By Maryann Readal, Secretary, Board of Directors, The Herb Society of America
It seems almost sacrilegious to be talking about spring already, but that is exactly what gardeners do—they plan for the season ahead.
As I survey my East Texas garden each morning, I make notes on what has done well and what has been a disappointment. Cardinal basil, Ocimum basilicum ‘Cardinal’, is one of the plants that has definitely made next year’s list. While the Genovese, African, lemon and holy basils have already gone to seed and are beginning to fade, the Cardinal basil is still going strong. The attractive celosia-like magenta flowers and burgundy stems are beginning to put on a show in the garden. The flowers just keep getting bigger as each day passes. And this basil is generously endowed with scent. Just brushing by it releases a wonderful aroma that makes you hungry for pesto.
Cardinal basil is also a culinary basil, although I have to admit that I have not tried it yet. Others report that it has the same basil flavor with a slight anise, pungent flavor. The young flowers make a colorful addition to salads or vegetable dishes.
This is one basil that you may not be able to find in a nursery, however. But you can grow your own plants from seed as the seeds germinate easily and transplant well into the garden. Cardinal basil grows well in Zones 4 to 10. Like all basils, it thrives in the sun and prefers warm soil, so wait until your soil is warm enough and the temperature is consistently above 50o F to transplant it into the garden. This basil prefers a weakly acidic to neutral soil. It forms a shrubby, well-branched plant and will reach a height of 18 inches to 2 feet.
And did I mention that Cardinal basil also makes a great landscape plant? It’s lush, shiny green leaves make a great filler in the garden border. The glossy leaves are disease- and pest-free and look great in the garden. The flowers and the stems look and smell great in bouquets as well.
Cardinal basil is an Herb Society of America Promising Plant for 2018. This HSA program features selected herbs that are either newly introduced or are plants that are currently under used in gardens today.
This basil will definitely be a keeper in my garden in the years to come.