Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a popular aromatic culinary herb that is used quite frequently in Italian and Southeast Asian cuisines. Sweet basil is typically used in Italian dishes while thai basil, lemon basil, or holy basil are used in the Southeast Asian dishes of Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Originally native to India and Africa, there are now 50 to 150 estimated species of basil. Basil has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years in regions of India and other parts of Asia.
The word basil comes from the Greek word meaning king. It is believed to have grown at the spot where the Holy Cross was discovered by St. Constantine and Helen. To this day, many cooks and authors believe that basil is the king of herbs.
Basil has a very unique and pungent smell and taste. It can be best described as having a subtle peppery and earthy taste with a slight hint of sweetness, like that of liquorice.
While basil grows best outdoors in direct sunlight and hot and dry weather, it can also be grown indoors if placed on a south facing window or by using a artificial lamp. Growing indoors makes it possible to enjoy fresh basil all year long, even if the weather outside is horrible.
When fully mature, a basil plant will usually be between one and four feet tall. The silky, green basil leaves will measure from one to four inches long and a half an inch to 3 inches wide.