African Blue Basil Care: How To Grow African Basil Plants
By: Mary Ellen Ellis
Also known as clove basil and African basil, the African blue basil plant (Ocimum gratissimum) is a perennial shrub grown for a hedge or for medicinal and culinary uses. Traditionally, and commercially today, African basil is grown for its oils, which are used in flavorings and insect repellant.
About African Basil Plants
Native to Africa and South Asia, African blue basil plants have long been grown for the medicinal and culinary uses of the leaves. It is related to the common basil that flavors so many dishes but grows as a shrub rather than a leafy herb.
The shrub grows up to 6 feet (2 m.) tall and looks a little weedy. You can trim and shape it to look tidier though. The right growing environment for African basil is subtropical and tropical with some humidity. It will not survive a cold winter and too much moisture affects the amount and quality of oil the leaves produce.
African Basil Uses
For a workhorse of a plant, this is a good choice. It has both edible and medicinal uses. As an edible herb, the leaves are used to flavor dishes or cooked like a green. Different varieties vary in aroma and flavor: thyme, lemon thyme, and clove. The leaves can also be used to make tea and the oils extracted to make clove or thyme oil.
In its native Africa, the plant is also well-known for several medicinal uses, including as an insect repellant. It is cultivated for oil production and exported and used to make bug sprays. Some of the other potential medicinal uses include treating:
- Bacterial infections
- Gastrointestinal problems
How to Grow African Basil
If you have the right climate, or are willing to overwinter your plant inside, African basil is nice to grow for its fragrance and edible leaves. African blue basil care requires the best conditions; full sun, loamy soil that is rich in nutrients and well-drained, and moderate humidity and soil moisture.
This plant can become invasive and spread rapidly in disturbed areas. Take care if growing outside in a region where the conditions are right for it to thrive.
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Ocimum, Ornamental Basil 'African Blue'
Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater
Where to Grow:
Suitable for growing in containers
This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds
Soil pH requirements:
From herbaceous stem cuttings
N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
On Feb 9, 2018, HNemerov from Bastrop, TX wrote:
Its botanical name is Ocimum kilimandscharicum Ч basilicum 'Dark Opal.' It's a sterile inter-genus cross, which is why the name is so long. While it cannot produce seed, it propagates easily from tip cuttings. Every fall, I take healthy cuttings and root them, then grow them out in #3 nursery pots over winter. By spring, I have landscape size plants, and I stress the landscape aspect of this plant. It gets big, up to 4 feet high and 6 feet wide. It produces abundant purple blooms on spikes held above the leaves. This plant is my champion bee attractor. It also attracts many butterfly varieties, especially in the fall when native nectar plants stop blooming and go dormant. It is NOT frost tolerant. A light frost will damage it and stop flower production. Nor is it a root hardy perennial: I . read more mulched heavily one fall, but the roots died. It is heat and drought tolerant, blooming through Central Texas summers while nearly every other plant goes dormant. If you want to keep pollinators in your garden during the summer, I highly recommend including African Blue Basil in your landscape.
On Apr 3, 2016, TxSugarMagnolia from Yoakum, TX wrote:
This is an amazingly beautiful and hardy plant. The flavor to me is a little "spicer" than a run-of the mill sweet basil. It is attractive to honeybees, and there were literally swarms of them a great deal of the time when the plant got larger while being planted in the ground in my garden in South Texas. The only caveat with this basil is that it needs plenty of room to grow because it can become HUGE. It overshadowed my mints and thyme and it was difficult for them to get sunlight. This plant likes to be the center of attention, apparently. It finally died with a frost. If I had to grow another one, I would keep it in a container and protect it from frost. Otherwise, a very enjoyable, lovely, flavorful basil.
On Jul 17, 2014, suntanbeachman from Rockledge, FL wrote:
This is the one basil to grow in Florida because it is so resistant to heat, humidity, drought, and deluge that it is hard to go wrong. The leaves are not as soft and succulent and tender as the traditional Italian style basil, because they are a bit leathery and dry in comparison. All that means that if you are going to eat the leaves raw in a salad, you should be sure to cut the leaves into the finest thinnest chiffonade possible. Cooking the leaves in a sauce will tenderize the leaves and add an amazing dimension of flavor if you simmer it and soften it long enough.
The flowers will steal the show. Amazing flavor, and an amazing garnish. Strip the flowers off the stem, discard the stem, and sprinkle the flowers on top of a salad, or garnish on top of a spaghetti red sauce. read more or any dish that goes nicely with some basil for a culinary event. or. simply mince the flowers finely along with the stem they came with and sprinkle same as above.
I was able to have one plant survive for four years on an east facing wall that was sheltered from the coldest winds from the northwest. Temps got into the low 20's, but the cement block house and concrete driveway absorbed the daytime sun and created a more forgiving microclimate. The "trunk" was almost 2" thick, and the whole thing grew 6' across and waist high.
It was very rewarding to snip the flower stalks and include in a care package for my northern visitors to take home and enjoy out of the freezer a little at a time.
Propagate these cuttings after rooting in a glass of water. I gave out dozens of them in little 3" pots while at work, and used these easy to grow plants as a confidence builder for co-workers who were learning to garden.
On Sep 18, 2013, sherigoodwin from Guyton, GA wrote:
I raise 7 types of basil. African Blue is one of the easier ones here in South Georgia. I love the flavor, I makes boat loads of pesto for friends and family. I use a blend of basil but this is the predominant basil in the blend. It holds up well, flavor does not diminish with freezing for up to 12 months.
On Oct 6, 2011, Texas_Mochi from New Braunfels, TX wrote:
I love this plant. We have three in a bed, and it not only survived it's first year in the South Central drought this year, but it thrived. Gorgeous - fragrant - and the bees adore it. I am moving to Corpus Christi in January, and I'll be taking cuttings with me. I love this plant.
On Mar 23, 2011, alphzoup from Kissimmee, FL wrote:
I purchased a small plant in a 4" pot several years ago from Whole Foods (in New Orleans), and that one plant is the parent of so many other plants now! They are super easy to grow (in the South), the bees love them, and the huge bushes are beautiful. The one drawback is that they should not be used as foundation plants, as they will need to be replaced every season or two. Even the central Florida (where I live now) winters will kill this plant, but as long as you take cuttings (root them in water) before the freeze, it will live on! Even if it not killed by frost, it will likely need to be replaced often it is an herb after all. Pruning it almost down to the ground may allow you to keep the same plant from one year to the next. and don't forget to make new plants from what you pru. read more ned off for friends and family! New plants will be big bushes in no time! I like to plant them almost as a hedge, spaced 12-18" apart. Another interesting thing about this plant is the woody stems. A mature plant will form a very strong stem that almost resembles small pieces of driftwood with exfoliating bark. The stems and roots can be used as decoration inside and in the garden. I don't care much for its taste as a basil though.
On Apr 2, 2010, harleysmom from Sunnyvale, CA wrote:
The good news is - honeybees LOVE this plant! The bad news - not frost-tolerant needs to be covered in winter. My 5 plants got toasted this past winter so I need to get more. Last summer we had 30 to 40 honeybees every day in our garden. The black bees ( the shiny ones & the furry black ones with 1 or 2 yellow stripes) also like these OK, but they prefer the salvias & borage.
On Aug 19, 2006, GD_Rankin from San Antonio, TX (Zone 9a) wrote:
A very nice aromatic Basil that can handle the south Texas sun for several hours a day. The blooms are plentiful and start when the plant is still fairly young.
This is a fast grower in my region and starts very easy from cuttings. The butterflies love the blooms and will cover the entire plant at times. I noticed there was only one photo on file, at the time of this posting, so I'll add a few more to help others that would like to see more of this plant in full bloom. They were taken in mid August on a very warm summer afternoon.
On Mar 2, 2005, dakotaroser from Kingston, NH wrote:
First time growing this basil, I love growing so many basil varieties and give them
all a try. This was a rapid grower and I enjoyed this basil
in salads especially. I will be getting a small plant to start
again, this time I will overwinter it in the basement with
plant lights, its one of my two or three favorites! I love the Thai Basil
but it was so pickey about moisture and cooler early
summer weather in southeast New Hampshire, that I
ended up loosing most plants. Some basil, the stems
get a fungus and perish( pathogenic fusarium wilt fungus),within a day so its trail and error
with some basils. One of my favorite herbs to grow in a
sunny garden spot.
On Aug 18, 2001, herbin from Park Hill, OK (Zone 5b) wrote:
Tender Perennial. Purplish-blue cast, strong growth habit. Leaf veins, flower spikes and stems are purple while the rest is green. The A hint of sweet camphor makes for an unusual flavor. Hybrid between dark opal and camphor basils.
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African Blue Basil: An Excellent Addition to Your Landscape
African Blue Basil is both an excellent source of garden color and an excellent plant for attracting an array of beneficial insects. Its green leaves transition to dark purple and its stems sprout long lavender blossoms. Gardeners can cut several stems to make a lovely small bouquet.
African Blue Basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum x basicilum “Dark Opal’) is a hybrid, a cross between basil and dark basil. Importantly, African Blue Basil is a steril hybrid anda perennial propagated by cutting. It cannot be grown from seed. Purchasing this basil generally requires a trip to the local garden center rather than a search of on line seed companies.
Use as a Herb.
Unlike most basils, African Blue Basil is not typically grown for its use in cooking. It has a strong camphor (clove) scent compared to other traditional basils as a result, most cooks prefer to grow the more traditional Italian Genovese Basil for cooking. And please don’t confuse it with Thai Basil: Thai Basil has brighter, narrower green leaves and shorter, purple flowers along with a strong anise flavor best reserved for use in Thai cuisine.
Like most basils, African Blue Basil can be grown in mild winter areas of California. In California’s cooler coastal areas, it grows well in full sun gardeners in California’s warmer inland valleys will be more successful growing it in partial shade, or at least protected from late afternoon sun.
Plant African Blue Basil in rich, living soil with sufficient organic matter. GardenZeus recommends adding nitrogen once during the growing season in the form of a cup of chicken manure diluted in 4 gallons of water (half cup if fresh manure) and mixed thoroughly, applied as a soil drench. GardenZeus also recommends mulching basil. Use a quarter to half-inch fine mulch for small starts under four inches in height increase to an inch or more of fine to medium mulch after plants are 1 to 2 feet tall.
Gardeners typically grow basils to harvest the leaves for use in cooking to encourage the growth of leaves, they typically pinch off newly formed basil flowers. However, because African Blue Basil is grown for its attractive lavender blossoms as well as its colorful foliage, gardeners should refrain from removing the beautiful blooms. As a perennial plant, it is known to grow “bushier” and larger (up to 4 feet or more) than traditional Italian basils. Like other basils, it does not dry well.
Pinching traditional basil to promote leaf growth
Water regularly, but do not over-water. Soak soil thoroughly, and then allow soil to dry down but not completely between waterings. Basil may hail from the Mediterranean, but it is not as drought tolerant as other Mediterranean herbs, such as rosemary, sage and thyme. As a perennial plant, African Blue Basil will generally require slightly less watering than other annual basil plants.
Uses in a Sustainable Garden.
Even if African Blue Basil were not such an attractive garden plant, it would be worth growing for its ability to attract beneficial insects such as honeybees, native bees, syrphid (hover) flies and lady beetles.
Like other basils, it makes an excellent container plant.
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