(Ocimum basilicum), also called great basil or Saint-Joseph’s-wort, is a culinary herb of the family Lamiaceae (mints). It is also called the “king of herbs” and the “royal herb”. The name “basil” comes from Greek βασιλικόν φυτόν (basilikón phutón), “royal/kingly plant”
The word basil comes from the Greek βασιλεύς (basileus), meaning “king”, as it has come to be associated with the Feast of the Cross commemorating the finding of the True Cross by St. Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine I. The herbalist John Gerard noted that those stung by scorpions would feel no pain if they ate basil, and Nicholas Culpeper noted of basil that it was “an herb of Mars and under the Scorpion, and therefore called Basilicon”, relating it to basilisk. The Oxford English Dictionary quotes speculations that basil may have been used in “some royal unguent, bath, or medicine”. Basil is still considered the “king of herbs” by many cookery authors.
Most commercially available basils are cultivars of sweet basil. There are over 160 named cultivars available, with new ones appearing every year. There are also a number of species sold.