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Basil (Ocimum basilicum L.)

Synonyms

pharmaceuticalHerba Basilici
AfrikaansBasilikum
AlbanianBozilok i mermë, Borziloku
Amharicበሶቢለ
Besobila
Arabicحبق, ريحان
حَبَق, رَيْحَان
Habaq, Rihaan, Rihan, Raihan
Aramaicܚܘܟ
Hauk
ArmenianՇահասպրամ, Ռեհան
Shahasbram, Shahaspram, Rehan
Assameseতুলসী
Tuloxi
AzeriReyxan, Bostan reyhanı
Рејхан, Бостан рејханы
BasqueAlbaka, Brazilla
BelarusianБазылік, Базілік
Bazyĺik, Bazilik
Bengaliতুলসী
Tulsi
BretonBazilik
BulgarianБосилек
Bosilek
BurmeseLaun*, Pinzainpinzin
CatalanAlfàbrega
Chakma𑄥𑄝𑄢𑄁, 𑄥𑄝𑄢𑄋𑄴
Sabarang (similar to Mediterranean type)
Chinese
(Cantonese)
九層塔 [gáu chàhng taap], 羅勒 [lòh lahk], 薰尊 [fàn jyūn], 魚香菜 [yú hēung choi]
Gau chahng taap, Loh lahk, Fan jyun, Yu heung choi
Chinese
(Mandarin)
九層塔 [jiǔ céng tǎ], 羅勒 [luó lè], 薰尊 [xūn zūn], 魚香菜 [yú xiāng cài], 罗勒 [luó lè]
Jiu ceng ta, Lou le, Xun sun, Yu xiang cai
CroatianBosiljak
CzechBazalka
DanishBasilikum
Dhivehiކުކުޅު ފައިޔްޕިލާ, ގައިކެހެންބުޅި, ގަނދަކޯޅި, ގަނދަ
Kukulhu faiypilaa, Gaikehenbulhi, Gan'dhakoalhi, Gan'dha
Dogriतुलसी, नियन पोश
Tulsi*; Niyan Posh (anise-scented)
DutchBasilicum, Bazielkruid, Baziel, Koningskruid
EnglishBasilie, Sweet Basil
EsperantoBazilio
EstonianVürtsbasiilik, Basiilik
EweBebusui (O. gratissimum)
FanteNunum, Onunum (O. gratissimum)
Farsiریحان
Reihan
FinnishBasilika
FrenchBasilic, Basilic commun, Herbe royale
Ga-DangmeSuru, Sulu, Sru, Gbekono (O. gratissimum)
GaelicLus-rìgh
GalicianAlbahaca
Georgianრეხანი, რეჰანი, შაშკვლავი, ჯაშკვლავი
Rekhani, Rehani; Shashk’vlavi, Shashkvliavi, Jashkvlavi (variety with cinnamom scent)
GermanBasilikum, Basilienkraut, Königskraut
GreekΒασιλικός
Vasilikos
Greek (Old)Ὤκιμον
Okimon
Gujaratiસબ્જે
Sabje
HausaƊaɗɗoya, Ɗaɗɗoya ta gida (O. gratissimum)
Hebrewבזיליקום, ריחן
רֵיחָן, בָּזִילִיקוּם
Bazilikum, Rehan
Hindiबन तुलसी, जंगली तुलसी, तुलसी, बेसिल
Besil; Tulsi*; Ban tulsi, Jangli tulsi (Ocimum gratissimum)
HmongTchow ze Tang
HungarianBazsalikom, Közönséges bazsalikom, Kerti bazsalikom
IcelandicBasilíka
IndonesianIndring, Kermangi, Selasih; Lampes*, Ruku-ruku*; Kemangi hutan, Selaseh mekah, Ruku-ruku rimba (Ocimum gratissimum)
ItalianBasilico
Japaneseバジル, メボウキ, カミメボウキ
Bajiru, Mebōki, Meboki, Kami-mebōki*
Kannadaಶ್ರೀತುಳಸಿ, ತುಳಸಿ, ವಿಷ್ಣುತುಳಸಿ, ಕಾಮ ಕಸ್ತೂರಿ, ತುಳಸಿಯ ಸಸ್ಯಜಾತಿ
Kama kasturi, Ramkasturi, Tulasigidda, Tulasiya sasyajati, Shri-tulasi*, Tulasi*, Vishnu-tulasi*
KazakhНасыбайгүл
Nasıbaygül
KhmerChi neang vong, Mrea preu*, Chi korhom
Korean바실, 베이질, 베질, 나륵, 나륵풀, 양가죽
Pasil, Peijil, Pejil, Naruk, Naruk-pul, Yanggajuk
Laoກະເພົາ, ຜັກບົວລະພາ, ຜັກອີ່ຕູ່
Pak bua lapha, Kaphau*, Pak Itou (Ocimum citriodorum), Saphaa (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
LatinBasilicum, Ocymus
LatvianBaziliks
LithuanianBazilikas, Kvapusis bazilikas, Siauralapis bazilikas*
MacedonianБосилек
Bosilek
Maithiliतुलसी
Tulsi
MalayKemangi, Daun selaseh, Selasi jantan; Oku*, Ruku-ruku*, Sulasi*; Selaseh besar, Ruku-ruku hitam (Ocimum gratissimum)
Malayalamതുളസി, കൃഷ്ണതുളസി, രാമതുളസി
Pachcha (?), Thulasi*, Sivathulasi*, Krishnathulasi*; Ramathulasi (Ocimum gratissimum)
MalteseĦabaq
Manipuri (Meitei-Lon)ময়াংতোন, নাওশেক লৈ, তুলসী, তুলসীপম্বী
ꯃꯌꯥꯡꯇꯣꯟ, ꯅꯥꯎꯁꯦꯛ ꯂꯩ, ꯇꯨꯜꯁꯤ, ꯇꯨꯜꯁꯤꯄꯝꯕꯤ
Mayangton (similar to Mediterranean type); Naoshek lei (similar to sweet Thai type); Tulsi*, Tulsipambi*
Marathiसब्जा, तुळस
Sabja, Tulasa*
MizoRunhmui-dum*
MongolianБазилик
Bazilik
Naga (Angami)Chou, Nieco*
Naga (Chakhesang-Chokri)Nicu
Naga (Lotha)Tsafu, Rarakhum*
Naga (Rengma)Chulakhwen*
Naga (Sumi)Aniza*, Ayembu*
Nepaliतुल्सी पत्ता, बावरी फूल, रामतुलसी
Tulsi patta*, Bavari phul, Ramtulasi (Ocimum gratissimum)
Newari
(Nepalbhasa)
तुलसी, कपुरपाती
Tulsi*, Kapurapati (Ocimum kilimandscharicum)
NorwegianBasilikum
NzemaAmaloko, Ameloko, Amaliko (O. gratissimum)
Oriyaତୁଳସୀ, ରାମତୁଳସୀ, ଧଳାତୁଳସୀ, କର୍ପୂରତୁଳସୀ, ଦୁର୍ଲଭା
Tulasi* (O. tenuiflorum); Ramtulasi (O. gratissimum); Dhala tulasi (O. canum); Karpura tulasi (O. kilimandscharicum); Durlabha (O. basilicum)
PahlaviShaahesprahm
PolishBazylia wonna
PortugueseManjericão, Alfavaca
ProvençalBasièli, Balicot, Baricot, Basali, Belicot, Baseli
Punjabiਤੁਲਸੀ
Tulsi*
Quenya 
Asea aranion
RomanianBusuioc
RussianБазилик
Bazilik
SanskritKrishnamula*, Manjari*, Tulasii*
SantaliBharbhari; Tulsi dare*, Tursi dare*; Mondor muli baha, Mali baha, Dimbu baha (Ocimum thrysiflorum)
SerbianБосиљак, Босиље, Босиок
Bosiljak, Bosilje, Bosiok
Sindarin, 
Athelas
SinhalaMadurutala, Suwndutala
SlovakBazalka pravá, Bazalka, Basilika, Bazalienka
SlovenianBazilika
SpanishAlfábega, Albahaca, Albacar
SwahiliMrihani
SwedishBasilika, Basilkaört
TagalogSulasi, Balanoi, Loko-loko*
TajikРайхон
Rayxon
Tamilதீவிரகந்தம், திருநீற்றுப்பச்சை, திருத்திழாய், துளசி
Tirunirrippachai, Tiruttizhai*, Tiruttilai*, Tiviragandam, Tulasi*
Teluguతుళసిచెట్టు
Oddhi*, Rudrajada, Tulsi-chettu
Thaiโหระพา, กะเพรา, กะเพา, ผักอีตู่, แมงลัก, กะเพราช้าง, ยี่หร่า, เบซิล
Horapa, Horapha; Kaprao, Kaphrau, Kaphao (Ocimum tenuiflorum); Phak itu, Maenglak (Ocimum citriodorum); Yira, Kaprao-chang (Ocimum gratissimum); Besil (European basil)
Tigrinyaሰሰግ, ቤዚል
Seseg, Bezil
Tuluತೊಲಸಿ
Tolasi*
TwiNunum, Onunum (O. gratissimum)
TurkishFesleğen, Reyhan, Fesliğen, Peslen
UkrainianБазилік
Bazylik
Urduتلسی
Tulsi, Janglitulsi*
UzbekRayhon
Райҳон
VietnameseÉ dỏ*, É tía, É trắng, Cây húng quế, Cây rau é, Húng, Húng giỏi, Húng quế, Lá quế, Nhu tía*, Rau quế
E do*, E tia, E trang, Cay hung que, Cay rau e, Hung, Hung gioi, Hung que, La que, Nhu tia*, Rau que
WelshBrenhinllys
Yiddishבאַזיליק
Basilik
Ocimum tenuiflorum/sanctum: Thai Holy basil (grapao, krapao, กะเพรา)
Thai sacred basil leaf (kaprao)
Note

Indian and South-East Asian names for the so-called sacred basil are marked with an asterisk in the list above. This cultivar (Ocimum sanctum = O. tenuiflorum) is characterized by an intensive sweet-camphoraceous fragrance; in India, it is not much used as a culinary herb (although there are scattered reports of such usage), but has a strong religious meaning, being sacred to Vishnu [विष्णु] and symbolizing either his wife Lakshmi [लक्ष्मी] or the wives of his various avatars. It is also planted inside of Shiva temples [शिव], and many Hindus have a plant at the entry to their home, because of the herb’s auspicious connection with Lakhsmi, the goddess of riches and good luck.

Ocimum basilicum: Basil leaves
Leaves of several different basil varieties: From left to right Mediterranean (sweet) basil, African Blue, lemon basil (O. americanum), spice basil, Thai basil (Siam Queen) and tree basil (O. gratissimum), upper and lower sides.
Ocimum basilicum: Mexican spice basil
Mexican spice basil
Ocimum basilicum: Mexican spice basil flower
Mexican spice basil flower
Ocimum basilicum: Cinnamon basil
Mexican spice basil inflorescence
Used plant part

Leaves; frequently, the entire herb (all aerial parts) is harvested. Best harvesting season is before flowering. Basil leaves should always be used fresh, as they lose most of their flavour within a few weeks after drying. However, in the Georgian spice mixture khmeli-suneli [ხმელი-სუნელი], dried basil is employed (see blue fenugreek).

The seeds of basil have some use as thickening agent in Thailand. In their outmost layer, they contain mucous substance that, on absorbing water, developes into a thick slime surface with an intriguing, opalescent blueish hue. While these basil seeds lack any taste or fragrance of their own, they contribute an interesting texture, both soft and (by value of the core) crunchy. They are often employed in liquid sweets or sweet drinks.

Plant family

Lamiaceae (mint family).

Sensory qual­ity

Fresh basil leaves have a strong and character­istic aroma, not comparable to any other spice, although there is a hint of cloves trace­able.

In addition to the Medi­terra­nean type most common in the West, there is a plethora of other varieties or cultivars with different flavour, many of which are hybrids. India has its Sacred Basil (O. sanctum = O. tenui­florum) with intensive, somewhat pungent smell; in Thailand, there is another sweet basil with a great licorice aroma (see also cicely). Varieties sold to gardeners in the West include cinnamon basil, camphor basil, anise basil and Mexican spice basil; the latter has a very pleasant, complex and warm flavour, with a wonderful sweet note more reminiscent to cinnamon than to anise; I have found basil of this type sold fresh on Georgian markets, to be used as a garnish.

Ocimum basilicum: African Blue ornamental basil
African Blue Basil
Ocimum kilimandscharicum x basilicum: African Blue Basil
African Blue Basil (O. kilimandscharicum × O. basilicum)

A last group of culti­vars is charac­terized by citrus odour: Thai lemon basil (O. citri­odorum) has a distinct balm-like flavour, and then there are lime basil and another lemon basil (O. ameri­canum) which has an ex­tra­or­di­nari­ly pure and fresh lemon aroma (see also lemon myrtle on lemon fragrance in general).

Perennial basil species from Africa (Ocimum kilimandschari­cum) and Asia (Ocimum canum) have recently been intro­duced to the Euro­pean herb and gar­dening market. These species has a strong, but less pleasant flavour; hybrids between them and Medi­terranean basil are a recent in­novation, with novel appear­ance and flavour, and enjoy growing popu­larity.

In English language, the com­mon basil grown in Italy and other Medi­terranean countries is often termed sweet basil; this is, though, mis­leading, because Thai basil has much more of a sweet quality. Thus, I will avoid this term and speak of Medi­terranean type and Thai type instead.

All basil va­rieties have in common that their dried leaves are much less aromatic than fresh ones; deep-freezing the herb is the best method of pre­servation.

Main constitu­ents

The essential oil (less than 1%) is of complex and variable com­position. Within the species, several dif­ferent chemical races exist, and further­more climate, soil and time of harvest influence not only the amount but also the composition of the essential oil. The most important aroma components are 1,8 cineol, linalool, citral, methyl chavicol (estragole), eugenol and methyl cinnamate, although not necessarily in this order; typically, one or two of those dominate the oil, but hardly any basil contains all of these com­pounds in significant amounts. African species often contain camphor. Some species are characterized by compounds outside of the mentioned spectrum, e. g. thymol.

Ocimum tenuiflorum/sanctum: Indian Holy Basil
Indian Sacred Basil (tulasi [तुलसी])
Ocimum tenuiflorum/sanctum: Wild (green-leaved) form of Indian Holy Basil
Wild form of Indian Sacred Basil
Ocimum tenuiflorum/sanctum: Inflorescence of Indian Holy Basil
Flowers of Indian Sacred Basil

Further mono­terpenes (ocimene, geraniol, camphor), sesqui­terpenes (bisabolene, caryo­phyllene) and phenyl­propanoids (methyl eugenol) can be present in varying amounts and strongly influence the flavour. There is con­siderable infra- and intra­specific vari­ation, opening favourable per­spectives for future plant breeding by selection. Prospects are enhanced by the fact that basil species hybridize easily.

The quality tra­ded in Europe, Western Asia and North America (Medi­terra­nean type, also known as French or Euro­pean Basil) is charac­terized by 1,8 cineol and linalool, plus smaller amounts of estragole and eugenol. This de­scription holds also for both green-leaved and red-leaved (antho­cyanin con­taining) strains. Eastern Euro­pean cultivars contain slightly more eugenol.

Indian Sacred Basil (O. sanctum = O. tenui­florum, called tulsi [तुलसी] in Hindi) owes its stronger, somewhat pungent taste to a sesqui­terpenoid, β-caryo­phyllene, and a phenyl­propanoid, methyl eugenol (both around 30%) plus minor amounts of methyl­chavicol (10%). The Sacred Basil of Thailand (ka prao) was found to also contain β-caryophyllene besides a phenyl­propanoid, eugenol and a sesquiterpene, β-elemene. Chemotypes centering on eugenol alone are rare; their odour closely resembles cloves or allspice (see below about O. gratissimum).

Ocimum tenuiflorum/sactum: Holy Thai Basil (grapao)
Sacred Thai Basil (kaprao [กะเพรา])
Ocimum sanctum/tenuiflorum: Holy Thai basil flower (krapow) กะเพรา
Sacred Thai Basil flower
Ocimum basilicum: Siam Queen Thai basil
Sweet Thai basil (horapha [โหระพา])

A couple of chemo­types are domi­nated by estragol (methyl chavicol); these stand apart by their sweet anise or licorice fragrance (anise basil, sweet Thai basil). Also in this group belongs the New Guinea basil, an attrac­tive per­ennial plant with red leaves and an inten­sive fra­grance; its botan­ical affili­ations are unclear.

Lemon‑scented varieties (Ocimum americanum, O. citri­odorum) contain mostly citral, a mixture of the two mono­terpenoid aldehydes neral and geranial.

The African species, O. kili­mandschari­cum (often known as camphor basil), is characterized by much camphor besides 1,8 cineol; camphor is also found, albeit in lesser quantities, in kili­mandschari­cum hybrids with O. basilicum (e. g., African Blue).

Lastly, cinnamon basil owes its scent to a chemical also found in cin­namon and cassia, methyl cin­namate. A most pleasantly scented cultivar called Mexican spice basil was found to contain methyl cin­namate, β-bisa­bolene, 1,8 cineol and estragole. Litera­ture de­scribed both cultivars as be­longing to the species O. basilicum, and I strongly suspect they are synonymous.

Ocimum gratissimum: Tree or clove basil
Tree basil (O. gratissimum)
Ocimum gratissimum: Clove basil flower spike
Flowers of the East Indian Tree Basil (O. gratissimum)
Ocimum gratissimum: Flower of East Indian Tree basil
Flower of East Indian Tree basil

The wild species Ocimum gratis­simum (East Indian tree basil, also known as clove basil), growing in tropical Africa and Asia, appears to have a very complex chemism of its own. At least six chemo­types are known, named after their impact respctive com­pounds: eugenol, thymol, citral, ethyl cin­namate, geraniol and linalool. The most common variety sold to Euro­pean gardeners is very rich in eugenol, but contains also some thymol that makes for an attractive spicy, pungent flavour. Culinarily, this plant is generally underrated.

This collection demonstrates clearly that basil has a remark­ably vari­able secon­dary meta­bolism, as is often found in the mint family: Perilla and mints show a similar genetic di­versi­ty. For several related herbs like thyme, oregano and sage the com­position of the essential oil is known to depend on climate, soil, genetic strain and season.

The dark red foliage of some basil varieties is caused by pig­ments of antho­cyanin type, which are com­monly found in reddish leaves. In wild species, red-leaved specimen are quite rare; but this strain can be easily selected and en­hanced by breeding. For the formation of deep red leaves, intensive sun­light is re­quired in any case; if given maxi­mum sun­shine, red-leaved basil varieties may contain up to 200 ppm antho­cyanins in their fresh leaves. See also annatto about vegetable colourants.

Ocimum spp.: Wild South Indian basil (found in Karnataka)
Wild basil found in South India
Ocimum tenuiflorum/sanctum: Indian wild basil with lemon flavour
Lemon-scented Indian wild basil
Ocimum basilicum: Wild growing East Indian tree basil
Wild growing East Indian tree basil (Sri Lanka)
Origin

Genus Oci­mum is wide­spread over Asia, Africa and Central and Southern America; it ap­pears to have its center of di­versi­ty in Africa. Most species pre­fer tropical climate .

The culinary herb basil (O. basilicum) is a sun loving plant of the Medi­terranean region; its origin is, how­ever, not known. It was usually assumed to originate from India, as there some of its close relatives grow wildly; however, as it is attested in the Medi­terranean since 3000 years (Egypt), some doubt may be raised. Newer literature openly speculates whether basil could be a native of West Asia. Today, basil is cultivated in many Asian and Medi­terranean countries; main exporters (for the Euro­pean market) are France, Italy, Morocco and Egypt. There is also signi­ficant basil production in California.

The Sacred Basil (or Holy Basil) of India (O. tenui­florum) also has a long history of culti­vation, being de­scribed in the Indic Vedas, roughly 3000 years ago. In the wild state, it is found in tro­pical Asia and Africa; mostly, an origin in India is assumed.

The species known as East-Indian tree basil (O. gratissimum) also has a distribution over Africa and Asia, but in that case, the higher diversity makes it likely that the species originated in Africa.

Ocimum canum x basilicum: Basil ‘Wild Purple’
Basil Wild Purple, a red-leaved variety (O. canum × O. basilicum)

© Sabine Amtsberg

Ocimum basilicum: Purple basil inflorescence
Purple-leaved basil flowers
Ocimum basilicum: Red-leaved basil ‘Ruby’
Anthocyan containing basil cultivar Ruby
Etymology

The name basil is derived from Greek basileus [βασιλεύς] king, because of the royal fra­grance of this herb. The names of basil in almost all Euro­pean lan­guages are related, al­though they show some vowel variation: Icelandic basilíka, Belarusian bazylik [базылік], Serbo­croatian bosiljak [босиљак], Albanian bozilok, Czech bazalka, Hungarian bazsalikom, Romanian busuioc, Provençal baseli, Basque brasilla and Modern Greek vasilikos [βασιλικός]. In the era of colonialism, that name was also transferred to a few African languages, e. g., Ewe bebusui and Amharic besobila [በሶቢለ].

The Greek word basileus [βασιλεύς] king means essen­tially people’s leader. The first element derives from bainein [βαίνειν] go, which quite surpris­ingly is cognate to English come and the syn­onymous Latin venire, the common Proto-Indo–European verbal root being GʷEM. The connection is made more obvious if we consider the Mycenaean Greek form of gwasileus [𐀣𐀯𐀩𐀄] lord. The second element is laos [λαός] people, which has no cognates in Modern English, for Old English leod has been aban­doned in favour of Ro­mance people; related are German Leute, Old French liode, Lithua­nian liaudis and Rus­sian lyudi [люди] people and Latin liber free man (Proto-Indo–European root LEUDʰ grow upwards).

Names like Italian erba reale and French herbe royal royal herb, or German Königs­kraut and Dutch konings­kruid king’s herb are probably calqued from the Greek name. Despite its independent origin, the Quenya name asea aranion [ ] bears the same as­socia­tion: aran [] king.

Iberic names of basil (Spanish albahaca, Portuguese alfavaca and Catalan alfàbrega, also Basque albaraka) are Arabic loans, as might be inferred from the prefix al-. The original Arabic form is al-habaqa [الحبق] the basil; cf. also Maltese ħabaq and Aramaic hauk [ܚܘܟ], and see caper for more examples of Arabic vocabulary in Spanish and Portuguese.

Ocimum canum: African wild basil
African wild basil O. canum
Ocimum canum: Wild Basil
Wild basil, O. canum

pharm1.pharmazie.uni-greifswald.de

In contempo­rary Arabic as spoken in Asia and the Eastern Medi­terra­nean, habaq [حبق] has become rather un­com­mon and mostly sup­planted by ar-raihan [الريحان]. The latter name has close relatives in many lan­guages of the Middle East, e. g., Turkish reyhan, Hebrew rehan [ריחן], Georgian rehani [რეჰანი], Kurdish dhaihan [ذةیحان] and Farsi rihan [ریحان]. Note, however, that Turkish dağ reyhanı mountain basil means savory.

Raihan is derived from Arabic rih [ريح] or riha [ريحة] odour, fra­grance and origi­nally did not mean basil but another aromatic Medi­terra­nean plant, myrtle. This is still so in North African Arabic (and Maltese); moreover, the word has been transferred to medieval Spanish as arrayán myrtle.

The genus name Ocimum is a latinized version of the Greek plant name okimon [ὤκιμον], by which basil is referred to in the work of Dioskurides. It derives from the verb ozein [ὄζειν] smell (cf. ozone the smelling one, directly from the Greek present participle ozon [ὄζον]) and English odour).

Ocimum kilimandscharicum: African Camphor Basil
African camphor basil, , O. kilimandscharicum

Indic names for holy basil, e. g., Telugu tulsi­chettu [తుళసిచెట్టు], Tamil tulasi [துளசி] and Hindi tulsi [तुलसी], derive from Sanskrit tulasi [तुलसी]; for the latter name, no satis­fying etymo­logy is known. To distin­guish holy basil more clearly from its wild relatives, com­pound names are used, e. g., Hindi jangli­tulsi [जंगलितुलसी] forest basil to denote O. gratissimum.

Hindu cult pre­fers red-leaved vari­eties of Sacred Basil; and such strains are often re­ferred to by colour adjec­tives: Urdu kali tulsi [کالی تلسی] or Hindi krishna tulsi [कृष्ण तुलसी] dark/black basil. In Kerala, I have seen O. gratis­simum being called rama­tulasi [രാമതുളസി], which appears to be the un­expected side-effect of a re-inter­pretion of the name of red-leaved Sacred Basil, krishna­tulasi [കൃഷ്ണതുളസി]: The latter was inter­preted to refer not to the colour but to the Hindu god Krishna (the eighth and most famous avatar of Vishnu), and thus the related but dif­ferent green plant got associated with Rama, the seventh avatar. In Nepal, the term ramtulsi [रामतुलसी] may also mean a wild type of oregano.

The Vietnamese name rau que [rau quế] cinnamon plant (emphasized hung que [húng quế] cinnamon basil) alludes to the sweet–aromatic odour of some cultivars like Thai horapha, although this is more close to anise than to cinnamon. There are indeed cinnamon-flavoured basil varieties, but these are, to my knowledge, not known in Vietnam.

Selected Links

Ilkas und Ullis Kochecke: Basilikum (rezkonv.de via archive.org) Plant Cultures: Holy Basil A Pinch of Basil (www.apinchof.com) Saskatchewan Herb and Spice Association: Basil chemikalienlexikon.de: Methylcinnamat chemikalienlexikon.de: Linalool chemikalienlexikon.de: Citral Pacific Islands Ecosystems at Risk: Basil Pacific Islands Ecosystems at Risk: Tree Basil Floridata.com: Basil Alles over Basilicum (natuurlijkerwijs.com) Herbs by Linda Gilbert: Basil Desirable Herb and Spice Varieties: Basil Basil: A Source of Essential Oils (purdue.edu) Basil: A Source of Aroma Compounds and a Popular Culinary and Ornamental Herb (purdue.edu) Factsheet (purdue.edu) Ohio State University: Growing, Selecting And Using Basil Sorting Ocimum names (www.plantnames.unimelb.edu.au) Basil Linklist at growinglifestyle.com Recipe: Khai pad gaprao [ไก่ผัดกะเพรา] (bigpond.com via archive.org) Recipe: Insalata Caprese (www.capriflavors.com) Recipe: Pesto Genovese (waitrose.com) Recipe: Trenette al pesto (www.e-rcps.com) Recipe: Pesto Rosso (colba.net) Recipe: Pizza Margherita (www.cliffordawright.com)


Ocimum basilicum: Flowers of basil
Flowers of basil
Ocimum basilicum: Mediterranean Basil
Basil (Mediterranean type, flowering plant)
Ocimum basilicum: Mediterranean basil
Mediterranean basil
Mediterra­nean Basil is one of the most pleasant spices, and in­dis­pen­sable for se­ve­ral Medi­terra­nean cui­sines. The sweet and aroma­tic fra­grance is espe­cially popu­lar in Italy. Since the deli­­;cate aroma of basil is quickly de­stroyed by cooking, chopped basil leaves are fre­quently sprinkled over cold or warm dishes before ser­ving. A typical and quite famous recipe is in­salata Caprese (Capri salad): Tomato slices topped with creamy mozzarella cheese and basil leaves and seasoned with highest quality olive oil. Further north, where tomatoes are less flavourful, the salad is often additionally flavoured with the famed aceto balsamico (balsam vinegar). Insalata caprese is becoming more and more popular, even outside of Italy; indeed, together with some fresh white bread, it makes a perfect, light summer meal. I have even seen a Japanese sushi version of it (see wasabi).

The well-known pesto alla Geno­vese is a specialty of Liguria, the region in North West­ern Italy where lovage is native to. That paste is made from fresh basil leaves together with extra vergine olive oil, pine nuts, aromatic local cheese (parmigiano, pecorino sardo) and garlic; a dash of ground cloves might be necessary to improve the flavour of basil not grown under Italy’s hot sun. Pesto is usually served with Italian noodles (pasta). Besides tasting excellent, pesto is also efficient in preserving basil, even without deep-freezer (although it does keep better frozen).

Unfortunate­ly, pesto is very sus­ceptible to enzymatic oxidation by atmo­spheric oxygen: When ex­posed to air, it browns rapidly due to oxida­tion of its phenolic tannins to quinoid poly­mers. In this process, its flavour is greatly re­duced. Sus­cepti­bility to oxida­tion is parti­cularly high if the basil has been puréed too much, or if the pesto has been frozen and re­thawed. There is no satis­fying way to prevent this de­gradation: Blanching the basil leaves does in­activate the phenol­oxidases responsible for the reaction, but it also destroys most of the flavour. Adding anti­oxidants or acids also might help but would introduce off-flavours themselves. So, the best way is to consume pesto as quickly as possible, always to keep it covered by a layer of oil, and to keep its container closed during most of the meal.

In southern Italy, the so-called red pesto pesto rosso is made from sun dried tomatoes, chiles, olive oil, cheese, pine nuts and, of course, basil. Due to its natural acidity, it is much more stable against oxidation.

Ocimum basilicum: Italian basil
Italian basil, flowering
Ocimum basilicum: Mediterranean basil
Mediterranean basil
Ocimum basilicum: Bumblebee (Bumbus terrestris) visiting a basil flower
Basil fowers are popular with pollinating insects

The recipe for pesto can be gener­alized to other herbs; for example, pesto made from bear’s garlic tastes great and also solves the problem of con­serving this spice. Very extra­vagant pesti can be pre­pared from chervil or lemon balm. Frank­furt Green Sauce is an example of a similar sauce employing a mixture of seven herbs (see borage). Because of the popularity of pesto, several localized variants are reported from all over the world, even from Australia (see Tasmanian pepper about bush food).

In Italian cuisine, basil is frequently combined with tomatoes, e. g. together with pickled olives, capers and garlic for tasty tomato sauces. Salads made only from tomatoes, extra vergine olive oil, red wine vinegar (see dill about herbal vinegars) and basil are simple but delicious. Basil is, though, less used for meat dishes; Italian cooks prefer oregano for this purpose. Oregano has also succeeded in eclipsing basil as a spice for pizza, although the famous pizza Margherita, which needs basil for reasons of flavour, appearance and patriotism.

Fresh basil may also form part of bouquet garni (see parsley), mostly in Italy and other Mediterranean countries.

Similar use is made of basil in the Far East; it is especially popular in Vietnam and Thailand. Every visitor to Bangkok who dared to try local cuisine will probably never forget the phantastic basil aroma that emanates from nearly every pot at the numerous foodstalls. The basic ideas of Thai cookery are revealed in gai pad kaprao [ไก่ผัดกะเพรา], chicken with chiles and basil: Despite a searing and truly hellish hotness, the dish provides heavenly pleasures by its subtle basil odour.

When using basil in South East Asian recipes, one should consider that Thai basil tastes rather different from the Medi­terranean herb pre­dominantly available in the West. Also, care must be taken to choose the right basil; Thai cuisine is probably the only cuisine that uses three different basil varieties, each for its own purpose. All three basil varieties should be available in Thai food stores.

Ocimum basilicum: Cinnamom basil aka Mexican spice basil
Cinnamon basil is fapp the same as Georgian shashkvlavi.
Ocimum basilicum: Siam Queen flowers, โหระพา
Compact and comparatively large flower clusters are typical for Siam Queen, a Thai basil cultivar suited for growing in temperate climates

Thai sweet basil (horapha [โหระพา]) is mild and has a fascinating anise flavour some­what com­parable to tarragon, but more inten­sive. The flavour will not tolerate pro­longed cooking. The herb is often sprinkled over Thai food im­mediately before serving, and it is very good in hot and sour Thai soups (tom yam [ต้มยำ], see kaffir lime) or curries (gaeng [แกง], see coconut); it should not be boiled but just steeped for a minute or two in the hot foods.

Thai sacred basil (kaprao [กะเพรา]) has a pungent taste that is often described as peppery although I find it more like allspice. It is most often used for stir-fries, for example the above-mentioned gai pad bai kaprao, as some cooking is necessary to develop its flavour best. I often find that the kaprao sold in Asian groceries is of poor quality; obviously, it suffers from the transport. Mostly for that reason, some cooks will often substitute kaprao by horapha and change the cooking time accordingly.

There is a third basil variety in Thailand: Thai lemon basil, also known as hoary basil (manglak [แมงลัก]). It has a nice lime flavour and is mostly eaten raw as a garnish; its fresh citrus note goes best with fish.

In Middle Eastern cooking styles, basil plays a minor rôle, although is is commonly planted in gardens and valued for its fragrance. The exception to the rule is the cuisine of Georgia, which is famous for its lavish use of fresh herbs. There, basil is routinely employed for salads and cold appetizers Georgian cooking is so famous for. It is often used in combination with other herbs like parsley, coriander and mint to flavour the great cold appetizers that preceed every Georgian feast. The popular kitri-kamidoris salata [კიტრი-კამიდორის სალათა] made of cucumbers, tomatoes and ground walnuts with loads of garlic may contain any of these herbs. Strangly enough, dried basil is consistently reported as an ingredient for the national herb blend khmeli-suneli [ხმელი-სუნელი] (see blue fenugreek), although the dried plant is known to lose its flavour quickly after drying.

More rarely, a red-leaved basil variety with an out­standing cinnamon scent is used in Georgian foods; is is known as shashk’vlavi [შაშკვლავი]. Both by ap­pear­ance and by taste, this cultivar seems identical to the one sold as Mexican spice basil or cinnamon basil in the West; I have not seen it ever used culinarily outside of Georgia.

A most interesting basil variety is O. gratissimum (tree basil, often also called South-East Asian tree basil), a wild basil distributed over the tropics of Africa and Asia. It has a very intensive, dominant flavour of cloves, but is even more pungent. One or two of its large, pubescent leaves are usually enough for one pot. It will improve almost all types of savoury foods, from roasted chicken to braised beef, but is has a particular affinity for meats cooked in red wine.

Despite its powerful fragrance, Indian Sacred Basil is not a culinary plant; all over India, it appears never to be eaten, although herbal infusions of it are common. Yet, in the North-East Indian union state Manipur, where herbs play a dominant rôle in cooking, there are two types of basil that often get sprinkled over foods: One is, in its flavour, very close to the Mediterranean type (mayangton [ময়াংতোন, ꯃꯌꯥꯡꯇꯣꯟ]), while the other seems virtually identical to the sweet Thai type (nao shek lei [নাওশেক লৈ, ꯅꯥꯎꯁꯦꯛ ꯂꯩ]). Similarly, a basil type similar to Mediterranean Basil but with an additional lemon scent (sabarang [সাবারাং, 𑄥𑄝𑄢𑄁]) is in use among the Chakma people of North-Eastern India and Bangladesh to flavour vegetable and meat salads.



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