Basil (Herb)
Aromatic herb of the mint family (genus Ocimum) with a
pungent clovelike flavor, much used in soups and other recipes.
Many traditions and superstitions are connected with basil.
There are two suggested derivations of its popular name. It
was once thought to be an antidote for the poison of the fabulous
basilisk or cockatrice. Another tradition cites an early
Greek name, basilikon, implying that the herb was used in a
royal ceremony.
Some traditions believed it sacred, others that it was dedicated
to the Devil. Greeks believed it was an emblem of hatred,
Italians that it was appropriate to lovers. In both Greece and
Rome there were ancient rituals involving cursing when the
herb was planted, which were believed to assist growth. In Moldavia
it was a folk superstition that a sprig of basil flowers handed
by a girl to a wayward lover would ensure the boy’s fidelity
and love.
Basil is much prized in India, where it is known as tulsi (or
tulasi) and regarded as sacred to the god Vishnu and the goddess
Lakshmi. It is grown in pots near Hindu homes and temples.
It is used in cooking and is also believed to help secure
children.