Where is basil originally from?

Cooking with Basil

The leaves of this plant are so delightful and habit-forming, you have to marvel that it hasn’t been made illegal. Basil is undoubtedly the most loved and popular herb in Italy. Although we tend to associate it with Italy and other Mediterranean countries, it actually originated inIndia, and was brought to the Mediterranean via the spice routes in ancient times.

The leaves of this plant are so delightful and habit-forming, you have to marvel that it hasn’t been made illegal. Basil is undoubtedly the most loved and popular herb in Italy. Although we tend to associate it with Italy and other Mediterranean countries, it actually originated in India, and was brought to the Mediterranean via the spice routes in ancient times.

Tulsi, as the herb is known in Hindi, means “Sacred Basil,” and some of the many varieties of the plant were incorporated into Indian cooking centuries ago. From India, basil traveled not only to Europe and Africa, but spread to other parts of Asia as well, most notably to Thailand. Today, there are at least a dozen varieties grown for culinary use, and countless other cultivars. Sweet Basil (Ocimum bacilicum), and its close relativebasilico genovese, are the only varieties used in Italian cooking to avoid the mint flavor common in other types. Its flavor has been described as spicy and peppery, with a hint of clove and mint – but of course this doesn’t come close to capturing its unique essence. Perhaps it’s more helpful to talk about what it pairs with best: olive oil, garlic, lemon, rosemary and thyme – and of course, tomatoes. Basil and tomatoes seem to have been made for each other – as in the beloved insalate caprese, as well as tomato sauces. But, this herb is also great with other vegetables – such as zucchine and melanzane (eggplant), to name just a few – and is widely used in many pasta dishes.

If you’re growing basil in your garden or at a window, cut basil leaves as needed for the kitchen from the top. The leaves grow back quickly. Basil preserves well in oil and can also be frozen. It is rich in anti-oxidants, and some claim it has anti-cancer and anti-viral properties. In Italy, basil is believed to help along the penichella – the after-lunch nap that millions of Italians still enjoy on hot summer afternoons.


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Basil, (Ocimum basilicum), also called sweet basil, annual herb of the mint family (Lamiaceae), grown for its aromatic leaves. Basil is likely native to India and is widely grown as a kitchen herb. The leaves are used fresh or dried to flavour meats, fish, salads, and sauces; basil tea is a stimulant.

basilBasil (Ocimum basilicum).Castielli

Basil leaves are glossy and oval-shaped, with smooth or slightly toothed edges that typically cup slightly; the leaves are arranged oppositely along the square stems. The small flowers are borne in terminal clusters and range in colour from white to magenta. The plant is extremely frost-sensitive and grows best in warm climates. Basil is susceptible to Fusarium wilt, blight, and downy mildew, especially when grown in humid conditions.

basilBasil (Ocimum basilicum).Walter Chandoha

A number of varieties are used in commerce, including the small-leaf common basil, the larger leaf Italian basil, and the large lettuce-leaf basil. Thai basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora) and the related holy basil (O. tenuiflorum) and lemon basil (O. ×citriodorum) are common in Asian cuisine. The dried large-leaf varieties have a fragrant aroma faintly reminiscent of anise and a warm, sweet, aromatic, mildly pungent flavour. The dried leaves of the common basil are less fragrant and more pungent in flavour.

The essential oil content is 0.1 percent, the principal components of which are methyl chavicol and d-linalool.

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Basil Plant History: What Are The Historical Uses For Basil

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is one of my favorite herbs. For most of us, our usefulness for basil doesn’t extend much beyond the kitchen, so you may be surprised to learn in this basil plant history that the plant has had many non-culinary uses over the past thousands of years. Read on to learn more about these historical uses for basil.

History of Basil

The history of basil goes way (way) back, by some estimates, to about 5,000 years culminating in up to 150 different cultivars of basil worldwide, each with a distinctive flavor. If you enjoy Italian cuisine, then you are likely familiar with the sweet basil varieties. However, if you are partial to Asian cuisine, then your taste buds would be attuned to thai basil, lemon basil and holy basil. The true origin of basil seems to be up for debate, but the most widespread beliefs are that it originated in either India or Asia and spread to the Mediterranean via the ancient spice routes.

A member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family, basil is in good company with other well-known herbs such as rosemary, sage, and lavender. The scientific botanical name of basil is Ocimum basilicum. The first part of this name could be rooted in Greek mythology in the tale of the warrior Ocimus. Basil appeared when Ocimus fell to a challenging gladiator. Or, if the stuff of myth and legend just isn’t for you, let’s fall back on the notion that the name Ocimum could be derived from the Greek word okimon, which by definition means “fragrant” – there is no disputing that basil is an aromatic herb.

But what about the second half of the scientific name – basilicum? Well there are two schools of thought on this. It could be an allusion to the Greek word “basileus,” which means “kingly.” Basil is sometimes referred to as the “king of herbs” or the “royal herb,” perhaps due to the belief that basil was first grown on the original cross of Christ. Romans also referred to basil as “basiliscus” because they thought that eating basil would protect them from the basilisk (a fire breathing dragon).

Historical Uses for Basil

Embalming and Preserving Herb – Archeologists conjecture that the ancient Egyptians used basil as an embalming herb as the herb has been discovered in mummies removed from the pyramids.

Medicine – Ancient traditional medicines, some of which are still practiced today, like Ayurveda, used basil as a soothing and healing herb for many different afflictions. In addition, basil is incorporated into many essential oils that are in the marketplace today due to basil’s long standing reputation of being an herb with restorative properties.

Scorpion Protection or Outbreaks – African legends touted basil’s ability to protect against scorpion stings. In the 1500’s, a French doctor by the name of Hilarius (and you may find this “hilarious”) proclaimed that smelling basil would cause scorpions to evolve in the brain. A Flemish doctor during this same time period suggested that crushed basil left between bricks would turn into a scorpion.

Love or Hate – Throughout the centuries, basil has either been a symbol of love or hate. In Portugal, for example, a small decorated pot of basil (manjerico) is traditionally given to cherished ones as a symbol of love on religious holidays (St. Anthony’s and St. John’s Day). Basil is also synonymous with love to those in Iran, Malaysia and Egypt, where it is planted on grave sites. To the ancient Greeks, basil was a symbol of poverty, hatred and misfortune due to the notion that basil only cropped up where there was abuse. However, in the same token, they also believed it opened the gateways to heaven and tucked it in the hands of the dead to ensure them a safe journey to the afterlife.

There you have it, a glimpse into the history of basil! It is interesting when history reveals how one plant was used and regarded in so many different ways across different cultures and across the centuries.

Health benefits of basil

Share on PinterestConsuming basil may help reduce oxidative stress.

Basil may provide health benefits in the diet, as herbal medicine, and as an essential oil.

Traditional uses include the treatment of snakebites, colds, and inflammation within nasal passages — a common effect of colds, for example.

Basil provides some macronutrients, such as calcium and vitamin K, as well as a range of antioxidants.

Sweet basil, for example, has a high concentration of the chemical agent eugenol. This gives it a clove-like scent. Lime and lemon basils have high concentrations of limonene, which give them a citrusy scent. Both eugenol and limonene have antioxidant properties.

Reducing oxidative stress

Antioxidants are essential for eliminating free radicals from the body.

Free radicals are unstable molecules that develop as a result of metabolism and other natural processes. They can also form as a result of smoking and some dietary choices.

Antioxidants are compounds that help remove these molecules from the body. If they build up instead, oxidative stress can occur, resulting in cell damage and, possibly, disease.

Scientists have linked cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and other health issues to oxidative stress.

The body produces some antioxidants, but it also needs to absorb some from the diet. Among the many antioxidants in basil are anthocyanins and beta carotene.

Which foods are good sources of antioxidants? Find out here.

Supporting liver health

A 2015 study in rats concluded that antioxidants in a powdered preparation that included tulsi, or holy basil, had a positive impact on liver health. The scientists applied the powder after using a toxin to induce liver injury.

Tulsi — a plant that is very different from the basil in the average Western supermarket — plays a role in Indian traditional medicine.

Fighting cancer

A review published in 2013 looked at whether tulsi, or holy basil, could prevent cancer.

The authors concluded that the phytochemicals in holy basil may help prevent certain types of skin, liver, oral, and lung cancers.

They appeared to do this by increasing antioxidant activity, changing gene expression, triggering cell death, and slowing cell division.

However, the studies in this review were preclinical or performed in animals. Confirming the effects will require further research.

Is there a link between cancer and the diet? Find out here.

Protecting against skin aging

According to research published in 2011, sweet basil has properties that might help protect the skin from some effects of aging.

In the study, the scientists applied a basil extract to laboratory models of skin. The results suggested that including basil extracts in topical skin creams might improve skin hydration and reduce roughness and wrinkling.

While extracts of basil at certain doses may have this effect, consuming basil will not necessarily benefit the skin.

However, the antioxidants in basil and other plant-based foods may have a protective effect if a person consumes them as part of a varied diet.

Learn about foods that can help boost skin health.

Reducing high blood sugar

Some practitioners of traditional medicine commonly recommend basil to help manage blood sugar levels.

A 2019 study in rats found that an extract of sweet basil leaves helped reduce high blood sugar levels. The results also suggested that basil leaves may help treat long-term effects of high blood sugar.

If further investigations confirm these findings, basil extracts could prove useful for people with diabetes.

Which foods are good for people with diabetes? Find out here.

Supporting cardiovascular health

A 2011 review reported on findings that a sweet basil extract briefly reduced high blood pressure, possibly due to the extract’s eugenol content. Eugenol can block calcium channels in the body, lowering high blood pressure.

However, 2 minutes after the researchers used the extract, the blood pressure returned to its high levels.

In another study, 24 healthy volunteers took either a placebo or a capsule containing 300 milligrams (mg) of a dried tulsi leaf extract once a day.

After 4 weeks, those who took the tulsi extract had lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides than those who did not. The authors concluded that the extract could help reduce some risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Find foods that may help lower blood pressure here.

Boosting mental health

Mental stress can trigger the production of free radicals in the body.

According to a 2014 review that looked at the role of tulsi in Ayurvedic medicine, the plant contains properties that may help:

  • alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression
  • increase the ability to think and reason
  • prevent age-related memory loss
  • improve stress-related sleep and sex issues

Some studies, the authors report, produced results comparable to those of diazepam and antidepressant drugs.

However, confirming these findings will require more research. Also, consuming tulsi — in a tea, for example — is unlikely to have the same effect as receiving a dosage of an extract.

How may the diet impact depression? Learn more.

Reducing inflammation and swelling

Oxidative stress can lead to inflammation, a factor in various diseases, including cancer, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.

In 2017, researchers analyzed the anti-inflammatory properties of two preparations of sweet basil essential oil.

According to their results, basil oil may help treat various diseases that involve inflammation resulting from oxidative stress.

It is not clear whether eating basil, however, could have the same effect.

Which foods may help manage inflammation? Find out here.

Combatting infection

Various practitioners of traditional medicine have used basil as an antimicrobial agent, and some scientific research supports this use.

In 2013, researchers applied sweet basil oil to various strains of Escherichia coli , or E. coli. The bacteria came from people with respiratory, abdominal, urinary, or skin infections, as well as from hospital equipment. The results showed that the oil was active against these bacteria.

The researchers concluded that certain preparations of basil oil could help treat or prevent some types of infection.

Oregano is another herb that may have health benefits. Learn more here.

Basil or Ocimum basilicum belongs to the mint family Lamiaceae. It is also known as Saint Joseph’s wort. It is both a culinary herb and a medicinal herb and sometimes also called great basil, sweet basil or Tulsi. The word basil is derived from the Greek word “Basileus” meaning royal. It is believed that basil grows above the spot from where Saint Constantine discovered Holy Cross along with his mother Saint Helena. Basil is considered as “King of herbs“.

Basil or Ocimum Basilicum Varieties

Commercially available basil are cultivars of sweet basil which constitute over 160 varieties of hybrids. Most commonly used basils for culinary use and medicinal properties are:

  • Piccolo Verde Fino : It is also called fine green basil

    Greek Basil

  • Greek basil
  • Lettuce leaf basil : A large leafy variety of basil having large, crinkled leaves that have a sweet taste.
  • Genoves basil : It is also known as sweet basil having clove like taste and fragrance due to eugenol content.
  • Lime basil : This type of basil tastes like lemon due to presence of citral which gives a tangy citrus flavor to the leaves.
  • Siam Queen : It is also known as Thai basil

Scientific Classification

Kingdom – Plantae
Subkingdom – Tracheobionta (Vascular Plant)
Super division – Spermatophyta (Seed Plant)
Division – Magnoliophyta (Flowering Plant)
Class – Magnolipsida (Dicotyledons)
Subclass – Asteridae
Order – Lamiales
Family – Lamiaceae (Mint Family)
Genus – Ocimum
Scientific name : Ocimum Basilicum

Botanical Description

Ocimum basilicum is a fast growing tender herb which grows best in tropical warm climates and is perennial. It grows 12 -36 inches in height and spreads up to 24 inches like a bushy shrub. It has dark or light green, leaves which are silky.These leaves are 3 – 5 cm long and 1 – 3 cm wide,which are opposite to each other. The flowers of basil are arranged as a spike in white or pink color. The seeds of basil are black in color.

Origin and Distribution of Basil

Basil is a native to Asia and the Middle East but has long been grown in Europe and Mediterranean regions.

Favorable Conditions for Growing Basil

  • Soil: Basil grows best in well-drained, moist soil with neutral pH. You can add a rich compost to the soil at the beginning of the season.Soil amendment is not necessary. In fact, if the soil is too rich, basil loses some of its flavor intensity.
  • Sun: It grows best in warm environments that receive about six hours of sun each day. You can also plant a couple of basil plants in an area that receives only four hours of sun, but they aren’t as prolific as the others.
  • Water: You can water your basil when the soil is dry to touch.Water the plant at its base and not all over its leaves.
  • Spacing: Depending upon the variety, basil grows anywhere from 12 to 36 inches in height. Plant your basil saplings 12 to 16 inches apart.
  • Companion planting: Plant basil with any herbs and vegetables with similar lighting and watering needs, like tomatoes or parsley. Some even say tomatoes taste better when they neighbor basil.

Basil can be planted alongside chamomile, lettuce, peppers, and oregano.

Your View on this


Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Lamiales
Family: Lamiaceae
Genus: Ocimum
Species: O. basilicum
Binomial name
Ocimum basilicum

Basil is the common name of an aromatic, herbaceous plant, Ocimum basilicum, of the mint family Lamiaceae. This species, often referred to as sweet basil, is widely cultivated for its edible leaves. The term basil also is used for the scented leaves of this plant, popularly used as a herb for culinary purposes, or the term is used even more specifically for the seasoning prepared from the dried leaves. In a broader sense, the term basil may be applied to any of the plants in the genus Ocimum, which includes species such as holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) and the hybrid lemon basil (Ocimum × citriodorum).

Basil has a long history of use, being known as the “royal herb’ in ancient Greece, and employed in various cultures not only for culinary but also medicinal and religious use. Basil is extremely versatile as a culinary herb. It offers offers a wide variety of diverse flavors and scents, including clove, citrus, camphor, licorice, and cinnamon thanks to variable amounts of different oils in its different cultivars. With the human ability to detect a wide range of molecules, these unique aromas and tastes of basil provide people special experiences and delight.


  • 1 Overview and description
  • 2 Chemical components
  • 3 Cultivation
    • 3.1 Diseases
  • 4 Culinary use
  • 5 Medicinal use
  • 6 Cultural aspects
  • 7 References
  • 8 Credits

Overview and description

Lamiaceae, the flowering plant family to which basil belongs, has about 210 genera and some 3,500 species. Lamiaceae plants are frequently aromatic in all parts and include many widely used culinary herbs in addition to basil, such as mint, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, thyme, lavender, and perilla. Many members of the family are widely cultivated, owing not only to their aromatic qualities but also their ease of cultivation: these plants are among the easiest plants to propagate by stem cuttings. Besides those grown for their edible leaves, some are grown for decorative foliage, such as coleus and snow-on-the-mountain. Others are grown for food purposes, but seeds are utilized instead of leaves, such as with chia. The leaves emerge oppositely, each pair at right angles to the previous one (called decussate) or whorled. The flowers are bilaterally symmetrical with five united petals, five united sepals.

Within the Lamiaceae family, Ocimum is a genus of about 35 species of aromatic annual and perennial herbs and shrubs, native to the tropical and warm temperate regions of the Old World. Most plants, such as Ocimum basilicum, have green leaves, but the variety opal basil has purple leaves.

Sweet basil or tulsi (Hindi: तुलसी,Tamil: துளசி, Urdu: تلسی)) is a low-growing herb that is grown in warm, tropical climates. It is native to India and other tropical regions of Asia, where it has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years. Basil grows to between 30-60 centimeters (cm) tall, with opposite, light green, silky, flat, shiny leaves 3–7 cm long and 1–3 cm broad. The flowers are large, white in color, and arranged in a terminal spike. Unusual among Lamiaceae, the four stamens and the pistil are not pushed under the upper lip of the corolla, but lay over the inferior. After entomophilous (insect) pollination, the corolla falls off and four round achenes develop inside the bilabiate calyx.

Sweet basil tastes somewhat like anise, with a strong, pungent, sweet smell. Basil is very sensitive to cold, with best growth in hot, dry conditions. While most common varieties are treated as annuals, some are perennial, including African Blue and Holy Thai basil.

Other basils are grown in many regions of Asia. Most of the Asian basils have a clove-like flavor that is generally stronger than the Mediterranean basils. The most notable is the holy basil or tulsi, a revered home-grown plant in India. In China, the local cultivar is called 九層塔 (jiǔcéngtǎ; literally “nine-level pagoda”), while the imported varieties are specifically called 羅勒 (luólè) or 巴西里 (bāxīlǐ), although often refers to another different kind of plant, parsley.

Lemon basil (Ocimum × citriodorum), a hybrid between basil (Ocimum basilicum) and African basil (Ocimum americanum), has a strong lemony smell and flavor very different from those of other varieties because it contains a chemical called citral.

The word basil comes from the Greek βασιλεύς (basileus), meaning “king.” Legend has it that it grew above the spot where St. Constantine and Helen discovered the Holy Cross. The Oxford English Dictionary quotes speculations that basil may have been used in “some royal unguent, bath, or medicine.” Basil is still considered the “king of herbs” by many cookery authors. An alternative etymology has “basil” coming from the Latin word basilicus, meaning dragon and being the root for basilisk (legendary, venomous reptile), but this likely was a linguistic reworking of the word as brought from Greece.

The various basils have such different scents because the herb has a number of different essential oils that come together in different proportions for various varieties. The strong clove scent of sweet basil comes from eugenol, the same chemical as actual cloves. The citrus scent of lemon basil and lime basil is because they have a higher portion of the chemical citral (lemonal), which causes this effect in several plants, including lemon mint, as well as the terpene chemical limonene, which gives actual lemon peel its scent. African blue basil has a strong camphor smell because it has camphor and camphene in higher proportions. Licorice basil contains anethole, the same chemical that makes anise smell like licorice, and in fact is sometimes called anise basil.

Other chemicals helping produce the distinctive scents of many basils, depending on their proportion in each specific breed, include:

  • cinnamate (same as in cinnamon)
  • citronellol (geraniums, roses, and citronella)
  • geraniol (as in geranium)
  • linalool (Simon et al. 1999) (a flowery scent also in coriander)
  • methyl chavicol (Simon et al. 1999) (which gives tarragon its scent)
  • myrcene (bay, myrcia)
  • pinene (which is, as the name implies, the chemical which gives pine oil its scent)
  • ocimene
  • terpineol

Dried basil leaves.

Sweet basil leaves may be consumed fresh or dehydrated, and the essential oil may be used for flavoring or medicinally.

Dried basil, which may be purchased in the spice section of supermarkets, differs in flavor and aroma from the fresh herb, but can be stored much longer—up to six months in a cool, dark place in an airtight container (Herbst 2001). The fresh leaves may be refrigerated, wrapped in a barely damp paper towel in a plastic bag, for up to four days, or stored for up to a week as a bunch, with stems down, in a plastic-bag-covered container of water, if the water is changed every two days (Herbst 2001). The fresh herb can be kept for a longer period in the freezer, after being blanched quickly in boiling water.

For consumption, sweet basil is most commonly recommended to be used fresh. In cooked recipes, it is generally added at the last moment, as cooking quickly destroys the flavor. The dried herb loses most of its flavor, and what little flavor remains tastes very different, with a weak coumarin flavor, like hay.

Sweet basil is prominently featured in varied cuisines throughout the world including Italian, Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian. It is a key herb in Mediterranean cuisine (Herbst 2001). Basil is one of the main ingredients in pesto—a green Italian oil-and-herb sauce from the city of Genoa, its other two main ingredients being olive oil and pine nuts. The most commonly used Mediterranean basil cultivars are “Genovese,” “Purple Ruffles,” “Mammoth,” “Cinnamon,” “Lemon,” “Globe,” and “African Blue.” Chinese also use fresh or dried basils in soups and other foods. In Taiwan, people add fresh basil leaves into thick soups (羹湯; gēngtāng). They also eat fried chicken with deep-fried basil leaves.

Basil is sometimes used with fresh fruit and in fruit jams and sauces—in particular with strawberries, but also raspberries or dark-colored plums. Arguably, the flat-leaf basil used in Vietnamese cooking, which has a slightly different flavor, is more suitable for use with fruit.

Lemon basil is widely used in Indonesia, where it is called kemangi and served raw, together with raw cabbage, green beans, and cucumber, as an accompaniment to fried fish or duck. Its flowers, broken up, are a zesty salad condiment.

When soaked in water the seeds of several basil varieties become gelatinous, and are used in Asian drinks and desserts such as falooda or sherbet. Such seeds are known variously as sabja, subja, takmaria, tukmaria, falooda, or hột é.

Medicinal use

Sweet basil traditionally has been used medicinally for a variety of conditions, including bronchitis, the common cold, influenza, muscle pain, and insect bites. The seeds are used for their medicinal properties in Ayurveda, the traditional medicinal system of India.

Recently, there has been much research into the health benefits conferred by the essential oils found in basil. Some scientific studies have suggested that compounds in basil oil have potent antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-viral, and anti-microbial properties (Bozin et al. 2006; Chiang et al. 2005; de Almeida et al. 2007; Manosroi et al. 2006).

In addition, basil has been shown to decrease the occurrence of platelet aggregation and experimental thrombus in mice (Tohti et al. 2006).

Basil, like other aromatic plants such as fennel and tarragon, contains estragole, a known carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) and teratogen (birth defects causing agent) in rats and mice. While human effects are currently unstudied, the rodent experiments indicate that it would take 100–1,000 times the normal anticipated exposure to become a cancer risk (EMEA 2004).

Cultural aspects

Flowering basil stalk

There are many rituals and beliefs associated with sweet basil. The French call basil “herbe royale,” and it also was known as “royal herb” to the ancient Greeks (Herbst 2001). Jewish folklore suggests it adds strength while fasting. It is a symbol of love in present-day Italy, but represented hatred in ancient Greece, and European lore sometimes claims that basil is a symbol of Satan. African legend claims that basil protects against scorpions, while the English botanist Culpeper cites one “Hilarius, a French physician” as affirming it as common knowledge that smelling basil too much would breed scorpions in the brain.

Holy Basil, also called “tulsi,” is highly revered in Hinduism, being connected to the god Vishnu, among others. Holy basil also has religious significance in the Greek Orthodox Church, where it is used to prepare holy water. It is said to have been found around Christ’s tomb after his resurrection. The Serbian Orthodox Church, Macedonian Orthodox Church and Romanian Orthodox Church use basil (Macedonian: босилек; Romanian: busuioc, Serbian: босиљак) to prepare holy water and pots of basil are often placed below church altars.

In Europe, they place basil in the hands of the dead to ensure a safe journey. In India, they place it in the mouth of the dying to ensure they reach God. The ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks believed that it would open the gates of heaven for a person passing on.

In Boccaccio’s Decameron a memorably morbid tale (novella V) tells of Lisabetta, whose brothers slay her lover. He appears to her in a dream and shows her where he is buried. She secretly disinters the head, and sets it in a pot of basil, which she waters with her daily tears. The pot being taken from her by her brothers, she dies of her grief not long after. Boccaccio’s tale is the source of John Keats’ poem Isabella or The Pot of Basil. A similar story is told of the Longobard queen Rosalind.

  • Bozin, B., N. Mimica-Dukic, N. Simin, and G. Anackov. 2006. Pubmed Characterization of the volatile composition of essential oils of some lamiaceae spices and the antimicrobial and antioxidant activities of the entire oils. J Agric Food Chem. 54(5):1822-8. Retrieved April 4, 2008.
  • European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products (EMEA), Working Party on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPWP). 2004. Final Position Paper on the Use of Herbal Medicinal Products Containing Estragole. London: EMEA. Retrieved April 4, 2008.
  • Manosroi, J, P. Dhumtanom, and A. Manosroi. 2006. Pubmed Anti-proliferative activity of essential oil extracted from Thai medicinal plants on KB and P388 cell lines. Cancer Lett. 235(1):114-20. Retrieved April 4, 2008.

Herbs and spices


Angelica • Basil • Basil, holy • Basil, Thai • Bay leaf • Boldo • Borage • Cannabis • Chervil • Chives • Coriander leaf (cilantro) • Curry leaf • Dill • Epazote • Eryngium foetidum (long coriander) • Hoja santa • Houttuynia cordata (giấp cá) • Hyssop • Lavender • Lemon balm • Lemon grass • Lemon verbena • Limnophila aromatica (rice paddy herb) • Lovage • Marjoram • Mint • Mitsuba • Oregano • Parsley • Perilla (shiso) • Rosemary • Rue • Sage • Savory • Sorrel • Stevia • Tarragon • Thyme • Vietnamese coriander (rau răm) • Woodruff


African pepper • Ajwain (bishop’s weed) • Aleppo pepper • Allspice • Amchur (mango powder) • Anise • Aromatic ginger • Asafoetida • Camphor • Caraway • Cardamom • Cardamom, black • Cassia • Cayenne pepper • Celery seed • Chili • Cinnamon • Clove • Coriander seed • Cubeb • Cumin • Cumin, black • Dill seed • Fennel • Fenugreek • Fingerroot (krachai) • Galangal, greater • Galangal, lesser • Garlic • Ginger • Grains of Paradise • Horseradish • Juniper berry • Liquorice • Mace • Mahlab • Malabathrum (tejpat) • Mustard, black • Mustard, brown • Mustard, white • Nasturtium • Nigella (kalonji) • Nutmeg • Paprika • Pepper, black • Pepper, green • Pepper, long • Pepper, pink, Brazilian • Pepper, pink, Peruvian • Pepper, white • Pomegranate seed (anardana) • Poppy seed • Saffron • Sarsaparilla • Sassafras • Sesame • Sichuan pepper (huājiāo, sansho) • Star anise • Sumac • Tasmanian pepper • Tamarind • Turmeric • Wasabi • Zedoary


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Basil comes in over 40 varieties (in some circles it is reported to be above 60), but the variety that comes to the minds of most people is “Sweet Basil” also known as Ocimum basilicum. It originated in Asia, but just where in Asia is not known. It could have been as far east as the Hunan region of China. The most ancient record we have of it is from India. It spread from there by seed and plants to Egypt where it was used as an embalming and preserving herb in mummies.

Basil was known in Greece in ancient times. A great legend grew up around it that it was the cure for the bite of the dragon-like creature known as a basilisk. This creature was supposed to have the head of a rooster, the body of a serpent, and the wings of a bat. Basil was said to be the only cure for its bite as well as its withering breath, which could kill plants and animals. Legend also had it that anyone who looked the basilisk in the eyes would instantly die.

Because of its imputed effectiveness against the mythological basilisk, basil was also thought to have medicinal properties when applied to the bites or stings of animals. The Romans thought that basil would only be effective if it were planted while the sower was cursing. To this day, the French term for planting basil semer le baslic also means to “rant and rave”.

Basil is associated with the wife of the Hindu god, Vishnu. Her name is Tulasi or Lakshmi. When she came down to Earth she was supposed to have taken the form of basil (or perhaps it was only her hair). As such, Hindus hold the herb sacred and ask forgiveness when they touch it.

In Romania there is an old custom that if a boy accepts a sprig of basil from a girl, he is engaged to marry her. It is also tradition that basil was found growing around the tomb of Jesus. In medieval times it was thought that scorpions grew up under pots of basil.

In any case, in most countries, basil is thought to be a royal herb. “Basil” in Greek, does mean “royal” or “kingly”. This may be because in many regions it was used in perfumes reserved for kings.

Basil came to America via the Massachusetts Bay Colony where it was introduced in 1621. From there its cultivation spread through the colonies. It has long been used to flavor food in the western world, but was used primarily for its aroma in India. Today it is most recognized for its influence in Italian and Thai cooking.

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