Holy Basil - How to Cook and Grow

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Similar in taste to Thai basil there are two varieties of holy basil, white and red. These are distinguished by the colour of the stalks rather than the leaves though they are both variegated plants. As with Thai basil it has a distinctive aniseed aroma, the leaves, less pointed are spicier to taste and for that reason are most used in stir-fries and curries.

Holy Basil

How to Grow

Holy basil should be treated exactly the same as Mediterranean basil, I sow mine in late spring ready for cutting in early June. Like any other basil it thrives in a warm, sunny and sheltered position with moist soil. I pinch out the flowering heads to encourage bushier growth and cut back quite hard if the plant becomes too leggy.

How to Cook

Holy basil is both hot and sharp to the taste, tear off a little piece and try it before cooking so as to best gauge how much you think you will need. As mentioned I use it for chilli hot stir-fries and curries rather than soups or salads for which I prefer to use the less sharp Thai basil. Either leave the leaves whole or tear them with your hands and add towards the end of cooking to preserve its unique flavour and give the finished dish a pungent but fresh taste. If a recipe calls for Thai or Holy basil and you do not have any then do not be tempted to substitute it for Mediterranean basil, they are quite different.

Content and picture Miles Collins