One of the best plants in my garden this summer and fall has been a nondescript culinary herb known as African blue basil. The taste on the tongue is pretty blah, but oh what a hard worker in my sage bed.
When I bought a couple of the plants in little plastic herb pots in May, they were just 3 to 4 inches tall. These days, they look more like a shrub than an annual: nearly 4 feet tall and just as wide.
Now that not much else is in bloom, bees are swarming the spiky purple-pink blooms on these basil plants like crazy. Happy bees, to me, are a sign of a good plant (and garden).
The whole plant emits a sweet camphor or clove scent, and critters, including deer, have not bothered mine at all. In fact, I have one big plant next to my tomatoes and Iâ€™m convinced that the strong basil smell kept everything off my tomatoes all summer.
New foliage emerges as purple and then fades to deep and bright green with purple veins in the leaves. The undersides have a reddish tone and the stems are slightly hairy.
Known botanically as Ocimum kilimandscharicum x basilicum â€˜Dark Opal,â€™ African blue basil apparently is an accidental hybrid between an East African basil and one known as â€˜Dark Opal.â€™
This hybrid basil won’t grow from seed, but cuttings root easily in a glass of water in just a few days. Iâ€™ve kept cutting and multiplying my plants all summer.
The blooms last three to four weeks, so the cuttings work well in indoor arrangements, too.
Like other plants in the purple-blue family of hues, African blue basil seems to go with every nearby color in my sage bed: yellow-orange mums, red Carpet roses, pure white nicotiana, lavender pincushion flower and every kind of salvia and sage.
Like other basils, African blue thrives in hot, dry weather and never needs to be watered. Just give it a spot in your garden with full sun and fertile soil.
Sadly, just like all of the basils, itâ€™s not the least bit frost tolerant, so I may have to say good-bye to it any day now.