The name Serpentine is derived from the Latin SERPENS, and its more ancient term HYDRINUS refers to a Sea Serpent (the Hydridae) that inhabited the Indian, Chinese and Australian seas. These sea snakes are usually of yellowish-green color, varied with blackish rings or diamond-shaped spots.

The ancient Greek physician Dioscorides and Pliny the Elder called Serpentine the "Ophite Stone". Agricola, who was a writer of the 16th century called it Lapis Serpentinus. Thus, the origin of the name Serpentine.

Serpentine is of a basic magnesium silicate chemical composition. It is not of a single mineral but a name used for a large group of minerals that are usually green in color.

Serpentine is translucent to opaque with a hardness ranging from 2.5 to 5.5 on the Mohs scale. It is soft and lightweight and has a greasy, waxy and silky luster when polished. Serpentine is often confused with nephrite jade. However, jade is much harder and its luster is glassy.

Gemstone quality serpentine (antigorite, bowenite and williamsite) is often referred to as 'noble serpentine' or 'precious serpentine'. It is translucent and its colors can range from oily green, green yellow, light green, olive green, black green, brown yellow, and sometimes almost white. Common Serpentine is opaque.

There are up to 20 varieties of Serpentines with only three basic combined materials:

These include Antigorite, Chrysotile and Lizardite. The most abundant is Lizardite and the least common is Chrysotile, though the latter is an important source of commercial asbestos.

Antigorite is named after the Valle Antigorio in Italy where it was first discovered. Antigorite is usually dark green in color but may also be yellowish, gray, brown or black. It is a common member of Serpentine, but not the most common serpentine mineral. Its hardness is 3.5 to 4 on the Mohs scale and has a vitreous luster.

Though it is commonly used as a gemstone, in 2017, through detailed analysis of Antigorite materials in excavation sites, scientists have found it to be toxic and published that antigorite should be added to the group of hazardous asbestos minerals.

Chrysotile (Greek: "chrysos" and "tilos" or “hair of gold”) is the fibrous variety of the mineral serpentine. It is the most important classical asbestos mineral. It is gray to green color, sometimes with yellow to brownish hue. Chrysotile makes up 95% of all asbestos products. It is not used as a gemstone because of the potential health hazard of lung, throat and ovarian cancer if exposed to asbestos fibres.

Lizardite is the most abundant serpentine mineral. It is translucent and is 2.5 on Mohs hardness scale. It can be white, yellow or green. Lizardite is used for ornamental carvings. It is very fine-grained, its crystal form consists of thin, leaf-like layers.

Gemstone quality Antigorite-Serpentine is also known as Noble Serpentine and Precious Serpentine.

There are a number of trade names to refer to the variations of Serpentine such as:

'Arizona tiger's eye' and 'California tiger's eye' are Serpentine rocks from the United States that display Cat’s Eye effect caused by aligned chrysotile fibers.

‘Connemara Marble’ is a serpentine-rich rock, popular since ancient times as a decorative facing stone.

Deweylite: Chrysotile Serpentine containing small amounts of Stevensite or other Talc minerals. Deweylite is occasionally polished and used a gemstone.

Garnierite: Nickel-rich green serpentine minerals, sometimes called 'nepouite'.

Retinalite: Antigorite serpentine with a very waxy luster, usually yellowish.

Ricolite: A fine grained and banded serpentine rock.

Satalite: A fibrous serpentine rock which often exhibits cat's eye chatoyancy.

Serpentinite: A rock composed of mostly serpentine minerals and traces of pyroxene, olivine, magnetite, calcite, dolomite and amphibole minerals.

Verde-Antique: A dark-green serpentine rock with white veins of calcite.

Williamsite is a rare translucent to semi-transparent variety of serpentine. It is valued for its translucency and its jade-like color. It is typically included with black chromite or magnetite inclusions. The emerald green color derives from traces of chromium.

Bowenite is a hard, compact variety of the serpentinite species antigorite. It is considered a semi-precious gemstone and has been used for tools, weapons and jewellery by the Māori in New Zealand, and for jewellery by Fabergé. It is translucent and is usually blue-green, yellow-green, or dark green.

Asbestos: is a chrysolite serpentine with long flexible fibers. Asbestos is a known carcinogen, exposure to which increases the risk of cancer. The World Health Organisation has now taken action to prohibit the use of asbestos (chrysotile serpentine) to limit exposure to the deadly asbestos-related diseases.

Bastite: is a silky and shiny pseudomorph of serpentine.

Most Serpentine come with veins or spots and may exhibit chatoyancy caused by inclusions in the stone. These inclusions or impurities of calcite and other minerals can cause white or black veining, marbling or spotting.

Serpentine is a valuable insulator. It is able to resist the transfer of heat. It was used as a thermal and electrical insulator. Due to its unique properties (tensile strength, flexibility, and heat and chemical resistance), Serpentine has a long history of use as an architectural stone. It was used to make wall and ceiling tiles, flooring, shingles, facing material, pipe insulation, stoves, paints, and many other common construction materials and appliances.

In the past, Serpentine was highly esteemed by the ancient people for its healing properties. It was used to make vases, pillars, boxes, talismans and amulets.

In ancient times, serpentine was used in offerings to gods and goddesses. Ancient Egyptians used Serpentine to make their sacred scarab amulet; and ancient Persians made royal cylinders out of serpentine.

Serpentine was a charm against poison, and it was believed it could scare away poisonous vermin and reptiles of land and sea.

The figure of the goat of Capricorn engraved on a Serpentine was believed to be a powerful amulet against rheumatism, skin troubles, swelling of the limbs, stiff limbs, and hurting body parts.

The 'tangiwai' or “Tears” of the Maoris is an ornamental artifact carved from Serpentine. Serpentine is held in high esteem by the Maori people of New Zealand.

It is said that serpentine protects the wearer from sickness and witchcraft. It can also help to lighten the pains of the kidney, stomach cramps and tension.

Serpentine comes naturally and is not known to be treated or enhanced in any way.