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!