Thursday, July 18, 2013

Herb of the Week - Cinnamon Basil

This week's Herb of the Week is Cinnamon Basil

Cinnamon basil is a cultivar of Ocimum basilicum (sweet basil). It contains cinnamate, the same chemical that gives cinnamon its flavor, and has a strong scent of cinnamon. The leaves are small to medium sized compared to traditional basil plants and the stems are maroon to red rather than green.  It is a plant of distinction, both in scent and appearance. The combination of basil and cinnamon flavors make cinnamon basil popular for use in hot drinks and with fruits.
Among my loves are the cultivars lemon and lime basil, but I thought I woud share one that is not citrus for a change and open your mind to the joys of Cinnamon Basil today. Let’s talk about its history and uses for a moment:

  • Some gardeners plant cinnamon basil close to their tomato plants in the
    garden to discourage bugs from damaging the tomato plants. Not only will it enhance the flavor of the tomato but also repels mosquitoes and white flies. It also will enhance the growth of asparagus and roses while protecting these plants from some insects. 
  • Rub its leaves on your skin or grow it in containers on your patio to help repel mosquitoes. You can also place fresh sprigs on top of food containers to keep flies from landing at picnics.
  • When dried, cinnamon basil is wonderful in potpourri and can be used in herb/dried flower wreaths.
  • Cooking with cinnamon basil is unique and interesting.  You can add it to your tea, use it in jellies, honeys, vinegars and baked goods.


An annual with leafy stems and thin branchy roots, the flowers of Cinnamon Basil are two-lipped, 1/2 inch long, white and grow in racemes at top of stems. However, just like all basil plants, you want to cut those flower heads off to improve the flavor of the leaves.  Leaves are opposite, ovate with an entire margin. They are 2-3 inches long and range from yellow-green to dark green depending on soil fertility. Leaves have a cinnamon fragrance and flavor.  Cinnamon Basil is hardy in zones 4 to 10, but is not resistant to temperatures lower than 40 degrees.

Cinnamon basil is one the easiest basils to grow. All basils are annuals, but this one germinates fast.  When planted from seed it takes approximately 5 to 7 days to sprout depending on how warm the soil is. It can be started indoors and transplanted into gardens or container pots. Cinnamon basil can grow up to 3 feet tall and, if you pinch back the leaves, it can bush out to 3 feet. 

You can also grow this herb by rooting a stem cutting in water.  Once rooted, it can be planted in soil once the roots are about an inch or so in length.

Choose a location in your garden that receives 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day and contains a well-drained soil.  Plant cinnamon basil seeds directly into the ground a week or two after the last frost of the season. Cover the seeds with 1/4 inch of soil.  Water the seeds lightly and keep them moist until they sprout, which should take about a week.  When the seedlings have developed two or three leaves, thin the plants so that they are 6 to 12 inches apart.  Once the plants are established, add 2 to 3 inches of mulch to help maintain moisture and reduce weeds.  Water deeply every week throughout the growing season.


One of the main compounds in Basil, (E)-beta-caryophyllene, or BCP, offers anti-inflammatory properties similar to those found in Oregano.  It also helps fight bowel inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis.  It is used to treat respiratory disorders, allergies, diabetes, colds and flu, herpes virus, and infertility.  It is believed to be effective at fighting off free radicals which cause damage at the cellular level. It is even used in the treatment of some cancers.  It boosts the immune system and relieves common skin ailments. It is anti-bacterial and anti-viral.

Dry basil by hanging bunches of it upside down in a well-ventilated place for about a week. Once it is dried, remove the leaves and store them whole or crumbled in an airtight container for up to one year.

Use the dried leaves as a poultice  it is best to use fresh leaves rather than dried.  Cinnamon Basil’s medicinal properties are more potent when used in the form of an extract or oil. In Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese cooking Cinnamon Basil is used to flavor soups and stews, meat and poultry, and even drinks and desserts.  Cinnamon Basil pairs exceptionally well with fruits.

When I harvest my cinnamon basil, I wash it, pinch the leaves from the stems, chop, place in labeled zip lock bags and freeze it. Anytime I want to use fresh cinnamon basil, all I have to do is reach in my freezer and I can cook with it all year round. Or you can rub leaves with olive oil and place in ice cube trays or plastic bags, then freeze to save them for later use. Use within one year.


Cinnamon Basil & Lime Icebox Cookies
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
• 1/4 cup flax seed, ground
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 1/3 cups butter, softened
• 2 cups granulated sugar
• 2 large eggs
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
• 2 tablespoon grated lime zest
• 6 tablespoons fresh cinnamon basil leaves, chopped
• 2 cups pecans, chopped
• Parchment or wax paper for wrapping dough

Pinch some cinnamon basil leaves from your herb; wash it, chop it and put in a small bowl.  Add flours, flax seed, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Mix and set the mixture aside.  Add butter and beat until fluffy. Add sugar and eggs; beat the mixture until it becomes light and fluffy. Add vanilla, nutmeg, lime zest and cinnamon basil; blend. Take a measuring cup, scoop a cup from the flour mixture at a time and add it to the butter and blend. Add the nuts and gently stir.  Once the dough is mixed, remove from the bowl onto a piece of parchment paper that has been dusted with flour. Shape the dough into a log shape and then wrap it completely with the parchment paper. Put it in a refrigerator overnight until the mixture gets hardened so that you can slice the dough. Take the dough that was refrigerated overnight, user a serrated and cut the dough about 1/4-inches to 1/2-inch slices. Arrange the cookies on a cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 to 12 minutes until the cookies become golden brown. Once the pieces are baked, put on a rack to cool.

Recipe Tip: You can bake some of the cookies and freeze, then just microwave to thaw.  Or wrap the dough log and put in ziplock bag, and freeze.  When you are ready to use, thaw almost completely, but still stiff to slice into 1/4" to 1/2" slices and bake.

Basil-Pecan Cookies

  5 fresh cinnamon basil leaves
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup butter or margarine
 2 cups all-purpose flour
 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 Process basil and sugar in a blender or food processor until basil is minced.  Melt butter in a large saucepan; add basil mixture, flour, salt, and cinnamon. Stir in chopped pecans and vanilla; remove from heat.  Drop dough by 1/4 cupfuls onto ungreased baking sheets; flatten to 1/4-inch thickness with bottom of a large glass.  Bake cookies at 300° for 40 minutes or until golden. Remove to wire racks to cool.

*Regular basil may be substituted; increase ground cinnamon to 1 teaspoon.

Cinnamon Basil Orange Drink
 1/2 cup rinsed, lightly packed fresh cinnamon basil leaves
 2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup soda water
 sprigs of fresh basil

In a 1-quart glass measure or bowl, combine basil leaves (see notes) and sugar. With a wooden spoon, crush leaves with the sugar until thoroughly bruised. Add orange juice and mix. Pour through a fine wire strainer into two ice-filled glasses (at least 10- to 12-oz. size). Add soda water to each glass and mix. Garnish coolers with rinsed sprigs of fresh basil.

Cinnamon Almond Drops

  • 1 cup margarine
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 T. almond extract
  • 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 Tbls. Cinnamon basil, minced
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • Garnish: 1/3 cup slivered almonds, coarsely chopped; ¼ cup granulated sugar;  1 tsp. cinnamon
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl mix together the margarine, brown sugar and ¾ cup sugar.  Add eggs, almond extract and cinnamon basil and mix well.  In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the sugar mixture and mix well.  In a small bowl, mix together the ¼ cup granulated sugar and the cinnamon.  Roll the dough into level tablespoon sized balls, roll each ball in the cinnamon sugar mixture then place them onto cookie sheets which have been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Place the sheets in the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes until the cookies are medium brown on the bottom.  Makes about 4 ½ dozen cookies.

Cinnamon Basil Tea

Bring one cup of water to boil
Pour over 10-12 fresh Cinnamon Basil leaves
Cover and let steep for 3-5 minutes
Strain leaves from the water
Drink plain for maximum herbal benefit
If you must use a sweetener, use only raw honey.


  1. Thanks Marcy for this it
    You have taught me all I need to know about this herb :)
    Have a great weekend!

  2. We purchased a plant to use as a pest repellant. It's grown beautifully and now we look forward to using it. Thank you!

  3. Found your post while searching for recipes using cinnamon basil. I bought some for the first time not knowing exactly what I'd use it for. This is great information! I reposted (with credit given of course) to my website and FB page. Thanks so much!

    1. Thank you for the share! I think where I grow and you are very different, nice to know somethings can be the same!

  4. Do the Pecan-Basil cookies really not contain eggs?

  5. Yes the recipe has no eggs. It is a shortbread style cookie.

  6. How big does the plant have to be, before you can start taking leaves off it?

  7. How big does the plant have to be, before you can start taking leaves off it?

  8. About 6 to 8 true leaves need to be present before you can start cutting, I pinch out the top two leaves when they get that high to encourage more branching and bushiness. If they are already bigger than that you can cut half the height. Once they get over 10 inches tall you can cut 3/4 of the height without harming them. Continue this for the rest of the summer. Always pinch out the flower heads when you see them on a basil plant.

  9. Does it make a good pestos? Having trouble finding recipes, for the loads of it I grew. Should I just freeze the leaves dry, or freash with an oil coating?

    1. This is not a good basil for pesto. I would suggest hang drying it, as the leaves are small enough and when dry use it to make teas or stir into fruit dishes and fruit smoothies. I also suggest making cookies with it. You can do that when they are fresh and freeze the cookies for gifting later.


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