Basil comes from India, but has been cultivated in the Mediterranean for thousands of years and is now also grown in North Africa. The genus name Ocimum is probably from the Greek word "to smell." Once made into cleansing water for the hands and feet, it provides modern perfumes and soaps with an inexpensive substitute for mignonette (lily of the valley). The basils are so diverse in their scents, it has been suggested that they be classified according to chemistry instead of botany. You need to grow your own to have a complete collection, since only a few types are distilled. We have fun home-distilling a variety of spicy, citrus and fruity basils into hydrosols.
Family: Lamiaceae (Labiatae)
Extraction: Distilled from the leaf and flowering tops. The scent is sweet and spicy.
Medicinal Action: The scent relieves headaches, sinus congestion, head colds and resulting loss of smell. Basil treats herpes, shingles, nausea (even from chemotherapy), indigestion and sore muscles. Basil hormonally stimulates adrenals, menstruation, childbirth and production of breast milk.
Cosmetic/Skin Use: Used for oily skin conditions.
Emotional Attribute: Basil's uplifting effect overcomes a lack of confidence, indecisiveness, negative thoughts, stress, rattled nerves, hysteria and mental fatigue. It is said to increase awareness of one's surroundings. Gerard found the buoyant smell "good for the heart" and said it "taketh away sorrowfulness."
Considerations: Large dosages can be overstimulating and may eventually stupefy.
Reunion Basil (O. basilicum) --This variation from the Comoro and R‚union Islands (hence its name) has a harsher, more herbal scent. It flavors food and dental products. It contains very little linalol, but has 70-88 percent methyl chavicol, a skin irritant, so use carefully.
East Indian Basil (O. gratissimum) --Chemotypes of this East Indian species supply high percentages of thymol or eugenol.
Hairy Basil (O. canum) --From East Africa, this basil is delightfully spicy because of its high content of methyl cinnamate and camphor.