Aromatic herb of the mint family (genus Ocimum ) with a pungent clovelike flavor, much used in soups and other recipes. Many traditions and superstitions are connected with basil.
There are two suggested derivations of its popular name. It was once thought to be an antidote for the poison of the fabulous basilisk or cockatrice. Another tradition cites an early Greek name, basilikon, implying that the herb was used in a royal ceremony.
Some traditions believed it sacred, others that it was dedicated to the Devil. Greeks believed it was an emblem of hatred, Italians that it was appropriate to lovers. In both Greece and Rome there were ancient rituals involving cursing when the herb was planted, which were believed to assist growth. In Moldavia it was a folk superstition that a sprig of basil flowers handed by a girl to a wayward lover would ensure the boy's fidelity and love.
Basil is much prized in India, where it is known as tulsi (or tulasi ) and regarded as sacred to the god Vishnu and the goddess Lakshmi. It is grown in pots near Hindu homes and temples. It is used in cooking and is also believed to help secure children.