(Ocimum basilicum) of the Family Lamiaceae
is also known as Albahaca, St. Joseph's
Wort, and Sweet Basil. It is a tender
low-growing annual herb, originally native
to tropical Asia. It grows to between twenty
and sixty centimeters tall, with opposite,
light green, silky leaves one and a half to
five centimeters long and one to three
centimeters broad. It tastes somewhat like
cloves, with a strong, pungent, sweet smell.
Basil is very sensitive to cold, with best
growth in hot, dry conditions.
The word basil comes from the Greek
βασιλευς, meaning “king”, as it is believed
to have grown 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.
is most commonly used fresh, and in cooked
recipes, is generally added at the last
moment, as cooking destroys the flavor
quickly. The fresh herb can be kept for a
short time in plastic bags in the
refrigerator, or for a longer period in the
freezer, after being blanched quickly in
boiling water. Place fresh leaves in a dry
jar with a pinch of salt, and cover with
olive oil. The dried herb also loses most of
its flavor, and what little flavor remains
tastes very different, with a weak coumarin
flavor, like hay.
and Thai cuisines frequently use basil, the
former frequently combining it with tomato.
Basil is one of the main ingredients in
pesto — an Italian sauce from the city of
Genoa. The most commonly used Mediterranean
basil cultivars are "Genovese", "Purple
Ruffles", "Mammoth", "Cinnamon", "Lemon",
"Globe", and "African Blue". Vietnamese and
Chinese also use fresh or dried basils in
soups and other foods. In Taiwan, people add
fresh "九層塔" basil leaves to thick soups
(羹湯). They also eat fried chicken with
deep-fried "九層塔" 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.
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, or falooda seeds. They are used
for their medicinal properties in Ayurveda,
the traditional medicinal system of India.