I planted three kinds of basil today. I love basil it is one of those herbs
that just is is truly indispensible in the kitchen. Ocimum basilicum, Sweet
Basil, is the most common. Two or three plants will keep you in fresh Basil all
summer, and give you plenty to dry for winter. The flavor is great, but
deteriorates some after the plant flowers. Let a stalk or two go to seed for
next years crop. Purple basils: have dark purple serrated leaves, pink
flowering; good for cooking. 'Purple ruffles' is an example that is good for
salad vinegars. East Indian: has a spicy clove-like aroma and flavor; good with
tomatoes and curries.Thai basil: is anise flavored and used in Indian and Thai
cooking. I also planted some seeds of a globe variety of basil Bush basils: are
compact rounded plants, have tiny leaves, good flavor. Examples are 'spicy
globe', 'bush' and 'tiny leaf purple'.
Try different kinds.
There are many different kinds of basil that are fun to grow. I like to look for
the ones with tiny leaves, and the purple-leafed kind, and also spicy basil.
Basil is a polymorph, meaning it occurs in many different forms, varieties and
closely related species. The different types are easily hybridized, producing
many different kinds of plants with different essential oil constituents and
compositions. There are cinnamon, lemon, clove and licorice scented basils;
purple and green, curly and lettuce leafed varieties. Dwarf bush types with tiny
leaves are grown as ornamental plants.
Sweet Basil, Ocimum basilicum is an herbaceous member of the mint family. It is
the basil most commonly grown. It is a delicate herb with a bold aroma and
flavor, containing about 1% essential oil which has an intense, spicy-sweet,
aroma and a slight anise-like undertone. Often associated with Italian cuisine,
basil is native to the region surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Popular as a
seasoning and easy to grow, basil is cultivated and used throughout the world.
Basil will flourish in your garden or in a pot on a sunny windowsill as long as
it gets lots of warmth, water and sun.
Pinch the flowers
The minute you see flowers, get rid of them. The plant should keep flourishing
with hearty leaves thereafter. Pinch your basil back to keep it small and tender
even if you are not eating it as fast as it can grow. Last year mine was too top
heavy for its root base and tended to fall over on anything unfortunate enough
to be nearby. Snails and slugs absolutely love basil, and will devour young
tender sprouting basil voraciously. I start my basil indoors so that it's not as
much of a problem. I put it in pots outdoors but I surround the pots each night
with pans of beer. It has been so wet here this Spring that I had about 40 slugs
a night just around one basil plant.
Common basil pests are aphids, Japanese beetles and slugs. Knock off aphids with
a spray of water, hand pick off Japanese beetles and drop into soapy water. For
slugs, put out small containers of beer to attract them to their "fatal beer
swim". Basils are also susceptible to fungal leaf spot (caused by poor drainage,
high humidity), fusarium wilt, and cucumber mosaic virus (transmitted by
In the garden, basil is a fine ornamental and has a long history as a companion
plant; it's supposed to improve the growth and flavor of tomatoes and help repel
flying insects. Basil can be grown best in zones 4-10 and prefer warm soils and
climate. Start seeds indoors six weeks before the last frost date in a moist
medium at 80 degrees F. Or start seeds outdoors after soil is warm. Plant in
well-drained soil with a little compost tilled in or add a small amount of
balanced organic fertilizer. Optimum soil ph is 5.5 - 7.5. Space plants 12-18
You can snip fresh basil leaves into a pasta dish or salad and have your
aromatherapy and eat it too!
Cultivated since antiquity, basil originated in India, where it was regarded as
a sacred herb. The name comes from the Greek basileus meaning 'king.' In India,
Hindus believed that if a leaf of basil was buried with them, it would get them
into heaven. Basil was also sacred to the Gods Krishna, and Vishnu and is still
found growing around temples. In Italy, basil was used as a signal for love; a
pot of basil placed on the balcony meant that a woman was ready for her suitor
In England, basil was used to ward off insects and evil spirits.
Basil is a part of religious traditions around the world, from Christianity to
Hindu. Although there is no mention of basil in the Bible (21), the plant is
said to have grown at the site of Christ's crucifixion (21, 24) and is
associated with St. Basil, whose feast day is celebrated in Greece on January 1
by having basil blessed at church (21, 45).
Holy basil, Ocimum tenuiflorum, is particularly sacred in Hindu tradition. It is
thought to be the manifestation of the goddess, Tulasi, and to have grown from
her ashes. There are several versions of the legend, but according to a widely
known one, Tulasi was tricked into betraying her husband when she was seduced by
the god Vishnu in the guise of her husband. In her torment, Tulasi killed
herself, and Vishnu declared that she would be "worshipped by women for her
faithfulness" and would keep women from becoming widows (37). Thus, holy basil,
which also goes by the common name tulsi, an obvious reference to the goddess,
became a Hindu symbol of love, eternal life, purification and protection (21,
30, 37). In addition to basil's role in the death of Tulasi in the Hindu legend,
basil has played a role in burial rituals and has been grown on graves in
Love and Courtship
Basil's love symbolism isn't limited to India. It has been considered an
aphrodisiac by some, is associated with the pagan love goddess, Erzuli (20, 56
in 75), and is used in love spells (20). In Italy, where sweet basil is called
"kiss me Nicholas," "bacia-nicola," it is thought to attract husbands to wives
(21), and a pot of basil on a windowsill is meant to signal a lover (75). In
Moldavian folklore, if a man accepts a sprig of basil from a woman, he will fall
in love with her (21). As is typical for its folklore, while being linked to
love and attraction, basil has also conversely been associated with chastity. In
Sicilian folklore, basil is associated with both love and death when basil
sprouts from the head of [L]isabetta of Messina's slain lover (21).
Protection and Luck
Basil is considered a good luck charm in some folklore. It is reportedly used in
exorcisms, for protection and to attract wealth (20, 26, 75).
Language of Flowers
Basil's symbolism in the Victorian language of flowers also reflects its dual
nature. It signifies both hatred (for common basil) and best wishes (for sweet
History & Folklore
Basil has a long and interesting history steeped in legend. Probably originating
in Asia and Africa (73), it is thought to have been brought to ancient Greece by
Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.E.), to have made its way to England from India
in the mid 1500s and arrived in the U.S in the early 1600s (21). It was grown in
medieval gardens (18, 40) and is mentioned in many classic herbals, including
those of Culpeper, Gerard, Parkinson and Dioscorides (19, 33, 64).
Basil's folklore is as complex as its flavor and aromas. In terms of its legend
and symbolism, basil has been both loved and feared. Its associations include
such polar opposites as love and hate, danger and protection, and life and
The generic name, Ocimum, derives from the ancient Greek word, okimon, meaning
smell (21, 24, 79), which suggests the impressive nature of basil's fragrance.
The specific epithet, basilicum, is Latin for basilikon, which means
kingly/royal in Greek (21, 24, 79). Henry Beston, in Herbs of the Earth,
suggests that basil was so named for the regal "Tyrian" purple color [of its
flowers] (11). According to Parkinson, basil's scent was "fit for a king's
house" (35). Many authors suggest that basil's negative associations stem from
the similarity of its Latin specific epithet, basilicum, to the name of the
basilisk (or basilicus), the mythical serpent with the lethal gaze.
According to Helen Noyes Webster's 1936 Herbarist article, the first mention of
basil was by Chrysippus (pre-206 B.C.E.): "Ocimum exists only to drive men
insane" (78, 82). In his seventeenth-century herbal, Parkinson claimed basil
could be used "to procure a cheereful and merry heart" (66). Gerard praised
basil as a remedy for melancholy but also repeated Dioscorides' warning that too
much basil "dulleth the sight…and is of a hard digestion" (33). Culpeper and
Gerard claimed basil would cure scorpion and bee stings, and Gerard mentioned
that basil could spontaneously generate worms if chewed and left in the sun (19,
33). Basil was also reputed to cause the spontaneous generation of scorpions and
to cause scorpions to grow in the brain (19, 35). This connection with scorpions
persists to this day in basil's association with the astrological sign, Scorpio
(69). Culpeper sums up the disagreement among ancient writers by deeming basil
"the Herb which all Authors are together by the Ears about, and rail at one
another like Lawyers" (19).
Medically, basil has been used as a sedative, an expectorant, and a laxative but
it is not used much in herbal preparations today. Still, adding basil leaves to
food is an aid to digestion. The essential oil of basil is used to treat skin
conditions such as acne.
basil has a long history as a medicinal herb. The Greek physician Dioscorides
prescribed basil for headache. Pliny thought it was an aphrodisiac; his
contemporaries fed it to horses during the breeding season. In modern
aromatherapy, basil is used to cheer the heart and mind. The sweet, energizing
aroma seems to help relieve sorrow and melancholy.
Folklore holds that you have to curse the ground as you sow basil for it to grow
well, but you can forego the cussing and still grow basil successfully. Its main
requirements are sun and heat.
---History---The derivation of the name Basil is uncertain. Some authorities say
it comes from the Greek basileus, a king, because, as Parkinson says, 'the smell
thereof is so excellent that it is fit for a king's house,' or it may have been
termed royal, because it was used in some regal unguent or medicine. One rather
unlikely theory is that it is shortened from basilisk, a fabulous creature that
could kill with a look. This theory may be based on a strange old superstition
that connected the plant with scorpions. Parkinson tells us that 'being gently
handled it gave a pleasant smell but being hardly wrung and bruised would breed
scorpions. It is also observed that scorpions doe much rest and abide under
these pots and vessells wherein Basil is planted.' It was generally believed
that if a sprig of Basil were left under a pot it would in time turn to a
scorpion. Superstition went so far as to affirm that even smelling the plant
might bring a scorpion into the brain. Carry it in your pocket and it brings
money to your business..Ahh, let's see..Plant basil on your property and it
keeps goats away and keeps you from becoming inebriated...It was also thougt to
be a soother of tempers...if that were true, parents of teenagers should
probably have a lot of it around... and witches were suppose to drink 1/2 cup of
basil juice before they took to the air. For anyone out there who is a witch,
this is not to make fun of your belief...It is just some things I read and
thought were kind of cute ( for lack of a better word.)
In Romania if a young lady offers a young man a sprig of basil, and he accepts,
they are officially engaged.
In Haiti, basil is thought to belong to the goddess Erzulie the voodoo goddess
of love. In Italy, basil is thought of as a sign of love. At one time young
girls would place some on their windowsill to indicate they were looking for a
suitor. In Tudor times, small pots of this were given by farmers' wives to
visitors as parting gifts. It is also reputed that any man will fall in love
with a woman from whom he accepts some basil from as a gift.
'Being applied to the place bitten by venomous beasts, or stung by a wasp or
hornet, it speedily draws the poison to it. - Every like draws its like.
Mizaldus affirms, that being laid to rot in horse-dung, it will breed venomous
beasts. Hilarius, a French physician, affirms upon his own knowledge, that an
acquaintance of his, by common smelling to it, had a scorpion breed in his
If you're looking for a lot of basil recipes, I recommend picking up "The Basil
Book" by Marilyn Hampstead (ISBN 0-671-50685-4). Marilyn runs an annual basil
festival at her herb farm. This is the largest collection of pesto recipes that
HarperCollins Practical Gardener: Kitchen Garden : What to Grow and How to Grow
It by Lucy Peel
The Medicinal Garden: How to Grow and Use Your Own Medicinal Herbs by Anne
What Herb Is That?: How to Grow and Use the Culinary Herbs by John Hemphill,
Food Folklore : Tales and Truths About What We Eat (The Nutrition Now Series) by
Roberta Larson Duyff (Paperback)
The Meaning of Herbs: Myth, Language & Lore by Gretchen Scoble, Ann Fiery
Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs (Llewellyn's Sourcebook Series) by
Scott Cunningham (Paperback)
Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs by Claire Kowalchik (Editor), William
H. Hylton (Editor) (Paperback)
The Green Pharmacy : The Ultimate Compendium Of Natural Remedies From The
World's Foremost Authority On Healing Herbs (Green Pharmacy) by James A. Duke
About the Author
Judi Singleton publishes ten blogs a week if you like this article please go to
http://herbalharvest.blogspot.com/ and read other articles by her.