Continued from page 1
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 death.
The generic name, Ocimum, derives from ancient Greek word, okimon, meaning smell (21, 24, 79), which suggests 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 Earth, suggests that basil was so named for 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 similarity of its Latin specific epithet, basilicum, to name of basilisk (or basilicus), mythical serpent with lethal gaze.
According to Helen Noyes Webster's 1936 Herbarist article, 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 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 sun (19, 33). Basil was also reputed to cause spontaneous generation of scorpions and to cause scorpions to grow in brain (19, 35). This connection with scorpions persists to this day in basil's association with astrological sign, Scorpio (69). Culpeper sums up disagreement among ancient writers by deeming basil "the Herb which all Authors are together by 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 breeding season. In modern aromatherapy, basil is used to cheer heart and mind. The sweet, energizing aroma seems to help relieve sorrow and melancholy. Growing Basil Folklore holds that you have to curse ground as you sow basil for it to grow well, but you can forego cussing and still grow basil successfully. Its main requirements are sun and heat.
---History---The derivation of name Basil is uncertain. Some authorities say it comes from 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 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 plant might bring a scorpion into 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 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 goddess Erzulie 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. Culpepper says: 'Being applied to place bitten by venomous beasts, or stung by a wasp or hornet, it speedily draws 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 brain.' 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 largest collection of pesto recipes that I've seen. References 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 McIntyre What Herb Is That?: How to Grow and Use Culinary Herbs by John Hemphill, Rosemary 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) Books: The Green Pharmacy : The Ultimate Compendium Of Natural Remedies From The World's Foremost Authority On Healing Herbs (Green Pharmacy) by James A. Duke
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.