Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is the name for a range of culinary herbs that are in the mint family. Basil has been grown in India and other parts of Asia for nearly 5,000 years, and is quite common in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, as well as many parts of the Mediterranean (especially Italy and Greece). Basil is probably best known as the backbone of pesto, an Italian condiment made of basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, salt, and Pecorino Romano.
While the basil found in most American supermarkets is Sweet Basil, there are over 150 cultivars of basil, each with a different aroma. Some smell of citrus (lemon basil), some of camphor (African blue basil). The intense aroma of sweet basil comes from high levels of eugenol and anethole, which smell of cloves and licorice, respectively.
Care should be taken in using basil for either culinary or cocktail preperations.. The fresh leaves should be treated gently, and drying the leaves removes most of the aroma. Basil should not be cooked for more than a few minutes, or its flavor will suffer.
The seeds of some basil cultivars become gelatinous when soaked in water. These are used in traditional Indian medicine and in Asian soft drinks.