The Q&A Archives: Poor Flavor in Basil

Question: I have grown basil outdoors, both in the ground and in containers, and in both cases the taste gets worse (more bitter) as the plants grow and the season progresses. I grew different varieties; the problem was worst with lemon basil--almost inedible after the plant started to flourish--but definitely noticeable with Genoa basil. I tried to keep the plants pinched or cut back so they didn't flower, but this didn't seem to help much. This winter I brought one of the potted Genoa basils inside and put it in a window. Although it has not grown very fast, it is still healthy and tastes a lot better than what I grew outdoors. Can you suggest any ways to improve the taste of whatever I plant outside this summer?

Answer: I know that plants such as chile peppers and herbs taste stronger when they grow in hot, dry conditions. I have noticed the same problem with basil towards the end of a season, when it's old and tough. Another problem may be soil fertility. Basil prefers a rich, well-drained soil, and should be mulched after soil warms up to discourage weeds and equalize soil moisture/temperature. Soil pH also affects plant growth and flavor, so check to see if your soil pH is off - basil likes it where most garden plants do - 6.0-6.5. Hope this makes the difference! The only other possibility I know of is that your tastebuds are very sensitve, and prefer the mellower taste of a less-vigorous "winter-window" basil. Hope this sheds some light!

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