According to Susan Blew of Oak Grove Plantation, in Pittstown, New Jersey, basil is easy to grow. All varieties, including the types here (cinnamon, Thai, purple, holy and lime), need only three hours of direct sunlight each day in a warm spot. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. (If the leaves begin to droop or turn yellow, you may be watering too much.) When the plant is large enough to harvest, either snip the sprigs with scissors or pinch them off with your fingers. Be sure to leave two or three leaves on the plant. The flowers can be eaten, too.
Globe basil has miniature leaves on a round plant. The flavor ranges from sweet to slightly spicy. Use the leaves whole. Osmin Purple basil, a small-leafed purple basil, has a sweet aroma and taste. Genovese is the classic Italian basil used in pesto. Lime basil has a distinctive lime flavor. Armenian basil is an unusual purple and green basil. Licorice basil has the aroma of anise and a flavor reminiscent of tarragon. The leaves have light purple veining and are attached to a lavender stem. Holy basil, an aromatic herb with a clovelike taste, is traditionally used in Thai and Indian cuisine. The leaves are either green or green with reddish tips. Many of these basils, and others, are available from Johnny's Selected Seeds (207-437-4301 or www.johnnyseeds.com) and Shepherd's Garden Seeds (860-482-3638).
Basil & Beauty
Two British companies are now selling basil-spiked products in America: Space NK Laughter Bath Oil is infused with basil essential oil, a natural antiseptic ($28 for 3.4 ounces; at Bergdorf Goodman, 800-558-1855), and Jo Malone Lime, Basil & Mandarin Shampoo is a best-seller for the London perfumer ($20 for 8.5 ounces; 212-673-2220). The clean, spicy aroma of basil helps balance the sweet, fruity notes in Fresh Index Redcurrant Basil Eau de Parfum ($50 for 4 ounces; 800-373-7420). Tipton Charles Basil-Nectarine Salt Glow combines essential oils, including basil, with Dead Sea salt to leave skin glowing ($16 for 10 ounces; at Bigelow Chemists, 800-793-5433). Isabella Rossellini's Manifesto Eau de Toilette blends the scents of basil, sweet pea, white rose and black currant to evoke a summer garden ($55 for 2.5 ounces; at Bloomingdale's, 800-472-0788). The natural basil extract in Origins Look Alive Moisture Cream gives it a scent that's meant to calm ($19 for 1.7 ounces; 800-723-7310).
... Leesa Suzman
Basil & Health
Like most leafy greens, basil is a good source of folic acid, vitamin C and the minerals potassium, calcium and iron--but only if eaten by the cupful. A normal serving of one tablespoon of chopped basil has only minimal benefits; for instance, it provides only 1 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. Basil contributes to healthy eating mainly because it gives lots of flavor to recipes without fat or salt. And it may have some positive psychological effects: Paul Schulick, a research herbalist at New Chapter (a company that makes herbal products), suggests using the kind called holy basil to counter depression and stress. Steep two or three leaves of fresh holy basil in eight ounces of hot water for three minutes. Strain and drink.