Sunday, January 11, 2009

Growing organic Thai basil

Also known as Vietnamese mint, Vietnamese cilantro, Cambodian mint and hot mint - Persicaria odorata is not a member of the mint family,

*Edit 12/2/2009*: thanks to the anonymous commenter below (Terima kasih!), I now know it is in fact Thai basil, aka Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora.

but you can also grow it from cuttings like mint. It may not be organic when you get it from the market, but I suppose if you plant it with your organic compost, fed with vermicompost, it must qualify as organic after a while! :)

In Malaysia, it's also known as daun laksa (‘laksa leaf’) [I'm not sure of this now...] because it's used in the delicious spicy-sweet laksa dish. It's also very nice with chicken, and WW likes to use it in stuffing for roast chicken.

As usual, I got a bunch at the market – its smell is easy to recognise, something like a spicy tarragon is how I remember it.

It's meant to be able to grow roots in water, but five days after the photo below, that hasn't happened.

There are purplish flowers on a stem which may help it to grow, I'm not sure about that though.

For those which were going in the ground, I stripped off the bottom leaves because the roots are likely to grow out of the interstices, and I buried as much of the stem in the earth as possible. I got the earth from below our compost heap where we piled all the palm branches, bamboo cuttings, etc.

Then into a wide pot they went – so far, they seem to be doing pretty well. So far, we’re doing pretty well with the ‘market to garden’ series :)

I’ll keep you updated!

Here's a recipe for Katong Laksa (Singapore Curry Laksa), and some advice for growing it in an apartment.


renaye said...

i'm not good in gardening but i was wondering what happened to the min in the pot? it looks pretty layu.

ipohchai said...

I'm sux in gardening but every plant I bring home will end up dead... just duno why???

btw, any idea how to start a hydroponic thingy? I'm interested to do one but have no idea how

julian said...

*renaye* - The previous mint in the water all died off. But the Vietnamese one is a lot hardier, and I saw some roots growing today.

*ipohchai* - The basics that you need to check for each plant is whether they like sun or shade, and lots of water or not, well-drained soil or not. Often, if your plants are dying, you'll find you're doing one of those wrong. Also don't put too much fertiliser.

Hydroponics needs a lot of equipment and careful monitoring. Apart from that I don't know much, but there is lots on information out there via Google. said...

Julian, I really love your blog. I learn a lot.

julian said...

*yeokeehui* - Thanks that's nice to hear :)

ipohchai said...

geeze, I started to feel growing plants is a difficult thing to do now ;(
I would like to grow a chili plant though and I thought chili plant are kinda tough.
but still, they're dead

julian said...

It's not that difficult, just need to get used to it with a little trial and error...
As for chilis, well - I *do* find those difficult, but others have managed to grow them easily. The key thing there is not too much water I think.
Try googling, or check forums such as
Don't give up, it's very nice to grow things :)

Anonymous said...

Salamat Pagi Julian,

Vietnamese mint is a fabulous herb - extremely delicious, verstatile and hardy but so often misunderstood in the western world - it's so exciting to see it gaining in popularity and recognition through sites such as yours.

The thai basil that you have depicted in your photos however is not vietnamese mint which may explain why it was not quick to strike.

Vietnamese mint has a very strong, distict smell and flavour and is most easily recognised by its long pointy leaves and purple woody stem. (never round or as green as those in your pictures)

It can be tricky to get hold of and many retailers (even asian ones) not familiar with the herb will try and convince you that vietnamese mint is the same as the thai or common variety.

check out this site for a better idea - or alternatively google images for vietnamese mint.

It sounds like you have a most interesting garden. I spend a lot of time in Malaysia and Indonesia and Im very envious of your full time life there - where are you in Malaysia?

Semoga Berjaya!

julian said...

Ah yes I can see the difference, the leaves are a lot more pointy.

Thanks for the correction :)

I'm in Petaling Jaya and study at the local branch of an Australian university.

Anonymous said...

Hi Again Julian!
I am very jealous - it must be a very interesting life for you over there!
Do try and get hold of some Vietnamese mint if you can - it is very easy to grow and so delicious in asian salads and soups!!
It can be replanted straight from cuttings and as long as it is kept moist it will merrily take off of its own accord!
You are not alone in mistaking its identity though and i am glad that you were not offended by my uninvited comments on your site.
i hope that you can get hold of some!!
kind regards

julian said...

It is interesting, though of course there are downsides too. But I do like living here.

Thanks again for all the info, feel free to check all my other posts! ;p

Anonymous said...

hey julian, great blog you have. i'm afraid the thai basil is not synonymous with the laksa leaf you posted about. they may be of the same family though. a reference image can be found here: i have better luck planting basil from its seeds (found within the pods where the flowers are).
I'm based in Singapore & have close to 100 pots of plants thanks to my mum's sky-rise garden. stumbled upon your blog from the website in my quest to learn more about vermiculture.. What type of worms do you use etc? i'd love to learn more of how you compost.

julian said...

Hi Jocelyn, thanks for the info - ya the leaf does look different, though similar.

For worms we got 'red wigglers' and 'tiger worms' - but the latter seem to have not survived :( Can't say I could teach you much about vermicomposting, as we are only marginally successful - but the starting point is getting good worms. From then on it's mostly regulating the environment they're in I think.

Gaffey said...

Nice blog! I'm trying out growing Thai basil in a cup of water right now, but so far it's been a week and no sign of roots yet. How long is it supposed to take?

julian said...

Hi Gaffey, thanks for dropping by :)

Some roots started growing after a week, but if I remember rightly it was the ones that I planted straight into the soil that did best in the end.

I dunno where you are, but the environment should be warm.

julian said...

To Gaffey = continued...

But don't give up, times can differ. One method is to cut the top a bit - so that there are not too many leaves, and the plant will concentrate a bit more on developing the roots.

If it doesn't work, try again! Also try straight into the soil. Use some good potting (preferably organic) soil.

Maya said...

Hi Julian:I have thai basil growing in a pot. The way to get it to grow is via its seeds. If you'd like some seeds, let me know. I can post some to you. I've sent roselle seeds to a friend in Melaka once so I think it's safe to send seeds via post. I love thai basil - it is fab when fried in omelettes. Laksa leaf is daun kesum and its fragrance is very different from thai basil.