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Botanical: Ocymum basilium (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Labiatae
---Description---Common or Sweet Basil which is used in medicine and also for culinary purposes, especially in France, is a hairy, labiate plant, growing about 3 feet high. The stem is obtusely quadrangular, the labiate flowers are white, in whorls in the axils of the leaves, the calyx with the upper lobe rounded and spreading. The leaves, greyish-green beneath and dotted with dark oil cells, are opposite, 1 inch long and 1/3 inch broad, stalked and peculiarly smooth, soft and cool to the touch, and if slightly bruised exale a delightful scent of cloves.
There are several varieties, differing in the size, shape, odour and colour of the leaves. The Common Basil has very dark green leaves, the curled-leaved has short spikes of flowers, the narrow-leaved smells like Fennel, another has a scent of citron and another a tarragon scent, one species has leaves of three colours, and another 'studded' leaves.
---History---The derivation of the name Basil is uncertain. Some authorities say it comes from the Greek basileus, a king, because, as Parkinson says, 'the smell thereof is so excellent that it is fit for a king's house,' or it may have been termed royal, because it was used in some regal unguent or medicine. One rather unlikely theory is that it is shortened from basilisk, a fabulous creature that could kill with a look. This theory may be based on a strange old superstition that connected the plant with scorpions. Parkinson tells us that 'being gently handled it gave a pleasant smell but being hardly wrung and bruised would breed scorpions. It is also observed that scorpions doe much rest and abide under these pots and vessells wherein Basil is planted.' It was generally believed that if a sprig of Basil were left under a pot it would in time turn to a scorpion. Superstition went so far as to affirm that even smelling the plant might bring a scorpion into the brain.
- Culpepper says:
- 'Being applied to the place bitten by venomous beasts, or stung by a wasp or hornet, it speedily draws the poison to it. - Every like draws its like. Mizaldus affirms, that being laid to rot in horse-dung, it will breed venomous beasts. Hilarius, a French physician, affirms upon his own knowledge, that an acquaintance of his, by common smelling to it, had a scorpion breed in his brain.'
In India the Basil plant is sacred to both Krishna and Vishnu, and is cherished in every Hindu house. Probably on account of its virtues, in disinfecting, and vivifying malarious air, it first became inseparable from Hindu houses in India as the protecting spirit of the family.
The strong aromatic scent of the leaves is very much like cloves.
Every good Hindu goes to his rest with a Basil leaf on his breast. This is his passport to Paradise.
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Bear in mind "A Modern Herbal" was written with the conventional wisdom of the early 1900's. This should be taken into account as some of the information may now be considered inaccurate, or not in accordance with modern medicine.
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