June 3, 2023
If African Blue Basil could speak it might first suggest introducing you to the “parentals”. In this case, that would be a good idea. The African parent is a perennial shrub from forests of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
In 1983, African Blue basil was first seen by a nurseryman named Peter Borchard, owner of Companion Plants in Athens, Ohio. He noticed it growing in the path between beds of the two presumed parents, East African basil and ‘Dark Opal’. Borchard dug the hybrid out and brought it into the greenhouse hoping to save seed. No seed formed leaving Borchard with the task of growing more plants from cuttings. Shortly thereafter, African Blue Basil (Ocimum gratissimum) entered the market.
African Blue basil is now identified as a hybrid plant in the Lamiaceae family made
by crossing East African camphor basil and a varietal of purple sweet basil called
‘Dark Opal Basil’. Its strong camphor scent was inherited from the East African
basil used to breed the plant. Though some people may find the camphor odor
and taste too strong to use in the kitchen, others embrace its culinary uses.
While doing morning chores in the garden, the dark purple leaves of African basil
tempt me to experience their crisp, semi-chewy and woodsy flavor with notes of
menthol, musk and cloves. With a refreshing and earthy taste filling my mouth,it’s time to move out of the way and give the honeybees time to forage for nectar.
Before planting in the garden, familiarize yourself with its specific characteristics.
African Blue basil is a rare, aromatic, perennial shrub that can grow up to five feet
tall in some gardens. Plants produce abundant flowers that are pink with a dark
purple base, making it attractive to bees and beneficial wasps. African blue is one
of the few basils that is sterile, meaning it will not produce seeds. Fortunately,
this unique trait allows the plant to stay in bloom for a longer season. As with
other basils, African Blue does best in well-draining soil amended with compost.
Plants thrive in full sun and will form rounded mounds.
Suggestions for cooking with African Blue basil offer a wide range of possibilities.
While best suited as a fresh flavoring or garnish, the leaves may also be used in
pesto’s, chimichurri sauce, salad dressing and dips or sprinkled over soups, tossed
into salads or layered over bruschetta. Also, try it mixed into pasta, spread over
sandwiches, used as a pizza topping or for elevating desserts.
Along with the leaves, African Blue basil flowers are edible and can be used as a garnish in soups, salads and grain bowls.
They can also be incorporated into
cocktails, floated on sparkling beverages or stirred into teas. African Blue basil
pairs well with parsley, cardamom, ginger ale, champagne, green beans,
tomatoes, potatoes, lentils, rice, and feta cheese. For best quality and flavor, use the leaves and flowers shortly after harvesting.
Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008