Updated November 10, 2021 by Mark Marino
Among the most commonly grown and easy-to-care-for herbs, basil is a terrifically fragrant plant and is known to help boost the immune system, promote healthy digestion, reduce inflammation, and possibly even enhance mood, according to medical research. Of course, many people simply love the sweet and mildly zesty flavor that basil adds to foods. Whether you choose to grow basil from seed or plant basil seedlings, you can easily learn how to grow basil, harvest, and store it here.
Types of Basil and the Best Kinds of Basil to Grow Indoors
A member of the mint family, basil is typically grown for its leaves and use as a kitchen herb or for its aromatic essential oil. In warm, tropical climates such as India, where this plant likely originated, some basil plants may be grown as perennials. However, the plant is most commonly grown as an annual herb. Basil is one of the oldest herbs to be cultivated. Genovese basil is generally considered the best type of basil to grow indoors. Owing to their attractive appearance, many basil plants are simply grown for their lovely appearance and bright green shades or deep purples.
Genovese Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Also known as sweet basil, Genovese basil is the most common type of basil grown indoors. If you love pesto or other Italian sauces, you’ll want to grow a cultivar of Genovese basil.
Purple Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Purple basil is a cultivar of sweet basil; however, it has a slightly spicier flavor. It’s also used in pestos as well as salads or to flavor olive oils. Its lovely purple leaves make it a popular culinary garnish too.
Lemon Basil (Ocimum basilicum x citriodorum)
Also known as Thai basil, lemon basil features a fresh and sweet lemony scent that complements its pungent basil flavor. It pairs wonderfully with salads, seafood, and vegetables.
Supplies for Growing Basil
Growing basil indoors requires the following materials:
- Basil seeds or basil seedlings (a single pack of Genovese basil seeds is generally enough for a household’s cooking needs)
- Plastic container with drainage holes (4-6 inches in height)
- Nutrient-rich potting soil
- Organic fertilizer
- Grow lights (if you don’t have a sunny window)
Planting Basil Indoors
When planting basil indoors, you’ll want to prepare your plastic pots. Add some peat moss or coconut coir to the potting soil to give your basil seeds or plants a good organic start. Moisten the soil but don’t saturate it. When planting basil seeds, place a few on the soil’s surface. Then sprinkle some potting soil above them, but not too much. They’ll need sunlight to germinate. Place your basil plants in a sunny window, preferably one that faces south.
Caring for Basil Plants
When growing basil indoors, follow these general plant care tips:
Whether planting basil seeds or basil plants, you need to ensure your pots have access to at least six hours of direct sunlight. Be sure to rotate the plant every couple days to ensure even lighting or your basil can become “leggy” as it searches for more sunlight. If you are relying on grow lights, opt for about 10 hours of light. You can also move your basil plants from your sunny window to grow lights as needed.
Choose a nutrient-rich soil for growing basil indoors. You can add organic material such as peat moss or coconut coir to enrich your potting soil.
When growing basil indoors, keep the potting soil moist but not soggy. Too much water can cause root rot.
Temperature and Humidity
Your basil plant should thrive at room temperature. Ideal temperatures for growing basil indoors are between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Basil doesn’t require much humidity, especially if you’ve kept its soil moist. Give it a mist with your spray bottle between waterings.
It’s a good idea to feed your basil with organic fertilizer. A slow-release organic fertilizer is best for growing basil indoors.
How and When to Harvest Basil
As soon as you see six sets of basil leaves on your plant, you can begin to harvest. At that point, you can harvest leaves from your basil plant whenever you need them. Fresh basil is ideal for use in cooking. You can also dry your basil. For harvesting basil in bigger batches, cut back an entire stem; this will promote more growth to produce a bushier basil plant.
Uses for Basil
Many people grow basil indoors for its culinary uses. Basil is frequently added to tomatoes, sauces, strews, salads, salad dressings, meat, and seafood. You might also grow basil for its essential oil, which is reported to soothe headaches, repel insects, and provide relief from digestive complaints. Also if you’re sitting outside on your patio or porch, bring your pot of basil with you; mosquitoes don’t like it!
How to Store Basil
After you pick and wash your basil leaves, be sure to let them dry thoroughly. Then, you can store your fresh basil wrapped in a paper towel in an airtight container or even a ziplock plastic bag. Refrigerate it and use it within a few days. If you want to preserve your basil, you can freeze it, but it does best as a paste when frozen. You can also dry your basil by baking it in the oven (200 degrees) until it’s dry and easily crumbles. Then, you can store it in an airtight jar for up to a year.
FAQs about Basil
Does basil need direct sunlight?
Yes, basil is a sun-loving plant. It needs at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.
How long does basil take to grow indoors?
Basil takes, on average, about 7 days to germinate. From that point, the plant is typically ready to harvest in about one month.