Basil has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years in India and Asia where it originated. It is a herb over which there has been some dispute over the centuries. Even the origin of its name is in dispute. Some believe it comes from the Greek Basleias meaning king, while others say it is derived from the Latin, Basilescus, meaning basilisk (the fire breathing monster made famous by Harry Potter in the Chamber of Secrets).Whatever the origin, it was believed by the Romans that it would keep them safe from attacks by the basilisk, and it has been used to scent the bath water of both Greek and English royalty.
In Italy and Mexico it symbolized love and in Romania, men would give it to the woman they loved, and they were then officially engaged. In Persia and Malaysia bush basil was planted on graves.
It’s still used in France and Greece to keep away flies and mosquitoes, and you can see it growing in pots outside many of the houses on Greek islands. This is bush basil. Sweet basil is more commonly used, especially in Italian cuisine.
Dioscorides didn’t advocate using it internally, but Pliny the Elder championed it as did Arab physicians. Culpeper thought that it was good for drawing poison from the bites of ‘venomous beasts’ and for wasp and hornet stings. However a French physician, Hilarius said that a friend of his sniffed basil so much that scorpions bred in his brain.
It is now said that basil lowers blood pressure, can cure nausea and vomiting, and stop stomach cramps. Make a tea with boiling water and a sprig of fresh basil and let it steep in a cup for 5 mins. Strain, then add honey to soothe a cough, or 1 tsp fresh orange juice instead of honey to calm your nerves or perhaps to stop nausea.
In the subcontinent today, the black seeds from basil are used in drinks to cool the body down when the temperature soars. These seeds are called tukh malanga (pronounced took mal-anger) and they really do work as long as you can get over the fact that they look like frog spawn when soaked in water. We use them with fresh lemon squash for a cooling drink.
Tomato and Basil Sauce for Pasta
½ kilo tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely sliced
12 fresh basil leaves, chopped finely
½ cup water, or red wine and a little water
salt and pepper to taste
(Omit onions and garlic and wine for a plain, classic sauce)
Fry onions and garlic until the onion is soft, then add all the other ingredients. Stir well and continue stirring intermittently for 10- 15 mins.
(You can liquidize tomatoes, basil, seasonings and red wine and water, and just heat this liquid for 5 – 10 mins for a really quick meal.)
Serve with cooked pasta, and garnish with a sprig of fresh basil.
This has Taste and is a Treat.