A favorite herb and spice found in Italian dishes, Thai dishes, and some middle eastern dishes, sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is one of several varieties of basil known not only for its ability to add flavor, but medicinal aspects as well. In these regions, the basil plant has not only been used in cooking, but also in healing for centuries.
Sweet basil is originally from India and is also native to tropical regions of Asia, where it has been grown for more than 5,000 years. The name is derived from the Greek word basilikohn which means “royal” – a fitting considering how prized this herb was in many cultures.
In Egypt, Greece, and India it was placed with the deceased to ensure a speedy travel to the afterlife. In India it is seen as a symbol of hospitality and is used prominently in Ayurvedic medicine. On the flip side, some cultures considered the fragrant herb an evil plant, with one historic French physician believing that smelling too much of the herb would cause scorpions to breed in the brain.