What is Sweet Basil?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Sweet basil is a type of herb popular in many types of cuisine. A member of the mint family, sweet basil is most often found in Italian cuisine, though it can add flavor and depth to nearly any savory dish. Basil is quite easy to grow and often forms a major part of any herb garden.

Crostini with sweet basil, mozzarella cheese, and chopped tomato.
Crostini with sweet basil, mozzarella cheese, and chopped tomato.

There are many different varieties of basil used in different types of cooking. Thai basil, for instance, has a sharp, spicy taste and is frequently used in the food of southeast Asia. Lemon basil has a distinct citrus flavor, and may be used as flavoring in Middle Eastern dishes. Sweet basil, found most often in Mediterranean cuisine, has a strong herb flavor but is not as sharp as Thai basil.

Sweet basil.
Sweet basil.

Basil can be used as an ingredient on its own or can be blended with other herbs to create a nuanced flavor in a dish. It is one of the main ingredients in pesto, which is a crushed mixture of the herb with pine nuts, garlic and olive oil, used to flavor dishes or as a sauce for pasta or pizza. One popular Italian dish called caprese uses basil as a whole ingredient, combining fresh basil leaves with tomato slices and mozzarella to make a hearty salad.

A caprese salad with sweet basil.
A caprese salad with sweet basil.

Sweet basil is also prized in alternative medicine for its potential health benefits. The chemical makeup of the plant contains antioxidant properties, which some medical practitioners believe is beneficial to overall wellness. Sweet basil is also used in alternative treatments for respiratory disorders such as asthma. Some home remedies also include basil oil or extract in the treatment of acne.

Thai basil is a sweet basil native to Asia.
Thai basil is a sweet basil native to Asia.

Growing sweet basil is relatively easy, so long as the climate is temperate and dry. In colder climates, it can be grown in terrariums that protect it from the weather. The plant needs a lot of light, and should be placed on a windowsill or in an area that receives several hours of strong sunlight. Basil is a low plant that will sprout white blossoms during certain times of the year. It does well in pots, and can be planted with a variety of other herbs.

Sweet basil is a main ingredient in pesto sauce.
Sweet basil is a main ingredient in pesto sauce.

When planting sweet basil as part of an herb garden, consider adding other herbs that compliment the strong flavor. Oregano, tarragon, chives, and rosemary are also major components of Italian and Mediterranean cooking, and may be grown in pots or herb patches together with basil. By carefully tending an herb garden, fresh, perfectly flavored herbs may be harvested throughout most of the year.

Sweet basil can be used in some home remedies to treat acne.
Sweet basil can be used in some home remedies to treat acne.
Sweet basil pesto can be used instead of red sauce on a pizza.
Sweet basil pesto can be used instead of red sauce on a pizza.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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