Photo by PN Cinque Terre - Basil growing in the Cinque Terre hills
The Cinque Terre Basil together with the tiny hothouse Genovese basil are the two best known and sought after Riviera’s basil varieties. It is widely agreed that the Greeks are responsible for bringing the basil herb to Italy from Persia. Its botanical name, Ocimum basilicum, derives from the classical Greek meaning "swift" and "kingly" suggesting that basil germinates and grows quickly and is of noble or refined character.
One of the main tasks of the Cinque Terre National Park is dedicated to restoring uncultivated lands, replanting olive trees and grapevines, and , in their shade, growing certified organic garlic and basil. It is then used for the preparation of the Park’s Pesto Sauce by a local food processing firm. The pesto sauce here is prepared within one hour from the harvesting of the basil and follows a classic recipe: it is made only with traditional ingredients like basil, extra-virgin olive oil, Grana cheese and pecorino, pine nuts, garlic, and salt. You can buy a pot to take home at the Cinque Terre co-op winery ( which sells wine, pesto and other park products) as well as the park's shops in the train stations of each of the five villages.
You can buy the Park's local products at the villages'
The basil here in the Cinque Terre is mainly grown at Costa del Corniolo, a slope between Riomaggiore and Manarola, not far from the co-op winery. The Cinque Terre basil is quite tall in size, growing large and healthy here in the sea breezes. It is darker and more powerful in flavour than the Genovese basil, however it is much less strong than most full-sun, garden-grown basil.
Generally, Ligurians do not like the basil herb when it is dark green and tough, the result of growing in a direct sun, which will also give it the mint-like flavour. Scientists in Genoa have isolated and identified eugenol as the active chemical substance in mature, sun-grown plants. Shade-grown basil has little or no eugenol and is high in methyleugenol which gives it a pleasant citrus scent and taste.
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