. In the Hindu faith, the red-leaved varieties have a traditionally important meaning.

Here in Central Europe, basil has only been known as a cultivated plant since the Middle Ages. In this country it is also called royal herb, derived from the Greek basileus, which means `king ‘. But red and dark-leaved varieties are also enjoying increasing popularity. The intense coloring is caused by the high content of anthocyanin in the cells. We’ll show you everything you need to know about this tasty color wonder.
Synonyms: basil, basil, royal herb

Grow black basil in your own garden or on the balcony

Just like its famous big brother, black basil prefers well-drained soil. This should be as sunny as possible so that the dark-leaved basil varieties can develop their striking foliage color. As long as the temperatures do not drop below 10 ° C, it does not matter whether it is kept in a pot or in a bed. In any case, if the temperature is too low, the basil must always be kept warm to avoid damage from the cold. Basil is usually cultivated as an annual herb, but can also be brought to a warm location at a constant temperature of at least 10 ° C over the winter. Somewhat more robust varieties are particularly suitable for this.

Black basil: the famous culinary herb with dark foliage

Purple basil with flowers [Photo: Cora Mueller /]


In order to grow basil in your own garden, on the balcony or on the windowsill, it is advisable to grow the seeds indoors from March. For this purpose, cultivation pots are filled with a suitable substrate (eg a mixture of soil and sand). The Plantura organic herb & seed soil is also ideal for the propagation of your basil plants. Since basil is a light germinator, the sowing should not be covered with substrate. However, since this would protect the swelling seeds from drying out, greater care must be taken to ensure that the seeds are adequately supplied with water during the germination process and do not become dry. At a temperature of 18–25 ° C, the basil seeds germinate within 7 to 14 days, depending on the variety. With a seedling size of about 5 cm, the small plants should be pricked out into larger pots. Depending on the size of the pot, several basil plants should be placed together in one pot – for example five to ten plants in a pot with a diameter of 13 cm. Because black basil is sensitive to cold, caution should be exercised when planting it out. Even after the ice saints in mid-May, night temperatures can still drop below the critical level of 10 ° C.

Pour and fertilize the black basil

The same applies to watering and fertilizing the black basil as to its green-leaved relatives. It is very thirsty and hungry. That is why daily watering may also be necessary in the bed on hot, sunny days. Since basil is one of the strong eaters, it should be planted in a nutrient-rich, humus-rich soil if possible. The substrate that is used for the culture in the pot must of course have a correspondingly high nutrient content. The planting bed can be wonderfully fertilized by digging under compost or manure in early spring. Pot basilica must be re-fertilized with a complete nutrient fertilizer via the irrigation – weekly during the main growing season. The Plantura organic universal fertilizer, for example, is ideal for fertilizing your basil plants. As soon as the basil stops growing in autumn, an additional four to six week supply of nutrients to the potted herbs is sufficient.
In the bed, Ocimum goes well with tomatoes, kohlrabi or cucumbers and drives away the whitefly there. Bad neighbors, on the other hand, are lemon balm or savory.

Caring for black basil

In your own garden, basil can be damaged by snail damage, aphids or the whitefly. The Lucerne mosaic virus causes mosaic-like patterns on the leaves. Herbal viral pathogens are not supposed to be seriously harmful to human health, but it just doesn’t look nice. There are now even vague studies that the consumption of herbal products infected with viruses can promote migraines and diarrhea symptoms.

Direct contact of the leaves with water promotes infection with fungal diseases. To prevent this, a location that is as protected from rain as possible should be chosen in the garden during the warm season. In addition, it must always be watered in such a way that the leaves of the basil do not get wet. Should the leaf spots caused by the fungal pathogens appear, the affected parts of the plant must be removed and destroyed.

Black basil varieties: this is where color comes into play

Essential oils are responsible for the variety of aromas of the different types of basil. Some types smell sweet like aniseed or liquorice, others like lemon or camphor and even cinnamon aromas are represented.

Black basil: the famous culinary herb with dark foliage

There are different types of black basil [Photo: Amallia Eka /]

We have put together our favorite varieties for you here:

  • Opal: Popular variety with cherry-colored, edible flowers and red leaves.
  • Red Ruffles: Dark red leaf color and deeply slit leaf margins with pink-purple flowers, which are also edible; the aroma contains notes of anise, cinnamon, some citrus and pepper.
  • Red Ruby: This black-leaved variety offers a peppery aroma and a slight sharpness. Red Rubin was awarded the “All America Selection Winner” award in 1992, primarily for its visual appeal.
  • Genovese basil red: The well-known Genovese basil with red leaves has a high ornamental value, but the same taste as its green counterpart.
  • Bush basil Purple Ball: The leaves of this variety are significantly smaller and very spicy. The growth is short and bushy.
  • Wild Purple: A sturdy variety with intense purple foliage that is well suited for outdoor cultivation.

Harvest and store black basil

When harvesting basil, care should be taken not to remove too much of the leaf mass. The plant recovers only very poorly from this. Whole shoots should be removed, which promotes compact growth. But the shoots must not be cut too deep. Let the lower leaves stand. They are not as aromatic as the younger, higher-up leaves and the plant can also continue to gather strength for the branching sprouting of side buds.

The essential oils of basil evaporate very quickly and the variety of aromas can only be preserved to a limited extent. This is why black basil is best used freshly harvested. Both by drying and freezing the colored aromatic leaves, most of the aromatic oils are lost and the basil tastes like almost nothing. As with the green-leaved basil, however, soaking in oil or processing into pesto are very suitable to preserve the aroma of black basil for a few months.

You can find more useful information in our article How to harvest and store basil correctly.

Black basil: ingredients and uses in cooking

We know basil mainly from Italian cuisine in pasta dishes or classically with Caprese. But it is also often used in Asian cuisine.

Black basil: the famous culinary herb with dark foliage

Black basil is an eye-catcher on the plate [Photo: Ann1bel /]

In order to preserve as much of the spicy aroma as possible, basil should always be added to the dishes at the end of the cooking process. If basil is cooked, it is quickly overcooked and the flavoring essential oils quickly dissolve in the air.

In addition, the herb is said to have some medicinal properties. For example, basil is said to strengthen the digestive organs and stimulate the appetite. The ingredient eugenol has an anti-inflammatory effect. Methyleugenol, on the other hand – also an ingredient of basil – can be carcinogenic if taken in high concentrations. That is why basil is not used as a medicinal herb, although an unattainably high number of basil leaves would have to be consumed in order to exceed the critical level of methyl eugenol by enjoying the spicy leaves.

In any case, the black basil impresses with its high ornamental value. And since the herb can also bring various taste experiences into the kitchen, it deserves a place in every garden or balcony as a colorful exotic.

Our Plantura herb growing kit also contains seeds for dark-leaved basil. In the set you will also find everything you need for sowing basil and three other herbs.

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