Do you want to grow an ornamental edible plant that has beautiful dark red-purple flowers that cover the plant all summer long, plus makes a bold statement in your garden? Oh, and how about easy, low maintenance, and draws pollinators? Try Cardinal Basil and you will be hooked and grow it every year.
Basils are plants that constantly surprise me with their usefulness and diversity. See African Blue Basil for my post on this extraordinary plant and how you can use it in the kitchen, primarily a wonderful tasting pesto! Cardinal Basil like African Blue Basil, has a spicy pungent fragrance and when crushed leaves a lingering odor on your hands. Decorated with with these incredible celosia-like tightly packed flowers that hang on all summer long, the flowers keep getting larger and darker in hue. Arranged in a pyramid shape of dark-colored flower bracts, the “flowers” are simply specialized leaf structures.
Cardinal Basil is an easy herb to grow as long as you follow several important rules:
Don’t plant it too early in the spring. I planted mine too early in chilly weather and it languished for a long time. Thinking it was dead, I cut the whole thing back and when warmer weather came it sprang back and formed a bushy plant in no time.
Wait until the night temperatures consistently stay above 50 degrees F. It will tolerate lower temperatures, but it will not thrive and can have real trouble bouncing back from an extended cool period.
If you notice dark spots forming on the leaves, it is probably due to cold water from the hose. Try watering in the cool of the day to remedy this problem.
Plant in full sun; if in partial shade this plant will suffer and become straggly.
Usually with basils, you nip the flowers off so that the plant branches out and produces more foliage to use in pesto, but with this basil, I leave all the flowers and bracts on to enjoy and use. The plant naturally forms a shrubby well branched plant about 24″ high and 18″ wide. The leaves can be used like other basils and the stems are a lovely burgundy color.
For more information on lots more basil varieties, go to http://ramonasbasilgarden.com/basil-list/. There are hundreds of them!… and I am still finding and growing more.
Use the leaves, flowers, and bracts in pestos, salads, garnishes for soups and anything that you would use regular basil for. It just gives a whole new dimension in taste because of its pungency. I love using the colored bracts because of the zing of color that it adds to food. Go to my post on edible flowers at Edible Flower Palette to see other edible flowers that you can use in cooking.
Next year, I will try it in containers as I think it would create a beautiful focal point used alone or maybe with one other plant, like a burgundy colored coleus.