Monday, August 6, 2007

Basil Binge

My friend Linda gifted me with these cute little basil guys -- these and a single one in a pot all by itself. The trio sits on the window sill in my bedroom slash sitting room slash office. The singleton is on the dining table. It will be interesting to see how they do in the different light situations.

In doing my Google gig to try to make sure I knew enough to keep my new plants healthy and productive, I was amazed to discover they're a lot more interesting than I would have believed. For one thing, basil is one of the most widely-used plants in the world, according to one source, and not just for cooking. It was used as an embalming and preserving herb for the mummies in ancient Egypt. To the Greeks, it was a symbol of mourning. Apparently it originated either in India or in China or Africa. How's that for precise? Sorry -- the sources don't always agree.

There was a time when both the Greeks and Romans believed the most potent basil had to be sown while ranting and swearing. See? The idea of talking to your plants has been around for a long time.

In medieval times, it was believed you could attract scorpions by placing basil leaves under a flower pot. But basil was also considered good medicinal treatment for poisonous bites. I'm finding it a little difficult understanding why one would want to attract a poisonous critter but it's certainly handy that the bait is also the antidote.

Although earlier Romans considered basil to be a symbol of hate, in later times it came to stand for love and young Italian girls wore it in their hair to indicate they were available. In Romania, it meant they were engaged if a young man accepted a sprig of basil from a girl. Well, that's cheaper than a diamond ring.

It's also supposed to repel flies, mosquitoes and cockroaches. I read a comment from one woman who said she keeps pots of basil all around her patio just for that reason. Even if that's not true, with somewhere around 60 different varieties that come in different colors, it would certainly make an attractive setting. And the flavors! There are even varieties of basil that taste like lemon and cinnamon. How cool is that?

Basil supposed to stimulate your appetite, which makes me wonder if it ever gets smoked. Nah. Probably not. It's also said to curb flatulence. Hmmm ... maybe a few leaves tossed in the old bean pot would be helpful. Then there's basil tea, which is good for dysentery, nausea and gassy tummy. Now, there's where the lemon-flavored version would be good.

The thing that strikes me after reading different sources is how contradictory various basil legends can be. Down through the centuries it's been symbolic of both love and hate, life and death, good and evil. On the one hand, it's been touted as an aphrodisiac, on the other, it's supposed to promote chastity. Boy, talk about your mixed feelings.

Tell you what -- I'm going to be careful about speaking kindly and gently to my basil plants. No ranting and raving. I figure the less potent they are, the less confused I'll be. You think?


Bex said...

Basil repels mosquitoes? We have just had West Nile virus confirmed in a mosquito near here... maybe I'll buy some basil for the porch!

Dee said...

Bex, do a Google on "insect repellent plants" and do one on chamomile. The plants apparently aren't going to do you any good just sitting there. The leaves have to be crushed to release the oils that do the job -- and then you smear it on you. My personal favorite repellent is chamomile tea. Smells like apples and really works.

Me said...

Pizza and basil. Now what am I goind to do. You have turned yourself from a life and book blogger to a food bloggie. And I love ya anyway. Mage.....