My wife and I were at a Mexican restaurant several weeks ago; we were eating al fresco, sitting at tables on the sidewalk, and watching people leisurely stroll by.

The one thing that made this relaxing evening memorable was when the waiter brought out a cold pitcher of virgin margaritas with fresh basil leaves in it. It was a BYOB restaurant and you could add your own tequila. The fresh basil added to the mixture gave the drink a nice taste of summer. I have had fresh basil a number of ways, but adding it to the margaritas was a great touch.

Many culinary experts call basil the “king of herbs,” and I can see why. Give me some fresh basil, sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, olive oil, cracked black pepper and some crusty bread, and I am in heaven.

There are so many uses of basil that really make it the king of herbs. I have used basil planted with flowers to help keep the deer away in heavy populated deer areas. You can use it in scented gardens or plant it along a path that as you brush past, the basil will release its aroma. I have seen it used in a tapestry gardens with the contrasting colors and textures of several different varieties of basil. In ancient times, people used to put basil in pots on the windowsill to help deter flies. Basil leaves in a hot bath will help reduce stress and facilitate relaxation.

Naturopathic doctors prescribe basil in treatment of diabetes, allergies and respiratory disorders, and use it to promote good health. There are compounds in the basil leaves that are known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. The leaves are also a very rich source of many essential nutrients, minerals and vitamins that are required for optimum health.

The Amish use basil leaves to help alleviate coughing and colds. They chew fresh leaves to calm coughing or make a calming tea of dried basil to help sooth illness. Basil has become an important ingredient in cough syrups and expectorants. Oil of basil inhibits many pathogenic bacteria such as Staphylococcus, Enterococci, Shigella and Pseudomonas. One of my naturopathic friends uses oil of basil to help relieve ear infections. If you are working outside and get bitten or stung by an insect, chewing up a basil leaf and applying it to the bite will help relieve the pain and swelling.

I commonly grow a few types of basil. Ocimum basilicum ‘Genovese Aroma 1’ has a heavenly fragrance and flavor that you would expect in fine basil, with the added bonus of high disease resistance. Aroma 1 is also much more reluctant to set flowers than other varieties. This variety is great for making pesto.

Purple Ruffles or Ocimum basilicum ‘Purpurascens’ is a cultivar that has purple leaves with ruffled edges. It is good for beautiful garnishes or used in the landscape planting alongside a yellow foliage plant.

Ocimum basilicum citriodorum, better known as lemon basil, will add a lemon twist to fruit salads, fish and vegetable dishes. This variety of basil is small leaf and will grow only 15 inches tall. The fragrance that it gives off is said to help repel mosquitoes.

Ocimum basilicum citriodorum ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ is not only a superb culinary plant, but its light green leaves with cream variegation make it an eye-catching gem. This is a non-flowering basil that will grow up to 48 inches tall, and happens to be one of my favorite annual foliage plants for the year.

The last basil on the list is the common or sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum. This basil is native to India and is believed to hold divine essence. In the Greek Orthodox religion it has been known to be used in preparing holy water, as it was found growing around Christ’s tomb after the Resurrection. This basil is a robust grower and can be harvested many times during the growing season.

Would you like to improve your health and landscape appearance? Then I would encourage you to try some of the above mentioned varieties. You can have your landscape and eat it, too.

“Men are like plants—they never grow happily unless they are well cultivated.” —Charles-Louis De Secondat Montesquieu, Les Lettres Persanes (1721)

Craig Dupée is a garden-design consultant. He lives in Ewing with his wife and daughters. Send him your email questions at