Most of us are very familiar with Italian sweet basil varieties, but there are many other types of basil to add to your herb garden and enjoy. One beautiful and delicious variety is Thai basil. This fragrant herb is a bit smaller than sweet basil varieties with sturdy pointed leaves that hold up well to cooking. You can identify Thai basil by its distinctive purple stalks and flowers paired with bright emerald leaves. It has a spicy flavor with bold licorice overtones that pair well with Southeast Asian cuisines.
Difference Between Thai Basil & Holy Basil
Holy basil, or Tulsi, is another Southeast Asian basil often confused with Thai basil. To tell the difference, first compare the plants: Thai basil is a sweet-scented plant with an upright, bushy growth habit with smooth, slightly serrated, pointed leaves, while Tulsi or Holy basil leaves are more rounded and slightly hairy. Holy basil also has a more clove-like aroma and a branching, floppy growth habit. Holy basil’s flavor is more medicinal with a slightly bitter aftertaste, making it better to use in smaller quantities or herbal teas.
Growing Thai Basil
Thai basil is best started indoors in seed trays. Sow three to four seeds per cell, about a quarter inch deep. A heat mat can help you keep the growing medium consistently warm, around 70-80°F. Germination typically occurs in 5-10 days. If you are transplanting your seedlings outdoors, wait until the soil has warmed to 65-70°F at night. Choose a sunny spot with good drainage and rich soil with plenty of organic matter. Space the plants 12 to 18 inches apart or grow them in containers.
Create a Tropical Environment
The key to success with Thai basil is understanding that it is a truly tropical plant that thrives in fertile soil with lots of sun and heat. It can even be grown as a perennial in USDA zones 10 and 11. Thai basil prefers moist weather with consistently warm temperatures of over 80°F if possible. Even a single night of temperatures at 50°F can cause this plant to slow its growth, and temperatures at 40°F are enough to damage the leaves. Thai basil requires at least 6-8 hours of sunlight. It also loves humidity, so keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged. Fertilize monthly.
Growing indoors is a good solution for Thai basil, as it allows you more control over your plants’ environment. Place your plants in a warm spot and provide supplemental light. Indoor gardeners can achieve great success by growing Thai basil in a greenhouse or using a humidity dome to trap warm, humid air around the plants.
Harvesting Thai Basil
Once your Thai basil is about 6 inches tall, you can harvest it as needed. Like any basil, harvesting is as easy as pinching off leaves or trimming with scissors. To encourage branching and bushier plants, snip right above a leaf node. For the best flavor, harvest early in the morning, when the aromatic oils that give Thai basil its distinctive flavor are at their highest concentration.
Even if you’re new to gardening, growing Thai basil is relatively easy once you understand the plant’s needs. This unique, flavorful addition to your herb garden can provide you with a year-round supply of a useful and delicious ingredient that is usually overpriced and not nearly as fresh and flavorful as you can find it in the grocery store. Order some Thai basil seeds and enjoy growing this delightful, beautiful herb for yourself and your family.