Common names: Common Basil, St. Josephwort
Name derived from the the French basile
Sweet basil is from the Labiate family, related to mint. A native of India, it is regarded by the Hindu religion as a holy plant. Remains of basil wreaths have been found in Egyptian tombs.
An aromatic herb in use all around the world, this perennnial can grow to about 16 inches, with dark green leaves and white, mauve or purple variegated flowers.
In Italian cooking it is combined with tomatoes and to make pesto, and is frequently used in Thai cooking also. Europeans use basil to flavor chicken, lamb and pork baked dishes, and for fish, salads, and gravy.
The herb has numerous medicinal uses - digestive disorders, sedatives, and for promoting the production of breast milk in nursing mothers.
Personally, I grow forests of the stuff and use great handfuls of it in salad. In the film Slumdog Millionaire, there is a garden scene showing the healthiest basil I've ever seen - the leaves 4 or 5 inches long, and the plants are apparently about 4 feet high.
Other varieties of Basil:
Cinnamon basil – this one comes from Mexico and has a mild flavour of cinnamon. It grows to a height of 45cm.
Lemon basil (Ocimum citriodorum) – with a mild lemon flavour it is a great accompaniment to fish. It grows to a height of 30cm.
Purple basil (Ocimum basilcum purpurea) – very similar in taste to sweet basil, but with dark, purple leaves. It grows to a height of 75cm and tends to resist some types of grasshopper better than sweet basil.
Sow seeds in Spring on a moist potting mix in a smallish pot, just a few seeds per pot, then sprinkle compost over the seeds and place in a warm spot. The seedlings will sprout in about 14 days if kept moist and warm. Once sprouted, allow another three weeks then remove the weaker plants and leave just the strongest few in the pot.