Welcome to a new feature on my blog – a weekly discussion of the history, lore and usage of common and uncommon herbs.

BASILBasil, that wonderfully prolific herb that is the perfect companion to tomatoes, has a long and varied history.  In Italy, it signified love; in Greece, hate; in Jewish tradition, strength during long fasting.  In India, it is sacred to Krishna and Vishnu.  The French call it “herbe royale.”  The origin of the word basil possibly stems from the Green word for king, basileus, or from an old name for serpent, basilicus. (Think Harry Potter and the Basilisk here!)

Magically, basil brings about true love and compassion for our fellow beings on Mother Earth.

Nicholas Culpepper, the English herbalist, declared basil to be “an herb of Mars and under the Scorpion… it is no marvel it carries a virulent quality with it.”

Basil is easy to grow in rich, well-drained soil with well-rotted compost or manure. It is a great companion plant for tomatoes, protecting them from harmful pests. It likes plenty of sun.  It dries easily on screens with good air circulation, or can be preserved in oils and vinegars.