Mrs. Burns’ Lemon Basil
Originally from Thailand, lemon basil is one of those mysterious gems that appeared seemingly out of nowhere in the American Southwest in the early 20th century.
Barney Burns, co-founder of Native Seeds/SEARCH and son of the Mrs. Burns in this variety’s title, recalls his mother receiving lemon basil seeds from a local gardener to plant in their Carlsbad, New Mexico, garden. The herb quickly became a Burns family favorite.
The basil accompanied Barney from New Mexico to Arizona. “I was growing it here in Tucson in planters made out of motorcycle crates,” Barney recalls.
Many years later, “My mom called and said she had lost all of her seed and plants.” Fortunately, Barney was able to rush her some seeds and keep the varietal alive.
“That’s the nature of heirloom varieties of seeds,” he says. “They’re survivors. God knows what we’ve lost.” He shudders thinking about it.
Today, Mrs. Burns’ Lemon Basil is grown and enjoyed by gardeners around the world. Like its name suggests, it has a pungent lemon fragrance and flavor that, unlike sweet basil, is enhanced by drying. It’s amazing in salads and, as far as Barney is concerned, best when chopped and incorporated into his famous lemon basil hamburgers.
Seeds for Mrs. Burns’ Lemon Basil are available from NativeSeeds.org. It thrives in spring and summer gardens. Look for plants and the cut herb at local farmers’ markets.