A couple of years ago I found an interesting basil plant which attracted bees like crazy. They swarmed around this plant to the point that if you trim or work around it, you must be do it at twilight when the bees are gone. So what is this plant? The African Blue Basil.
In the spring of 2014, I picked up a 4″ potted African Blue Basil in an attempt to bring bees to the urban farm. I planted it between some tomato plants on the edge of the growing beds.
The plant did its job. When the tomato plants came out at the end of June, the African Blue Basil started to grow and grow and grow. It grew 2-3 feet into the path east of the original planter box. It then took over the entire bed and stood about three feet tall at the highest point.
The real surprise came when we went to take the basil out to make room for garlic. The trunk of the plant was close to 2 inches in diameter. I had never seen a basil plant like this before.
Did you save seeds from this basil for the future? No. The plant does not produce seeds and must be kept alive through cuttings. So in an effort to preserve the variety my son took multiple cuttings. Thanks to those cuttings we were able to keep this type of basil with us over the last 4 years.
Where did this basil come from? The African Blue Basil was first discovered in 1983 by Peter Borchard, owner of Companion Plants in Athens, Ohio. He discovered the plant in the path between beds of the two presumed parents.
Who where the parents? The green-leaved East African basil which grows over 6 feet tall and the Dark Opal basil which is a small plant (1 – 2 feet tall) with deep purple leaves.
How was the plant saved? Mr. Borchard moved the new-found basil to his greenhouse in hopes of obtaining seeds. Unfortunately, the cross of the two extreme plants was too much and it did not produce seeds. The plant was reproduced by cuttings. From these cuttings the plant entered the herb market.
Some people use this basil for culinary purposes but many considered it to have a rather bland flavor. After growing other varieties of basil, I tend to agree the flavor is bland but I will continue to use the African Blue basil to bring in the bees. It is definitely a keeper if you can get your hands on it.
Moving the African Blue Basil from the urban farm to the micro-farm was a challenge. We tried to keep a nice size plant alive in a pot over the winter when we decided to put the house on the market. Then with temporary housing for several weeks in between closings and the plant being neglected during the move, it looked dead and we thought we lost it by the time spring rolled around.
With a lot of tender loving care and water, to our surprise it came back. We eventually trimmed it back to only the new growth and stuck it in the ground.
What I did not realize was that my son had taken a cutting from the new growth to ensure the survival of the African Blue Basil as we turn the micro-farm into a bee friendly environment 🙂