basil băz´əl [key], any plant of the genus Ocimum, tender herbs or small shrubs of the family Labiatae ( mint family), mostly of Old World warm regions and cultivated for the aromatic leaves. The basil of Keats's Isabella (and of Boccaccio's story) is the common or sweet basil ( O. basilicum ), once considered medicinal. This is the species usually used for seasoning; it is grown commercially chiefly in the Mediterranean area. There are also the holy basil, venerated in India; the bush basil; and related plants sometimes called basil. Basil is classified in the division Magnoliophyta , class Magnoliopsida, order Lamiales, family Labiatae.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Plants