Basil originated in India, where it was regarded as a sacred herb. The name comes from the Greek basileus meaning 'king.' Once people were no longer fearful of this herb, it was said to be "fit for a king's house." In Haiti basil is thought to belong to the pagan love goddess Erzulie, and in Italy it has been regarded as a sign of love.
The plant has leafy stems and thin, branching roots. The two-lipped white flowers are 1/2 inch long and grow in racemes at the top of stems. The leaves are 2 to 3 inches long, opposite, and ovate with entire margins. They are yellow-green to dark green, depending on soil fertility. The tiny seeds are dark brown.
Aromatic, cosmetic, culinary, and medicinal.
Dried basil is used for its fragrance in potpourris and sachets. It also is used in herbal bath mixtures and to add luster to the hair. Fresh or dried basil is used in cooking to flavor Italian, Mediterranean, and Thai dishes. Fresh leaves are used in tomato and pesto sauces. Basil is good with veal, lamb, fish, poultry, white beans, pasta, rice, tomatoes, cheese, and eggs. It also is used in vinegar and for tea. Basil is said to have some medicinal qualities.
We planted basil in large massings near smaller groupings of summer savory. The basil flower buds were pinched off during most of the summer to prolong the life of the plants by delaying flowering. This made the plants very bushy and full. We let the basil flower just before the summer savory so that both bloomed at the same time. This produced a nice effect. Our basil attracted Japanese beetles for about three weeks early in the summer. To keep the plants looking nice, we pinched off new growth as it was damaged by the insects.