A man taking basil from a woman will love her always. Thomas More
For me, Basil is Italy, summer and pasta. How can you possibly feel miserable when you get a whiff of this delicious herb? It is one of the herbs that I recommend for all gardeners.
The Italians have always associated basil with love and not just in the kitchen. A woman would place basil on her doorstep to show her love that he would be welcomed. The English took it a little further and believed a sprig of fresh basil would wither and die if placed in the hand of an unfaithful partner. For the Ancient Greeks the herb was a symbol of hostility and insanity, and in France only the King could cut it and with a pair of golden scissors. In India, the herb was considered sacred to the gods and Haiti it was used for protection against evil spirits.
In medicine basil also had opposing reputations, with some physicians praising it for healing digestive ailments, fevers, snake bites, hysteria and other nervous conditions and others maintaining that it caused insanity, comas, internal organ damage and caused worms and lice in the body.
Basil is widely used in Italian cooking, and not just as pesto. Add it to pasta, pizza, salads and casseroles, and it gives a wonderful lift to a Gin and Tonic. Basil loses its flavour quickly when heated, so add it at the end of cooking, especially in casseroles.
I find drying basil is a waste of time as it loses most of its flavour. Rather make a very simple pesto of only basil, garlic and olive oil. You could also chop it finely and put it in ice-trays or layer it on tin foil, roll it up and freeze it. I tend to forget herbs in the freezer so pesto is my preferred method.
Medicinally it is an effective digestive herb when taken as an infusion. For mental fatigue and nervous stress it can be taken as an infusion or steeped in wine for 2 days. Of course, the wine possibly helps too! Combined with hyssop or honey it is used for coughs. Fresh leaves can be rubbed onto insect bites to stop the itching and an inhalation is useful for colds and hay-fever.
It grows really easily and is a great companion plant for tomatoes – in the garden and in the kitchen. And, if you don’t have a herb garden it is one of the herbs that is happy in a pot. It is important to cut the flowers off regularly or it will go to seed and die.
Sweet Basil Ocimum basilicum