See also: Egyptian Basil; Basil, Saint or Sinner; Basil Trivia; Basil Cooking Tips
Basil is an annual herb of the mint family, native to central and tropical Asia and Africa (some say it originated in India). It is an important ingredient in Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian cuisine. Today it is cultivated commercially in California, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Germany, Israel, Egypt, Morocco, Italy, Madagascar, India and Mexico. It has been grown in areas around the Mediterranean since antiquity, but Britain did not begin using basil until the 16th century. The many varieties of this herb have seeds that can germinate after 10 years!
In addition to its culinary uses, basil is also used in perfumes, soaps, shampoos and dental preparations. In Mexico it is supposed to keep a lover's eye off others, and is considered a powerful protector in Haiti. During British colonial days in India, magistrates would have Hindu witnesses swear on this holy herb. It is recommended in Herbals for the relief of dysentery, gas pains, nausea, and as a cure for worms and worts.
The ancient Greeks and Romans thought basil would only grow if you screamed wild curses and shouted intelligibly while sowing the seeds. They also believed if you left a basil leaf under a pot, it would turn into a scorpion. Many believed that even smelling the leaves would cause scorpions to grow in the brain! Salome hid John the Baptist's head in a pot of basil to cover up the odor of it's decomposition.
Returning to some less morbid uses, in Italy it is a token of love, in Romania if a girl gives a sprig to her boyfriend, they are engaged, and a good Hindu goes to rest with a leaf on his breast as a passport to Paradise.