Boosting Basil in Mississippi
By Ann Perry
April 22, 2008
Fragrant basil fields are already part of the landscape in Europe,
Asia and some parts of the United States. This aromatic herb provides a variety
of essential oils which are used in foods, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics
worldwide. Now Agricultural Research
Service (ARS) chemist
Cantrell is helping to assess basil's potential for large-scale production
Cantrell, in the ARS
Products Utilization Research Unit at Oxford, Miss., is partnering with
Mississippi State University (MSU)
horticulturalist Valtcho Jeliazkov to evaluate the chemical composition and
field performance of 38 basil accessions.
The researchers obtained the sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum L.)
from the ARS National Plant Germplasm Collection and cultivated the plants at
the MSU Research and Extension
Center at Verona, Miss. After the crops matured, they analyzed each
accession for differences in chemical composition and yield.
The team found that the dry basil yields from all of the accessions
were relatively high, with most exceeding 3,500 pounds per acre, and were
generally consistent with yields reported from other countries. In addition,
the accessions contained a range of different essential oil compositions and
essential oil volumes. The Mississippi basil crops did not appear to be
susceptible to insect pests that typically infest basil varieties grown in
southeast Europe, which is a significant center of basil production
In another study of three different basil genotypes, the scientists
harvested the crops three times--when the plants were in full bloom--during the
growing season. They observed that harvest practices altered crop essential oil
content, yield and composition. Sweet basil (O. basilicum L.) harvests
yielded higher levels of essential oils and herbage after a second and third
cut, while holy basil (O. sanctum L.) increased oil and herbage yields
with the third cut.
In 2000, basil imports to the United States--either fresh, dried, or
as essential oils--were valued at approximately $5.6 million. This research
indicates that with the right startup support, Mississippi farmers could be
positioned to produce a high-value crop for the national--and
ARS is the U.S.
Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.