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Thai Basil, oriental basil, Asian basil, licorice basil (Ocimum basilicum, var. thyrsiflora)

Thai Basil - Herb

Thai basil is a member of the mint family and as such has a particular sweet flavor reminiscent of anise, licorice and clove. Popular among the cuisines of Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, growing Thai basil has a pleasing aroma similar to sweet basil and is generally used fresh in recipes. Also referred to as ‘Sweet Thai,’ Thai basil plants grow to a height of between 12 to 18 inches (30-46 cm.) with leaves 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm.) long on purple stems with purple flowers. Like sweet basil, Thai basil is a perennial that grows to 40–45cm, it prefers tropical, sub-tropical and warm temperate climates, but can be grown during the warmer months in arid/semi-arid and cold temperate climates, when frost is unlikely.

Plant in a soil enriched with compost and decomposed manure, in the full sun or part shade in sub-tropical climates like Auckland. Apply regular applications of a seaweed solution helps to keep plants healthy and productive.  Water regularly, especially during hot dry weather. Closely related to sweet basil, Thai basil has slightly smaller foliage, striking purple stems and matching decorative flower heads. More intense in flavour than sweet basil but with a hint of licorice, Thai basil is a powerful addition to summer salads, as well as an attractive addition to the herb or kitchen garden.

Uses for Thai basil

The purple stems and flower heads make an attractive addition to the summer garden. An annual herb, Thai basil is best harvested regularly and used fresh in salads, soups and rice paper rolls.

Caring for Thai basil

Although regular watering is essential, once established, Thai basil is easy to grow. Harvest regularly to extend your harvest and to help delay your basil from running to seed.   It prefers a moist soil, so enrich with compost and manure, water regularly, and mulch to reduce water loss through evaporation. Always water the soil and not the foliage, especially in hot weather.

Pruning and harvesting Thai basil

Harvest regularly to promote compact growth and to prevent your Thai basil running to seed. An annual herb, plants should be cut down at the end of the growing season. The leaves can be dried for use throughout the year.

Diseases and pests

Snails and slugs can attack young plants. Protect with organic snail pellets or by using a snail and slug trap. Avoid overhead watering, especially during the day. If aphids become a problem, spray with Neem or Eco-Oil to prevent further damage.

Thai Basil Uses

Some Thai basil uses are to infuse with vinegar or oil, to flavor Pho with mint and chilies, make tea, or pair with most any tofu, chicken, pork or beef dish. Recipes online include one for making Thai basil beer and a recipe for Thai basil pesto with peanuts, rice vinegar, fish sauce and sesame oil, which will keep in the refrigerator for a week. Yum! Thai basil is usually used fresh, preferably soon after harvesting, but you can also chop it up or run it through a food processor and freeze in ice cube trays. Once frozen, remove from the tray and store in resealable bags in the freezer for up to two months. Thai basil may also be used as an aromatherapy treatment by bruising the leaves and inhaling their aroma. They can also be bruised and rubbed beneath the eyes and on the forehead for a relaxing reprieve from a long stressful day.

Medicinal and nutritional benefits

  • Vitamins: Just like its Mediterranean counterpart, Thai basil is a rich source of this vitamin A. This vitamin is needed for eye health and for maintaining healthy skin. In addition, foods with this vitamin are known to help protect the body from cancers of the lung and mouth. Thai basil has high levels of vitamin K, which the body uses for producing blood clotting factors and increasing bone strength.
  • Minerals: Both the Mediterranean and Thai varieties of basil contain an abundance or iron, which the body needs to make hemoglobin. Basil is also known to contain other minerals like potassium, manganese and magnesium.
  • Essential Oils: Thai basil, along with other varieties of the herb contain essential oils including eugenol and limonene. These oils are antioxidants with antimicrobial properties.

The various health compounds in Thai basil enable it to prevent or treat conditions such as:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis: The essential oils in Thai basil allow it to be effective for fighting inflammatory diseases including rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Cancer: That basil has been shown to help prevent cancer by increasing antioxidant activity. Its cancer-fighting abilities extend to inducing the death of cancer cells.
  • Bacterial infections: The essential oils in Thai basil also protect against bacterial growth, including strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

If you are going to use Thai Basil to treat an existing health condition please consult with your healthcare provider first. 

Thai Basil