Plant in Focus: African Blue Basil

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I hadn't heard of African Blue Basil until I came upon it at the garden center. I loved the beautiful purple flowers and the deep basil scent and flavour. I decided to give it a try and planted it in the garden next to some large leaf Italian Basil in the center of a variety of herbs and leafy veggies.

A week later the Italian Basil was a huge flop. One plant just died right off and the other one is struggling along developing large brown patches and wilting sadly. The African Blue Basil on the other hand was thriving. It's colourful flowers were attracting the neighbourhood bees and new leaves are popping up daily. I was curious as to why this beautiful plant would be hardier and did some research.

African Blue Basil is a perennial, one of the few varieties of basil that doesn't die off every year, but it is not very frost tolerant. It is very hardy though and seems to do well in many types of soil and climates (in the summer months). The Italian Basil on the other hand does not do well out here on the West Coast. It needs an intense heat (think Italian summers) that we just don't have. Our cooler summer nights and colder stretches just don't give this plant what it needs, for example this week is going to be cool and rainy (forecasted high of 14°C/58°F on Thursday!! Brr!). Thankfully it seems like the African Blue Basil is a hardier and more temp flexible plant. One thing to note is that this plant does not like excess water and should be watered at a minimum.

African Blue Basil is also sterile, it does not seed and is propagated through cuttings.  If you take cuttings in the fall and root them in water over the winter they will be easily planted in the spring and will bush out in no time. To help the basil bush out you can pinch off the tops of the younger stems to encourage branching.  

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As for the flavour of African Blue Basil - I love it. Many sources I read noted that there is a distinct camphor scent and flavour to this variety of basil. I haven't noticed a huge difference and like the intensity of basil-y flavour. I can't wait to use this herb in many upcoming recipes. It would lend so much flavour to an easy Caprese summer salad or a heavy hitting pesto (not unlike Arugula Pesto).