Why Thai basil … asks Emil, who knows nothing but parsley as a culinary herb. But maybe Emil is called Émile or is a cooking enthusiast Emil who also knows tarragon and Provence basil (and African tree basil, anise basil, white varnished basil, Greek shrub basil), all of which he has in his garden. If Emil / Émile does not have a Thai basil yet, he is sure to be interested, as is the case with each of the other more than 160 types of basil, of which a well-stocked herb specialist has around half in its range. You can also grow Thai basil in three ways.

Thai basil – 3 of 160 basilicas

We cannot present all 160 types to you here, but at least the basil, which is used as Thai basil as a spice in Thai cuisine. This is exactly where misunderstandings begin, because three different types of Thai basil are used in Thai cuisine.

If you don’t just want to taste some exotic basil, but want to try your hand at real Thai cuisine and maybe even feed a Thai guest, you need the right Thai basil for your Thai dish:

  • Bai Horapa, the “sweet basil”, with a touch of anise and liquorice for some soups and sauces, green curry, red curry, the leaves are sprinkled over the finished dishes, never cooked.
  • Bai Maenglak, the “lemon basil”, for fish, soups and drinks.
  • The aromatic Bai Krapao (“Indian basil”) enriches wok dishes and roasted meat with its clove or allspice scent.

Botanically these three Thai basilicas can be classified as follows:
1. Bai Horapa or Horapha is botanically called Ocimum basilicum var. Thyrsiflora and can be recognized with this name as a variety of the European basil plant Ocimum basilicum. Bai Horapa is available in several cultivars, here the most famous:

  • ‘Albahaca tailandesa’ is perennial, grows herbaceous and up to half a meter high.
  • ‘Horapha Rau Que’: Light green leaves, purple-red stems, persistent, lots of aroma and edible pink-pink flowers (if allowed to develop).
  • ‘Queenette’ is perennial and grows like a perennial, long narrow leaves, dark stems, old pink flowers.
  • ‘Thai Magic’: Fresh, green, rather short-lived, but can still be moved into the house in winter.
  • ‘Thai Red’: The red color of the stems extends into the leaves, the taste of cinnamon should be clearly felt.
  • ‘Thai Sweet’ is an annual variety that grows up to 45 cm high in one season and is said to develop the sweet notes particularly pronounced.

2. Bai Maenglak or Ocimum × citriodorum is a cross between Ocimum basilicum and Ocimum americanum, from which it has inherited an intense lemon odor and furry leaves. Ocimum citriodorum ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ has variegated leaves.

For basil specs: Bai Maenglak is often confused with Queen of Siam basil, Ocimum basilicum citriodorum, an American selection breed from 1997. This is a variant of the European basil, also known as lemon basil, popular in the ‘Mrs. Burns’. This lemon basil is said to have a more intense lemon taste than the Bai Maenglak, has longer leaves and is more robust.

3. Bai Krapao is botanically called Ocimum tenuiflorum, so it is a species of its own. This Indian basil is also known as tulsi, holy basil or king basil and originally comes from tropical and subtropical Asia and northern Australia. Bai Krapao is mainly used in two well-known variants:

  • Sri or Lakshmi Tulsi with light green leaves
  • Krishna Tulsi with red leaves

We know of the Ocimum basilicum that it grows in the Mediterranean area, but that it does not originally come from there. The actual origin is not known, it is often assumed that it comes from India because the closest basil relatives grow wild there, but West Asia is also possible because basil was already documented in Egypt 3,000 years ago. In any case, the European basil comes from the warm, and O. x citriodorum and O. tenuiflorum anyway. This means for cultivation in local gardens:

  • Each basil should be sown in the sunniest spot the garden has to offer
  • Basil is not one of the southern herbs that grow in absolutely dry zones, normal moist soil is welcome
  • The leaf mass, which is unusually large for southern herbs, can withstand a few nutrients, especially in our light-poor climate
  • The perfect location is so that the rain does not patter straight down on the leaves, but is scattered by tree foliage
  • If that doesn’t work and the sun shines right after the rain, the leaves could burn through the “burning glass of water droplets”
  • Often this is not exactly the case, however, so you could definitely take the risk of an exposed location in the sun
  • Basil does not want to be really windswept either
  • Sowing should not be done until after the ice saints (mid-May), basil seeds want warm soil around them and in no case frost
  • With continuous temperatures between 15 and 20 ° C, the seeds should germinate in about two weeks
  • The seeds are sown at intervals of approx. 25 cm
  • Do not not cover with soil, basil is a light germ
  • A little more warmth (and protection from hungry birds) is provided by covering with glass panes or foil
  • Basil likes to grow next to tomatoes, to protect them from worm infestation and powdery mildew
  • Sowing in pots works all year round, but brings better results in spring
  • Place the cultivation vessel warm and light, at 22 degrees the first germs can be seen in a few days
  • When the first leaves are there after the cotyledons, the young plants are converted individually into nutrient-rich soil

Caring for Thai basil

Basil inside and basil outside can now grow, in soil that is always kept moist, but without waterlogging.

When watering, you should put the water directly on the soil, not on the leaves. With pot basil, you are welcome to dip the pots until no more air bubbles appear. Then the pot has to be set up for some time so that it can drain off. Because basil doesn’t like too much water at all, watering is only done again when the surface of the earth is dry. The leaves of the basil then usually hang down slightly withered, which does not matter, they straighten up again after the watering.

You should never shock warmth-loving plants like basil with ice-cold tap water, don’t know them from their home country and don’t like the roots. You can use irrigation water that has already stood a little and has room temperature, in the garden you should always use the water in the hose to water the “southerners” first. If you cultivate a lot of heat-loving plants, a water collection vessel is worthwhile, perhaps this is the impetus to start with the rainwater harvesting.

In our country, basil grows in a constant shortage because it receives less light than it is used to. In natural locations, a basil leaves a few nutrients in the soil with a lot of light and creates a lot of aroma (essential oil), with less light it only creates this if it is provided with more nutrients. That is why it is fertilized, Thai basil in the garden should get a nutrient replenishment every two to four weeks, depending on whether you use intensive liquid fertilizer or slower-acting organic fertilizer. Both should have a fairly high nitrogen content, for ample basil leaf mass. Thai basil in the pot needs nutrients more often, once a week, but less concentrated.

The young plant can get its first cut as soon as it has grown really well. If you then cut it once at the top, you encourage branching and vigorous growth, depending on the total height to be expected (see below “Culture Differences”) the cut will be very gentle or more determined. Further pruning takes place at harvest, withered and dry leaves should be removed as soon as you notice them.

Garden or balcony basil can be moved into the house around the end of October (as soon as the earth gets colder than twelve degrees, basil stops growing), then you can continue harvesting during the winter months.

Culture differences between the three Thai basils

Depending on the type, Thai basil shows quite different growth, which also affects its care:

1. The Ocimum basilicum var. Thyrsiflora is a perennial, quite willing subshrub that can grow up to 80 cm high. It is perennial, but not particularly long-lived, and is very popular with bees and other insects in the garden. Its leaves resemble the basil leaves that we know from the supermarket potty on the windowsill, really beautiful light green (for smartphone owners: “Android robot green” is described on an English website). Frequent pruning (harvesting) delays lignification.

“Thyrsiflora” is the name of this basil after its inflorescence, it forms a thyrsus, a high growing main axis with laterally branching flower clusters. The main axis, the flower stalk, is reddish, the flowers light purple-red, the leaves around the flowers sometimes also tinged with purple.

2. Ocimum × citriodorum is more delicate with narrower leaves and is only about 30 cm high. When allowed to develop flowers, they appear between late summer and early autumn and are white. Probably the most warmth of the three Thai basils, it would like to be directly exposed to the sun for at least 6 hours a day.

It is fast-growing, can be ready for harvest in a few weeks, but needs a lot of nutrients to develop a good aroma.

3. Ocimum tenuiflorum is a perennial herbaceous plant with upright stems. You can grow the multiple stems that usually develop side by side and harvest when the leaves are large enough (3 to 5 cm). You can also prune the O. tenuiflorum in the young plant stage (cut off the upper shoot to a few cm above the ground), it grows like a perennial and will then branch out.

You can also let O. tenuiflorum grow taller, it can reach a height of one meter. Then the subshrub develops a straight stem that lignifies at the base and begins to branch at some height. The leaves on the branches will then be a little smaller, but the whole thing looks very nice.

Cut = harvest, storage and preservation

It is best to constantly prune the Thai basil, from the time the first leaves are ready for harvest (large, lush green, strong).

This makes sense for your menu because juicy green Thai basil leaves taste best. The leaves have the most aromatic taste between June and September, there is not much that can be saved from this aromatic taste:

  • Whole stems are cut when basil is to be stored.
  • Drying does not work or works, but then you have a pile that tastes a little like straw.
  • Putting stems in water works, definitely with Bai Horapa and Bai Krapao.
  • It doesn’t work with Bai Maenglak, it wilts immediately, it goes in a screw-top jar in the refrigerator.
  • With the others it doesn’t work forever either, at some point the taste is in the water, even later it rots.
  • An alternative is the freezer, but only for 3 months.
  • If possible, basil should be frozen unwashed because of its aroma.
  • If you can’t stand it, wash the basil leaves on the stem.
  • Before freezing, they need to dry, then they are plucked.
  • And frozen in a plastic bag (for those who love the environment: sandwich bag).
  • Basil stems take root quickly in water and can then be potted and given away.

If you bring garden and balcony basil into the house in October in order to continue harvesting in winter, you have to cut back on the aroma a few times. But it is still better than dried basil (which is sold boldly despite the rapid loss of taste).

Continuous harvesting makes sense for the plant because it becomes bushier and bushier when it is trimmed all around, and more and more side shoots develop. A basil should only be partially pruned while it is growing, never completely bald.

During the harvest season, the basil should not bloom, because then it puts all its strength into the bloom. The leaves become smaller, dry and slightly leathery if the flower base is not cut away. If you want to harvest seeds, it is a good time to choose a plant that is allowed to flower. The seeds are harvested two weeks before the last frost and sown in spring.

If you really want to cook Thai, you need three Thai basilicas (it really means that, language usage and Duden have certainly not thought of the church buildings, “Basilikums” is also possible, only “Basilikümer” make German teachers sweat on their foreheads). If you just want to try a new taste, you can choose a Thai basil, grill fans e.g. B. Bai Krapao, enthusiastic cocktail mixer Bai Maenglak and friends of multi-layered sauces Bai Horapa.

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