Sweet Basil

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Sweet Basil
Sweet Basil

Common Name: Sweet Basil[1]

Scientific Name: Ocimum basilicum

Thomas Jefferson’s neighbor, George Divers of Farmington, noted that he was not able to supply Jefferson with the pot-herbs "Sweet marjoram, sweet basil, or summer savory" in a letter written in February 1820.[2] While President, Etienne Lemarie bought basil at the Washington market and it was cooked with venison.[3]

Ocimum was the Greek word for the aromatic herb called basil in English. Although native to tropical Asia, sweet basil has been cultivated for thousands of years throughout Europe with references in Britain as early as the 1400s.[4] It was common in America by the late 1700s. Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon listed basil seed for sale on his 1810 broadsheet.

This is a tender annual herb with aromatic, edible foliage and white flowers in terminal spikes on the branches.


  1. This article is based on a Center for Historic Plants Information Sheet.
  2. 20 February 1820. Betts, Garden Book, 591.
  3. Peter Hatch, "Herbs," Monticello Research Report, 3, 4.
  4. Alice M. Coats, Flowers and their Histories (London: Black, 1968), 292.

Further Sources