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Ocimum basilicum Linn.

Family : Labiatae

Other names: Sweet basil; St.Joseph wort


The common sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), with its several types and varieties ,is an annual aromatic plant , widely grown because of its pleasant spicy odor and taste. This leafy herb of the mint family is grown primarily in Egypt and USA. Both the leaves and the essential oils distilled from the flowering plants are used as flavouring agents. It is one of the ancient spices and remnants of it were found in Egyptian burial chambers.


Basil is a bushy (of 60cm height) aromatic annual with brittle branched stems. There are large and dwarf types with oval, shiny, fleshy and fragile, dark green, or purple, variegated leaves, some of which are ornamentals. The fresh leaves are about 5cm long and 2cm wide. Creamy white flowers are in whorls.


The seeds should be planted early in spring in rich, moist soil in rows 90cm apart at the rate of 12 to 15 for every 30 cm and covered with soil. Germination requires 5 to 7 days, and thinning the plants is not necessary. Growth is rapid, and no special care other than the usual cultivation practices are required. Flowering shoots are pinched out to extend useful life of plants.

When the plants begin to flower they should be cut 15 to 20 cm above the ground to provide herbs for drying. Several cuttings may be made during the season. The green tender leaves may be used fresh at any time. The herb can be tied in small bundles and hung in a well-ventilated dark room or spread thinly on a screen to dry. After thorough drying, the leaves and flowering tops may be stripped from the stems and packed in closed containers.

Basil contains a very low percent (0.1 - 1.0 %) of essential or volatile oil. An oleoresin containing 2 - 5 % volatile oil is available, as well as an essential oil. The principal components of the volatile oil are methyl chavicol (estragole), linalool and cineol. Basil is one of the spices which does have definite quality differences from one origin to another.

Culinary, medicinal and other use

The leaves, fresh or dry, may be used to improve the flavour of tomato dishes, cucumbers, green salads, eggs, ricotta cheese mixes and shrimp. It is a popular culinary flavouring, typical of Mediterranean cuisines. Oil of basil is used in perfumery, soaps, cosmetics and liqueurs. It is a good insect repellant. Medicinally it is used to sooth pain and treat vomiting , nervous stress and headaches.

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