Information submited: 2015-03-25 Modified: 2015-03-25 By: 1
Botanical Name: Ocimum basilicum
Common Method of Extraction: Steam distillation
Part Typically Used: Flowering plant (Leaves and Flowers/Buds)
Perfumery Note: Top
Strength of Initial Aroma: Fresh, warm, spicy, herbaceous
Basil, Thai basil, or Sweet basil, is a common name for the culinary herb Ocimum basilicum of the family Lamiaceae (mints), sometimes known as Saint Joseph's Wort in some English-speaking countries.
Basil is possibly native to India, and has been cultivated there for more than 5,000 years. A much favored herb in India, it is held sacred to Krishna and Vishnu, and the leaves are even chewed before taking part in religious ceremonies.
The word Basil comes from the Greek (basileus), meaning "King", as it has come to be associated with the Feast of the Cross commemorating the finding of the True Cross by St. Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine I. Basil is still considered the "King of herbs" by many cookery authors.
Depending on the species and cultivar, the leaves may taste somewhat like anise, with a strong, pungent, often sweet smell.
Basil grows between 30 - 130 centimeters tall, with opposite, light green, silky leaves 3 - 11 centimeters long. The flowers are small, white in color and arranged in a terminal spike. Basil is very sensitive to cold, with best growth in hot, dry conditions. It behaves as an annual if there is any chance of a frost. Grows best in strong sunlight.
Once a stem produces flowers, foliage production stops on that stem, the stem becomes woody, and essential oil production declines. To prevent this, a Basil-grower may pinch off any flower stems before they are fully mature. Because only the blooming stem is so affected, some stems can be pinched for leaf production, while others are left to bloom for decoration or seeds.
The various Basil have such different scents because the herb has a number of different essential oils that come together in different proportions for various breeds. The strong clove scent of Sweet basil is derived from eugenol.
The chemical composition of Basil essential oil can vary greatly between varieties, batches and suppliers. Ideally, look for Basil essential oil that has a a significant percentage of linalool and that is weak in methyl chavicol (Estragole), a suspected carcinogen. Basil oils that are higher in linalool tend to have a more appealing aroma. Additionally, linalool is said to act as an insect repellent.