Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a culinary herb in the Lamiaceae family native to tropical regions from central Africa to Southeast Asia. There are many varieties of basil, though Genovese and Thai basil are the most common.
Basil is delicious. Ground up into pesto or sprinkled onto larb, the anise-like herb lends freshness and sweetness to countless dishes across continents and cultures. Thai and Genovese basil are the most popular varieties, but holy basil and lemon basil are plant powerhouses in their own right. Holy basil, also known as tulsi, is a powerful healing herb in Ayurveda and is highly revered in Hinduism, while lemon basil offers a citrusy flavor perfect for lightening up your favorite basil-centric dish.
In Greek mythology, basil was thought to be an antidote to the basilisk’s fatal stare and breath. Some say that’s where it got its name basilicum, while others believe the name comes from the Latin word basilius, meaning “royal plant,” because of the botanical’s usage in the production of royal perfumes.
Basil’s symbolic significance doesn’t end there; in ancient Greece, the plant represented hatred, while in Portugal dwarf bush basil was presented alongside a poem and a paper carnation as a profession of love on the religious holidays of Saint John and Saint Anthony. Jewish folklore suggests the plant adds strength while fasting, and in the Greek Orthodox Church, basil is used to sprinkle holy water. The plant has long been used in burial rites, as well, placed in the mouth or the hands of the dying to ensure a safe journey into the afterlife.
It’s a rich history, especially for a plant that we now know best for its appearance alongside pine nuts and parm. Basil’s modern day uses go beyond pesto, though. The botanical is increasingly used for its essential oils, which contain high concentrations of linalool, a soothing terpene found in lavender that works wonders in easing anxiety and stress. In Basilisk Breath, basil is complemented by herbaceous notes of peppermint, rosemary, sage, and thyme for a refreshing clean.