I’ve taken a chance and planted basil, though the days might still plunge to temperatures too cold for the herb’s comfort.
Basil belongs to the mint family (genus Ocimum) and was believed to be an antidote for the poison of the legendary basilisk, “the little king” or king of serpents, able to kill with a single glance.
In ancient Greece, it was a plant of poverty and misfortune, an emblem of hatred, the propagator of scorpions. In Africa, it is eaten to prevent scorpion bites, though some believe that smelling the plant will breed scorpions in the brain.
Basil – tulasi — is sacred to Hindus. It is the goddess Lakshmi incarnate, grown everywhere in dwellings and temples to protect and ensure purity and fertility. The dead are dispatched with basil.
In Italy, basil was a love token. (And it is holy, of course, to pesto lovers.) Basil is used in love spells and divinations throughout many regions. In Eastern Europe, it was once thought that accepting a sprig of basil from any woman meant the young man would love her. If fresh leaves are rubbed against the skin, the perfume attracts love. Burned at weddings, it will guarantee a happy marriage. But if the wedding basil crackles while it burns, the couple will quarrel all their married lives. (Quarreling does not have to mean an unhappy marriage. Many couples find contentment in constant bickering.)
According to Nita Morrow Hill in her book Your Essential Nature: A Guidebook of Essential Oils for Energy Workers, basil’s oil serves to “empower and enliven” and among other benefits is “excellent for mental fatigue.” A sniff of basil oil can snap the lagging brain back to attention.
Always curse when you plant basil. Doing so ensures it will thrive.