Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum L.) is one of the most popular culinary herbs. It is used as a fresh or dried whole
herb and may be steam-distilled to produce an essential oil. Basil oil has perfume
and pharmaceutical use as well as use as a flavoring ingredient. Many types of sweet
basil, with a diversity of flavors and aromas, are available for cultivation. In 1999,
3,574 tons of dried basil leaf were imported into the US, primarily from Egypt and
Mexico, with a value of $5.1 million (4).
The annual plant is grown from seed or transplants. Basil is very sensitive to frost, so the length of the growing season restricts production in Montana. The plant grows rapidly, and several cuttings may be obtained. Plants should be cut 4-6" from the ground to permit regrowth. Harvest for fresh or dried leaves is done before bloom, while harvest for oil is done at full bloom (3). Commercially, basil is cut and allowed to wilt before distillation.
Sweet basil will not be a highly productive crop in many locations in Montana, but the many types of basil may provide an opportunity for specialized markets.
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