Under-used Plants–Columnar Basil

This is an herb for those who like to have basil year-round.  This is a perennial basil.  Yes, you saw that correctly–perennial!  Unlike other annual basils, this one does not set seed and die.   That means that it will not flower on you, and consequently, it will not  get woody and lose its taste.

Mind you, when I say perennial, I do not mean those of you living in cold climates can grow this plant outdoors all winter–and thank you to Leslie, one of my faithful readers, for making me clarify this.  One of the main differences between annuals and perennials is that an annual’s “job,” so to speak, is to set seed and die in one season.  That’s been the problem with basils in the past–they want to flower because they need to set seed.  This one, as a perennial, will not flower because it won’t set seed.  It doesn’t reproduce that way.

There are two varieties of this basil, technically known as ocimum basilicum.  The one shown above, which is the one most often sold in my region is ‘Pesto Perpetuo.’  While the plant can grow up to 3′ tall, you’d still need several of these plants to get enough basil to make pesto I think.

The other variety, which I’ve only seen once, is called ocimum x citriodorum ‘Lesbos.’  It is identical to the variety I have above, except that it is not variegated, and because it is not, it may be slightly hardier.

Because these are perennial basils, they can and should be be brought indoors in cold climates and wintered over.  I have tried it once or twice but usually the basils wind up getting scale.  You can fight scale organically with soap and water, or with a garden hose used as a pressure hose to blast the little bugs off, but after awhile it just  becomes a losing battle, especially as winter goes on and you lose the sunlight to strengthen the plants.

Still, to have fresh basil, even for a few extra months, this is a plant to know and grow!

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8 thoughts on “Under-used Plants–Columnar Basil

  1. Hi there, when you say perennial do you mean hardy in your zone or living more than one year in its native habit. My experience would be the latter certainly not hardy for me

    • Leslie,
      You raise an interesting point. Impatiens are perennial–they just will not survive a frost. Up until now, basil had been an annual–and if you think of the “job” of an annual, it is to set seed and die–that’s been the problem in part with basil–it kept wanting to make flowers (never mind not surviving the winter in Connecticut. This basil, while it won’t survive the winter outdoors in CT does not make flowers–it has to be reproduced from cuttings, and it may be that these are trademarked plants–I did not look into that. So it won’t set seed. It is therefore a perennial in its zone, which is still a tropical zone! Thanks for bringing that up!

  2. Rosemary and lavender don’t winter well brought into in a heated house, but I’ve had success keeping them on an unheated glassed porch (in CT zone 5). Would this lovely basil be ok in an unheated, cool but sunny place all winter? I’d love to try it … this basil sounds really interesting and it would be wonderful to have fresh basil all year.

    • Hi Laurrie,
      Rosemary and lavendar are zone 7 plants, usually. Basil would like it much warmer., ideally no lower than about 50 degrees. I have kept this on a sunny, south facing unheated sun porch as late as December last year but after that it got frost-bitten even out there. And that same porch is where I winter my rosemary and lavender! But really, if you’re able to keep basil into December, isn’t that so much better than having to use the dried stuff–even if it’s home dried or freeze-dried? Hope that helps! Karla

  3. I’m growing this one in my garden this year for the first time and we absolutely love it! I’m going to try and grow it and a few other herbs in the kitchen this winter, but anticipate they won’t do too well. Not enough sun and too dry in our forced-air heated house, but we’ll see.

    • It’s definitely worth a try–even if you only get it part-way through the winter, that’s better than most of the basils will do. On of the things I do if I need to try to raise humidity around plants is to put a saucer of water nearby. I never try the saucer of water underneath with pebbles or marbles–too much can go wrong with that. But just put a small low dish of water nearby. You’ll be surprised how quickly it will evaporate–but that means it’s helping, of course!
      Karla

      • Jim,
        As with all plants of this type, it is not sold as seed. It is sold only as a patented plant and reproduction is prohibited (hence no seed sold). I would suggest you try buying the plants where ever you shop for herbs.

        Thanks for reading and commenting.

        Karla

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