In ancient Egypt, basil was likely used as an embalming and preserving herb as it has been found in tombs and mummies. Perhaps because of its embalming applications, basil was also a symbol of mourning in Greece where it was known as basilikon phuton, meaning magnificent, royal, or kingly herb. Basil also has a strong history in ancient traditional medicines like Ayurveda, the traditional medicinal system of ancient India, in addition to other medicinal herbal traditions.
Basil also carried diverse cultural and symbolic meaning through history. For instance, in Jewish folklore basil is believed to add strength while fasting. In Portugal, basil plants make up part of a gift to a sweetheart or lover on certain religious holidays. Whereas in ancient Greece, basil symbolized hatred. These are but a few examples of lasting cultural important of the herb.
Basil’s common names refer to the herb’s botanical name, Ocimum basilicum. Basil is a member of the large mint family, or Lamiaceae family, along with other culinary herbs like rosemary, sage, and even lavender.
It is believed that basil has origins in India, but the herb has been cultivated for over 5,000 with its reach spreading to all corners of the globe. There are some indications that basil may have originated even farther east than India with ancient records from 807 A.D. suggesting that sweet basil was used in the Hunan region of China at that time. Basil eventually migrated westward as whole plants as it could be grown easily indoors and away from exposure to cold climates and frost.
Uses: Basil continues to have diverse applications in modern kitchens and science labs. In cooking, basil is most commonly used fresh in cooked recipes. More often than not, the fresh leaves are added at the last moment, as cooking quickly destroys the herb’s distinct flavor. But today as also seen throughout history, basil is not only used as a food flavoring, but also in perfumery, incense, and herbal holistic remedies. Recent scientific studies have established that compounds the essential oil of basil plants possess potent antioxidant, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties.
GARLIC BASIL BUTTER
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 4 teaspoons minced fresh basil
- 1-1/2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- Fresh sage and thyme
In a small mixing bowl, combine the butter, basil, parsley and garlic powder. Beat on medium-low speed until mixture is combined. Garnish with sage and thyme.