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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Lamiales
Family: Lamiaceae
Genus: Ocimum
O. basilicum
O. campechianum
O. canum
O. gratissimum
O. kilimandscharicum
O. tenuiflorum
Ref: ITIS 32626 (http://www.itis.usda.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=32626) 2002-08-03
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) (also known as Albahaca, American Dittany, Our Herb, St. Joseph's Wort, Sweet Basil and Witches' Herb) is a tender Mediterranean annual herb. The most commonly used varieties are sweet basil and Thai basil. Other varieties include Purple Ruffles, Mammoth, Cinnamon, Lemon, Globe, and African Blue. The original variety from India, Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum = O. tenuiflorum), is camphoric and rarely used in the kitchen. Basil is very sensitive to cold.

Basil is a low-growing annual. It has light green silky leaves and tastes somewhat like cloves, with a strong, pungent, sweet smell. 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 tastes utterly different, rather like curry.

Basil is characteristic of Mediterranean cuisines and others where the tomato is prominent.

The word basil means "royal". The Oxford English Dictionary quotes speculation that basil may have been used in "some royal unguent, bath, or medicine". Culinary writers opine it means "king of herbs".

Cultural aspects The name basil is derived from the basilisk, a legendary monster, because the plant was said to be a cure for its poison. The plant has frequently been considered poisonous itself, while African legend claims it protects against scorpions. European lore sometimes claims that basil is a symbol of Satan, though in other places, like India, the plant is highly revered. Similarly, it is a symbol of love in Italy and hatred in Greece.

See also Basil of Caesarea.

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