Written by Lee Wyatt (last updated July 22, 2020)
According to history, basil (also known as by the scientific name Ocimum basilicum) was worn by the suitors of young Italian women to let them know that their intentions were serious. While this was a common practice during the springtime in Italy, there are other instances where basil has had some type of link to the romantic. For example, according to some lore Salome kept John the Baptist's head in a pot of basil, and Keats' used the spice prominently in his poem Isabella. Another of the uses, according to legend, was that this spice was a an antidote to the deadly venom of the basilisk in ancient Greece.
Around the world there are examples of the hold that basil has had over our history. Often, basil was even viewed as a royal herb, and reserved only for the most royal of households. This is in large part due to the power that the spice has in its taste. Simply speaking, basil is a fairly strong herb that can overwhelm just about anything else that it is used with, if you are not careful. Because of this, basil is often a main ingredient in many Mediterranean dishes where the desire is to have an earthy, yet sunny feeling. In Italian and Mediterranean cooking, basil is one of the only spices that can be given a place of prominence, and allowed to exert its full power almost unabashed. An example of this is in the dish Pesto alia Genovese, which is primarily flavored by garlic, basil, salt, and olive oil.
Surprisingly, even though this spice is featured prominently in Mediterranean and Italian cooking, it is not a native European plant. Rather this plant comes originally from India where it was held in such high esteem that it held religious significance. Even today, in India, basil is often planted around the home to ensure happiness and promote peace in the home. A happy side benefit of this use is that the homes which plant basil in this manner also have fewer flies. The reason for this is that basil seems to keep the flies away.
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