It is understandable that using herbs in the kitchen can be confusing especially if you’re a first-timer. You might not know how to use them or which one is great for certain dishes. Fresh herbs will open your taste buds to a whole new world of flavor that it’s worth the time to get to know them.
The differences between basil and mint lie in:
- Appearance: the underside of basil leaves are hairy while mint stems are squarish;
- Color: Some mint either have purple stems or leaves, basil stems are either green or lavender/purple;
- Grow Pattern: mint has runners (offshoots from the root stem), basil doesn’t;
- Lifespan: basil is an annual herb while mint stems come back in the spring because the roots stay alive during winter;
- Taste, Culinary Use: basil has a sweet and anise flavor and it is mainly used in savory dishes while mint has a cool aftertaste and is perfect for tea, sauces, and many desserts.
Let’s learn more about these two wonderful herbs.
Basil or Mint? The 3 Differences
Basil (Ocimum basilicum L) is an herb that thrives on sunny locations — your patio, balcony, any sunny window with 6 hours or more of continuous light daily — or warm soil. Growing basil can be done by seed or cuttings and the best temperature that seeds will germinate is between 65-75 °F (18-24 °C).
Just like basil, mint (Mentha Longifolia L.) also loves warm sunny spots however, it is able to thrive in places under places with a little shadow. Optimal temperatures for mint are between 55-70°F (13-21 ºC). Growing mint can be done by seeds, stems, or root cuttings. It is perennial which means
1 – Appearance
Basil will suffer stunted growth when exposed to cold temperatures or if the soil is cold, it can be damaged and will have black leaves. Also, the soil should be fertile with a lot of organic matter. Poor soil conditions affect the growth and flavor of basil.
Basil loves water so be sure to keep it well-watered but always try to keep water away from the leaves to avoid black spot disease.
Mint also loves water as well as moist soil. It has runners or stems growing out of the root stem which is responsible for its horizontal growth. This makes mint a very invasive plant. This is why you should grow mint only in containers.
Basil is a bushy plant with a number of branches emerging from its stem. If you regularly harvest leaves, the basil does not become unmanageable and overrun. Basil grows between 12-24 inches (30-60 cm) and a width of 12-24 inches (30-60 cm)
A mature mint reaches a height of 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) and has a width of between 12-48 inches (30-121 cm).
Basil stems that hold the flowers are squarish. The stems can have a green or purple/lavender color and do not have an aroma and have a smooth texture.
The stems of mint are typically square-shaped. The branching, whitish stems are coated with small, soft hairs. While young, the stem is herbaceous but turns woody as it matures.
Basil leaves are undivided — meaning that leaves are lobed or unlobed but are not separated. The width of a basil blade is between 1-2.5 cm and can reach between 5-8 cm in length.
Mint leaves are also undivided (lobed or unlobed) but not separated. There are 2 leaves running along the stem lying in opposite directions in a whorl pattern. The leaf is hairy and measures 6 x 1.5 cm.
When taking leaf shape into account, basil leaves are either shaped like a lance — widest below the middle and tapers at both ends or ovate which is described as widest below the middle but widely tapers on both ends. The tip of the leaf can either be acute (sharply pointed) or blunt. The leaves are glossy.
Mint leaves on the other hand are typically oblong to ovate in form, with serrated leaf margins. The serrations are either pointed or round and spaced sporadically along the side of the leaf.
The underside of basil leaves is either hairy, with very few hairs or none at all. A leaf has a petiole (or stalk) distinct from the branch.
Mint leaves are hairy and soft.
Depending on the cultivar, basil leaf colors can be green, purple or lavender, variegated, and white. Variegated color varieties have green leaves with white-colored leaf margins. The leaves are positioned across each other along the stem.
The colors of mint leaves range from dark green, purple, and combination green and creamy white.
Flowers and Colors
Basil flowers are spiky and have a white, pink, or purple (or magenta) in color, growing from the core of the stem. The inflorescences measure approximately 3 to 8 cm long, however, the flower size is less than 1 inch. The flowers are tightly clustered in a whorl-like pattern.
Basil flowers are the part of the plant that produces seeds. Seeds are ready to sow because it does not have a dormancy period.
Mint flowers are purple, white, and pink arranged in a whorl pattern. The seeds appear when the flowers start wilting or have turned brown.
2 – Taste, Culinary Use, and Scent
Basil has a sweet and savory flavor with notes of clove, anise, pepper,. This might change significantly with the variety. Sweet basil, cinnamon basil, and lemon basil are some basil varieties with distinct characteristics.
It works well in both savory and sweet meals. Fresh ice cream, soups, cheese, rice meals, lemon beverages, milkshakes, chocolate drinks, spaghetti sauces, and pesto are all possibilities.
Basil’s flavor and smell are determined by chemical components such as cinnamate, citronellol, geraniol, linalool, methyl chavicol, myrcene, pinene, ocimene, and terpineol, depending on the variety.
Mint leaves have a tangy but sweet flavor with a cold aftertaste that evokes freshness. Some uses include hot or cold tea, sauces, stews, baked goods, salads, side dishes, confectionery, and flavor hot chocolate.
Mint has a strong aroma that even the lightest crush of the leaves releases a strong scent. It contains menthol which is also used as skin cooling in Colognes.
3 – How Long Do They Last?
Basil is an annual herb, its actual lifespan is less than a year for those grown in gardens at places that have cool climates. It is cultivated in the spring from seeds, cuttings, or transplants and will bloom and produce seeds as fall nears. When frost finally arrives, basil will die out including the roots.
It is, however, possible to grow basil year-round simply by growing them indoors. It is done using appropriately sized containers, enough light, and a constant warm temperature. Regarding light, it can be your windowsill or much better a grow light. Further, it can be in soil or soilless setup.
Mint, on the other hand, is a perennial. This means that when planted in the garden, the stems die in the winter but grows back in the spring.
It does not have a dormancy period. This is because the roots survive underground due to their strong underground rhizomes — the large stem that grows underground that is responsible for growing lateral roots. Mint can live between 5-10 years.
What Is The Shelf Life Of Fresh Leaves?
Fresh basil leaves can be stored in the fridge as well. Start by washing, then drying on top of paper towels. Wrap them in dry paper towels and then placing those in plastic bags. This will protect them from moisture and aroma in the fridge. The fresh leaves will last up to 2 days.
To store a bunch of mints. First, trim the ends and place them in a glass with 1-inch water. Then cover the glass with clear plastic and then tie loosely with a rubber band at the end.
This will keep the mint fresh for 3-7 days at room temperature or in the fridge. When you notice the water is a little cloudy, change it.
2 Best Basil Recipes
Easy Tomato Basil Soup
Serves 6, Rated Easy, Total time: 25 min
For the ingredients:
- 2 15 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes, diced
- 12 fresh large basil leaves (or 1 tsp dried basil)
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 diced onion (white or yellow)
- 1 cup chicken broth
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 4 cloves minced garlic
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- If using fresh basil, gather the leaves, roll it up tightly and chop the basil. You should have a yield of approximately 2 tbsp of fresh basil.
- Heat a saucepan on medium-high heat and place the olive oil once it is warm enough.
- Add and saute onion until it is soft and translucent. It can take around 5-7 minutes.
- Add the garlic and let cook with the onion for around 90 seconds.
- Pour in the chicken broth and the fire-roasted diced tomatoes.
- Season with salt and pepper. You can add more later to taste.
- Stir to combine and let simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes. Simmering will make the ingredients break down further.
- Remove from the heat and add the fresh basil.
- Blend all the ingredients to a puree using an immersion blender. Puree until smooth or pulse if you want to leave chunks.
For those who do not have an immersion blender, transfer your soup into a regular blender and puree until smooth. Avoid the buildup of pressure due to the hot soup by allowing the steam to escape from the blender.
- Pour the heavy cream in and give a final stir to combine everything.
- Serve topped with fresh basil leaves. (optional)
Spicy Basil Chicken
This recipe is rated easy and in approximately 15 minutes dinner is served.
Prepare the following ingredients:
- Oil for frying
- 3 chicken breasts cut into bite-sized cubes
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic chopped
- hot chili flakes (to taste)
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- ½ cup water
- pepper (to taste)
- a few fresh basil leaves
- Add oil into a pan over medium-high heat.
- When the oil has warmed, add the chicken breasts and fry until browned up.
- Add the onion, garlic, and hot chili flakes.
- Saute until they’re fragrant.
- Add brown sugar, soy sauce, water, pepper. Give it a stir.
- Reduce the heat and let simmer for about 5 minutes or so,
- Tear the basil leaves and add to the chicken.
- Mix and simmer for just a few minutes before basil wilts.
2 Best Mint Recipes
Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
No need for an ice cream machine. How easy is that?
For the ingredients:
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk
- 1 ½ tsp chocolate chip mint extract
- green food color (optional)
- ½ cup chocolate chips
- mint candy (optional)
- In a mixing bowl, whisk the heavy whipping cream until it forms stiff peaks..
- Add the condensed milk and fold in with the cream.
- Add mint extract and fold in gently.
- Add food color and then fold.
- Add the chocolate chips and fold in.
- Transfer the mixture into a freezer-safe container with a lid.
- Tap to level the ice cream. Add the mint candy on top.
- Cover the container with plastic wrap, push it down to the ice cream. This prevents freezer burn.
- Cover with the lid and freeze for 4-6 hours or overnight.
Pea And Mint Soup In A Blender Recipe
Cooking time: 5 min, Rated Easy.
Prepare the following ingredients:
- 2 cups filtered water
- 2 cups peas (fresh or frozen)
- 1 large handful of partially crushed mint leaves
- 1 handful of raw cashew nuts
- 1 handful shredded coconut
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 spring onion
- 1 vegetarian stock cube
- black pepper and Himalayan salt to taste
- 1 dollop of yogurt for garnish (optional)
What to do:
- Blend the following in a blender: filtered water, peas, mint, cashew nuts, shredded coconut, garlic, spring onion, salt, and pepper.
- When blending start with a slow speed and work your way up to the highest speed.
- Blend for 4-5 minutes, this will have the effect of “cooking” the soup due to the friction on the blade.
- Serve topped with yogurt, a little mint, and pepper.
Best Indoor Varieties
When you’re new to indoor gardening, often it’s confusing which herb to plant indoor. It is natural to choose varieties that do not take up as much space.
We compiled a list of basil and mint varieties that are perfect for indoor gardening with a short description and estimated size.
Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum)
This is the basil that is widely used in culinary as it is the most commonly found in supermarkets. It’s great with tomato dishes and pesto. Height and width: 10 x 10 in (25 x 25 cm)
Spice basil (Ocimum basilicum)
This basil has a sweet and spicy taste. It can serve a dual purpose as an herb and as a decoration because it produces pretty pink flowers. Height and width: 10 x 10 in (25 x 25 cm)
Dark opal (Ocimum basilicum)
This purple-leaved basil has a mild spicy flavor and is great with vinegar recipes. With this plant, you need to wait for the potting mix to dry in between waterings. Height and width: 12 x 12 in (25 x 25 cm)
Thai basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflorum)
This purple stemmed basil has a licorice aroma. It is popular in Asian-style dishes. Height and width: 12 x 12 in (30 x 30 cm)
Pineapple mint (Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’)
Just as the name suggests, this mint truly does taste like pineapple. Also, it is called “Variegata” because of its variegated leaves in green and creamy white. It’s great for desserts. Height: 8-12 in (20-30 cm)
Chocolate mint (Mentha x piperita f. citrata)
This mint has dark brown leaves and is quite special for its mint and chocolate flavor. It makes for a good tea and also adds flavor to puddings. Height: 12-18 in (30-45 cm)
Apple mint (Mentha suaveolens)
This mint is best for lamb or added to peas and potato dishes. Although it grows tall, we included this in the list because of its fruity taste. Height: 36 in (90 cm)
- Basil has a sweet and savory taste while mint has a tangy but sweet flavor with a cold aftertaste.
- Both herbs are perfect for container gardening more especially basil because there are several varieties that take up only minimal space.
- Both herbs love lots of water.
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