How to Grow Thai Basil: Endless Supply of Exotic Flavor!
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Italian basil is a garden and culinary staple, and for good reason. But when you’re looking for an extra dash of flavor zing and gorgeous color, Thai basil it is!
Despite its name, Thai basil is actually a close relative to the mint family of herbs. This connection lies behind Thai basil’s unique flavor profile that leans more sweet and spicy than deep and savory.
Today, you’ll discover some of the key benefits of growing and eating this under-appreciated herb. You’ll also learn everything you need to know about how to grow Thai basil in the comfort of your own home.
Why Should You Grow Thai Basil?
First off, let’s look at some of the qualities that make Thai basil a worthwhile addition to your garden:
Standout Flavor is Totally Different
In contrast to Italian basil’s earthy aroma and taste, Thai basil has more of a sweet, licorice-like flavor that carries a small amount of heat. It also has faint notes of aromatic spices like anise and clove.
Thai basil is a key ingredient in many traditional dishes from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand (of course!). According to the Specialty Produce website, some of these dishes include:
- Thai green curry
- Stir fry dishes
- Pad Thai
In addition to the flavor, Thai basil also has a sturdier leaf structure than Italian basil, and it holds up well during cooking.
And not only is it a flavor powerhouse, but Thai basil also lets off an exceptionally pleasing aroma during cooking.
After you’ve experienced Thai basil’s flavor and color for yourself, you’ll probably always want to keep some on-hand.
Unfortunately, Thai basil is one of those herbs that you don’t often hear about, and you may not be able to find it at some local grocery stores.
And if your local grocery store does carry it, there’s a good chance that it will be expensive. To top it off, fresh herbs tend to spoil very quickly, leaving you to essentially throw money away.
So it’s not hard to see why growing your own Thai basil is a far better alternative!
Beautiful Color and Blossoms
Even though Italian basil is pretty with its vibrant green leaves and stems, it’s nothing compared to a Thai basil plant!
Thanks to a beautiful balance between vibrant green leaves and deep purple stems, Thai basil looks great as an ornamental plant.
And if allowed to grow unpruned, Thai basil sends out a stunning purple flower stalk.
RELATED: Flowers on your Thai basil are not only lovely, they’re good for other things too. Find out more in our post all about basil flowers!
Especially since it’s a lesser-known herb, there’s not a great deal of scientific study that has gone into the health benefits of Thai basil.
However, the nutritional properties of Italian basil and health benefits of mint are well-documented. Here are just a few:
- May improve cognitive function
- Encourage proper digestion
- May reduce the risk for heart disease
- Rich in antioxidants
- Natural anti-bacterial
Since both mint and Italian basil are close relatives to Thai basil, it’s probably safe to assume that it carries many of the same nutrients.
What Supplies Do You Need to Grow Thai Basil?
As long as you give it the basic care it needs, Thai basil is a low-stress crop that’s easy to get started. And you can plant it indoors or out. Yay!
With that being said, you will need to gather a few supplies to create a happy home for your new plant.
Here’s how to go about it:
In a Container
Herbs in general are fantastic container crops, and Thai basil is no exception. This is true whether you’re looking to start a windowsill herb garden or have a larger container on your patio.
Gather the following for your Thai basil container garden:
Pots with drainage holes. When it comes to materials, glazed or unglazed ceramic, terra cotta or plastic pots are all great choices.
While the style is certainly up to you, just make that any pot you choose has at least one drainage hole at the bottom of it. If you can find one you like with two or three drainage holes, all the better!
If you’re only planning on growing a single Thai basil plant, then a 6-inch pot should be more than enough. If you’re looking to grow more than that, a 12-inch pot will allow you to grow 3 plants together.
High-quality potting mix. Your Thai basil needs nutrition, and regular topsoil will not fill the bill.
Instead, use a high-quality potting mix. Look for one that’s lightweight and has an excellent amount of moisture retention.
Compost. It takes a lot of nutrients to produce the best flavor and most vibrant color! Compost is a great way to ensure that your herb is getting all of the organic matter that it needs.
Full sun. Thai basil is a native to the southeastern parts of Asia, so it’s a sun-lover!
If you’re growing indoors, make sure that your Thai basil is in a location that has light throughout the entire day. If you don’t have a sunny window available, you may want to consider some type of grow light to help supplement the lack of sunshine.
If your container garden is outside, choose the sunniest location you can.
In the Ground
Want to plant your Thai basil in an in-ground garden instead of a container? No problem!
Even though Thai basil is a pretty easy-going plant, you will need to prepare your ground for planting first. Here’s how:
Choose a full-sun location. Thai basil doesn’t need a large space, but it needs as much sun as it can possibly get.
A piece of ground that gets full sun all day is ideal, but partial shade will also work. However, the flavor tends to diminish as sunlight exposure decreases.
Well-draining soil. Although Thai basil likes consistent moisture, it does not do well in water-logged soil.
Using a manual cultivator or pitchfork, break up any soil clods and loosen the dirt at least 4 to 6 inches deep.
If you have heavy clay soil, work in some organic material to help increase drainage.
Any of these materials is a good choice:
- Well-rotted manure
- Peat moss
Compost. If you already worked compost into the soil like we just talked about, you’re good to go!
But if you chose another material or your soil didn’t need amending, have some compost on-hand to use during planting.
RELATED: Wherever you plant your Thai basil, make sure to pick the right companion plants for basil. Find out the best ones here!
How to Grow Thai Basil: 2 Methods
You have two choices when it comes to getting your Thai basil garden started:
- Stem cuttings
Each method is a good option, and it’s up to you to decide which one to use.
Here’s what you should know about each of them:
How to Grow Thai Basil from Cuttings
Always choose a healthy, thriving plant to take your cutting from. Avoid any plants with discolored leaves or drooping stems, and skip any stems that have started to flower.
To take your cutting, locate a stem’s uppermost leaf node, which is the site where a pair of leaves grows out from the stem.
Cut through the stem about 4 inches below the leaf node. Then remove all the leaves on the bottom 2 inches of the cut stem.
When you’re done, your cutting should look like this:
Once you’ve prepared your cutting, place it into a cup of water and set it someplace that gets lots of sunlight. A clear glass will work best, so you can monitor the stem for signs of new root growth.
Switch out the water every couple of days. Repeat this until the roots on your cutting reach about 2 inches in length.
Your cutting is now ready to be planted in a pot or in your garden!
How to Grow Thai Basil from Seed
Even though growing Thai basil from seed takes longer than a cutting, it’s a great way to enjoy watching your herb mature through its various stages.
Thai basil seeds are fairly easy to come by, especially if you order them online. Urban Leaf is a great source for healthy seeds, and they have other cool indoor-growing gear too!
Whether you’re growing Thai basil indoors or out, the seed starting process is the same.
Begin by filling a small container with pre-moistened potting mix. Any of these containers are a great choice for starting seeds:
- Paperboard egg cartons
- Small peat pots
- Plastic pots with drainage holes
- Paper seed-starting bins
Once you’ve laid out your potting mix, sprinkle a couple of seeds on the soil’s surface and cover them lightly.
Place your container in an area with full sunlight and an ambient temperature of at least 70 degrees.
While waiting for your seeds to germinate, keep the soil moist, but never saturated. A small, easily-controlled watering can or a mister is a great help.
Once your seeds begin to sprout to about 2 inches tall, it’s time to thin them out. Remove the smaller, weaker seedlings to make plenty of room for the best-looking plants to grow.
Once your Thai basil seedling has two sets of true leaves, it’s time to transplant into their permanent home!
Here’s a little visual assistance to help you determine when your seedling has reached this milestone:
Each of these seedlings has two sets of leaves, but only one set of true leaves.
The lowest leaves are called cotyledons, or seed leaves. These are remnants of the seed itself, and they don’t produce food for the plant.
The uppermost ones are the true leaves, and they look like the mature basil leaves you’re used to seeing. These are the leaves that your plant needs to produce chlorophyll.
If your seedlings look like the picture above, they’re not quite ready to transplant. Wait until you have two sets of mature-looking leaves, like this photo shows:
Now you’re ready to make the move!
As a reminder: If you want just one Thai basil plant, a 6-inch pot is more than enough. If you would like more, a 12-inch pot can hold up to three different seedlings.
Caring for Your Thai Basil Plant
Like any plant, Thai basil needs the proper care to flourish and provide you with a delicious harvest.
Fortunately, caring for a Thai basil plant is pretty simple. Let’s take a look:
We’ve already mentioned that Thai basil is a sun-lover, so make sure it catches plenty of rays!
A good rule of thumb is to give your plant a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight daily.
If you’re growing your Thai basil indoors, rotate your pot every time you water. This will ensure that the entire plant is getting all of the sunlight that it needs.
Thai basil prefers moderate soil moisture, and it will let you know if you’re adding too much or too little water.
If you notice the lower leaves starting to yellow, you’re probably over-watering. If your plant is growing slowly or the soil feels dry, increase your watering.
As a general guideline, plan to water your indoor Thai basil about once per week, taking care to put the water into the soil rather than splashing the leaves.
Another solution is to use a self-watering pot. That way, your Thai basil can take up just the amount of water it needs to stay healthy and happy. Check out our favorite self watering pots to get some ideas!
For outdoor plants, rainfall should be enough to keep them healthy. But if your area experiences a dry spell, give your plants a drink every few days. But as always, keep an eye on your plant and let it be your guide for watering frequency.
Temperature and Humidity
As a tropical native, Thai basil prefers a warm ambient temperature and a fair amount of humidity.
Keep indoor temps around 75 degrees throughout the day and above 68 degrees at night.
The ideal humidity level for Thai basil is about 40%-50%. If you live in a dry climate, placing a water dish next to your plant or running a small humidifier should do the trick.
Obviously, you’re not going to have much control over these factors if your Thai basil grows outside. Just make sure that your average local temperatures stay above the mid-60’s at night before you transplant.
A happy and well-cared-for Thai basil plant will grow rapidly, and you’ll need to keep it pruned both for shape and maximum production.
As soon as your plant gets to be around about 6 to 8 inches tall, it’s safe to start a regular pruning routine.
Don’t worry about trimming such a small plant- all basil species tolerate pruning well. Just make sure to never cut back more than 1/3 of the plant at any given pruning session.
Start from the bottom of the plant and move up to the third set of leaves. Anything above this is alright to prune. If you spot a stem that’s beginning to flower, make sure to prune it and the leaves in the surrounding area.
Using sharp scissors or a hand pruner, make a clean cut through the stem. Repeat the process for the entire plant.
The harvesting process is very similar to the pruning process, with the main difference being the amount that you remove at any one time.
Once you are ready to harvest some leaves, simply cut them off at the stem. Repeat this process until you have what you need.
Preserving Your Thai Basil Harvest
Earlier we mentioned that Thai basil can be hard to come by at your local grocery store or could spoil before you use it all.
By preserving some of your home-grown Thai basil, you’ll never face this worry again!
There are 2 preservation methods you can follow, and both of them are beginner-friendly:
For either method, you need to start out with washed, dried basil leaves. A salad spinner can be your best friend for cutting down on drying time, letting you process more herbs at a faster pace.
Here are the details of both preservation methods:
Freezing Thai Basil
Take your harvested leaves and cut them up into smaller strips.
Next, fill small, freezer-safe containers with your chopped leaves, and cover them with water or oil. An ice cube tray is fantastic for this task: It’s easy to use and produces perfect serving-size portions.
Place your Thai basil into the freezer and allow it to freeze solid. If you want, you can remove your frozen chunks from the original container and put them into a freezer bag.
When you’re ready to use some of your Thai basil cubes, take out however many you need. You can either let them thaw or throw a whole cube right into the cooking pan.
Drying Thai Basil
Make sure your leaves are free of surface moisture before you starting any drying process. Your salad spinner will help a lot, but you’ll still need to set your spun leaves on a dishtowel to fully air-dry.
The easiest way to dry your Thai basil is to use a food dehydrator with an herb screen tray. Just place the leaves in a single layer and set the time recommended by the manufacturer.
Your actual time may vary, but the general timeframe to dry herbs is somewhere between 6 and 12 hours.
If you don’t have a dehydrator, your oven can do the trick.
Place washed/dried leaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and set your oven to the lowest heat setting available. Place your leaves in the oven, and start checking them after 2 hours. When the leaves crumble easily, they’re done!
Whether you use a dehydrator or the oven, store your dried Thai basil in an air-tight container. If you have any empty store-bought herb bottles, reuse them!
Frequently Asked Questions about Growing Thai Basil
Thai basil is a very flavorful herb that also adds a touch of color to your garden. Besides that, it’s also a satisfyingly easy herb to grow.
Follow the guidelines and tips you’ve learned here, and you shouldn’t have any problems producing more than enough Thai basil for yourself and to share!
Have you ever tried Thai basil? What dish would you use it in?
Let us know in the comments!