There are over 50 varieties of basil, each differing in some way from the others, either in the shape or colour of the leaves or in the size of the plant. A native of tropical Asia, and known in India as tulsi, basil is regarded as a sacred plant and is used in religious ceremonies as well as medicinally.
Sweet basil is the variety of this herb which is most used in cooking. The leaves have a spicy, clove-like flavour when they are fresh, but the taste alters when they are dried. Basil is traditionally used to flavour turtle soup and is also one of the main ingredients, with garlic, for flavouring Pistouopular soup in Provence. Basil has a particular affinity with tomatoes and makes an excellent ingredient in most tomato dishes.