Flowers & Herbs / Garden of Eatin'

African Blue Basil

African Blue basil flower bud

One of my favorite herbs sits in my perennial herb bed, and it’s a basil. Yep, a perennial basil. I never even knew such a thing existed until I found my African Blue at a nursery. It flowers almost year-round with pretty purple and lavender buds on long stems, but never bolts and tastes just as lovely as it looks and smells.

African Blue basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum x basilicum “Dark Opal”) is a sterile hybrid of an East African camphor basil and a standard garden variety called Dark Opal. Propagated only through cuttings, African Blue survived an unusually cold and wet winter outside in my zone 10b (Sunset zone 24). Though its growth slowed for a couple months, it perked right up in spring and thrived into a wild-looking shrub.

Considered a tender perennial, it probably won’t live through frost, but overwinters well if grown in a container indoors. And since it just likes to grow and grow, it benefits from as large a container as you can give it.

African Blue basil is a perennial that flowers year-round

New foliage starts out a deep purple but as the leaves mature, they become bright green, retaining only flecks of purple. The herb has a strong, earthy basil flavor with a mellow camphor scent. If rosemary and clove had a basil baby, it would be African Blue.

African Blue basil leaves

African Blue basil flower stems

Since this breed of basil doesn’t go to seed, you can let the flowers bloom all they want, and the plant will still keep going strong for many years. If you want a bushier basil, you can pinch it off and use the edible flower stems as a soup or salad garnish… float them in a glass of iced tea… or sprinkle the buds over roasted potatoes.

Some of my blooms grow over 10 inches tall and I arrange them all over my house in fragrant mini bouquets.

African Blue basil flower arrangement

I have to admit that I’m rather spoiled now. I pick fresh basil in my garden year-round. It’s a kitchen gardener’s dream!

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »

11 Comments

  • Stephanie Kostreba
    May 17, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    I just brought out my African blue basil plants. I tried overwintering them in usda zone 5 the midwest of the United States near Cleveland. I got several cuttings from the greenhouse where I worked last year. They almost all rooted! I would say 16/18 rooted then I rooted more off of those in the first year! Just put the cutting directly in soil and keep moist. Skipped the glass of water and no need for root tone. Just put in dirt and have faith! I found out that just like tomatoes and unlike many other plants u can bury the stem and it will just turn into part of the root system! Very good to know. I am trying to solicit advice as I am sort of winging it here. I don’t even know if they’re alive. I kept them in a cold structure overwinter and they just look like the bushes do after winter and before the buds start. However all the bushes here have started getting leaves and my plants still look lifeless. I have heard that sometimes with plants if u just have faith and keep taking care of them they might surprise u and come back after all. So, I haven’t forgotten about them. I only watered them twice over winter bc I’d heard plants would prefer to tolerate a drought and frost than to have water frozen around the roots. Anyway they’re out in the elements again and I’m going to water them and keep the faith. Any tips will be appreciated thank you

    Reply
  • Mel
    June 1, 2015 at 4:32 am

    Hello, I know I am very late on this post, but I hope it still gets seen. My mum very kindly bought me my first African Blue basil in spring. Currently, the bees and I are enjoying eating it, but I am looking for some help on how to overwinter it. I live in the Netherlands, in zone 8. We usually have mild winters, but cannot guarantee a few frosts. Would it be better to overwinter it in the house, or in an unheated greenhouse? Finding info in my zone for this plant has not proven all that easy, so I hope that someone can advise me.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      June 7, 2015 at 8:48 pm

      I’d overwinter it in the house, as I don’t know how warm an unheated greenhouse would be in the middle of winter. My own basil has never been subjected to temps under 45-50F, so I’d say that’s a safe range.

      Reply
      • Mel
        June 11, 2015 at 12:21 am

        Thank you. And in the house, it is less likely to be a bit neglected over winter. I’ll give it a go.

        Reply
  • Maileilani Sueko Kealoha
    August 20, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    I have one of these and it got huge! I think it split during a storm and I thought it was done for…but it just grew more stems and got even bigger. I love this plant because it attracts bees and butterflies.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      August 21, 2013 at 2:10 am

      I’ve rooted and planted so many cuttings of my basil all over my yard. It’s so beautiful and fragrant and yes, a huge bee attractant!

      Reply
  • Oliverden80219
    July 22, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    I now have a African basil plant that is now in its 7 Th year. The first fall it looked so wonderful and big I decided to dig it out of the garden and pot it into a 16 ceramic pot.It has continued to do very well and each spring it goes back out on the patio. Living in Denver I won’t take a chance of trying to leave it outside because of frost.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      July 25, 2012 at 9:48 pm

      It’s very easy to root as well! I’ve taken several clippings from my first basil plant, and now have a bunch growing around my garden.

      Reply
  • AshleyWaterstradt
    March 22, 2012 at 11:49 am

    How awesome! I’m on the hunt here in Washington now! 

    Reply
  • Amy@GreenGardenista
    June 5, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    Your Basil photos are beautiful. I’ve never heard of African Blue Basil before.  Where did you find it, or order the seeds from?

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      June 7, 2011 at 10:05 am

      Thank you Amy! I found the basil at my local nursery in Los Angeles, but you can also order online from Richters in Canada. This basil produces sterile seed, so the only way to grow is through cuttings or starter plants.

      Reply

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