Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a familiar plant to many of us at PICA. The plant is cultivated for it’s unique flavor. It is thought to have begun being cultivated in India around 5000 years ago, although some believe that it was first cultivated even further east in the Hunan region of China. There is much debate about how the herb made it’s way east. It has been recorded in the mediterranean in both Ancient Greece and Egypt. It is thought Basil may have made it’s way back to Ancient Greece by Alexander the Great after his campaigns to the east. It is recorded being brought to the British isles as late as the 1500’s and it made it’s way to the America’s in the 1600’s
Through out it’s history Basil has picked up a plethora symbolic connotations. In Ancient Greece Basil was associated with hate and anger, it was thought by some that Basil would only grow if it was yelled and cursed at while sowing. This can be contrasted with many European ideas about the plant that developed in Medieval period. Basil became associated with royalty due to it’s rich smell. The French still sometimes refer to the plant as “ l’herbe royale” . The plant is also associated with death rituals throughout Europe leading as far back as to Ancient Greece. It was thought that placing Basil in one’s hand would ensure a safe journey for the dead. In ancient Greece and Egypt it was thought to open heaven up to the dead. In India it was often put in deceased people’s mouths to ensure that they reached God.
A kind of Basil known as Tulsi is a sacred plant in Hindu tradition. It is used when making offerings to many gods, and in some traditions the preparation of Tulsi with meat is regarded as highly offensive. Basil is believed by many to have sprouted from the ground on which Christ was crucified. It is an important plant in eastern Orthodox traditions and is used to garnish orthodox holy water .
Basil can be found in PICA in our lovely greenhouse and in each PICA house. Basil is very intolerant of cold weather and acts as an annual in areas in which frost occurs, thus in Santa Cruz and other more northern parts of America, Basil is commonly grown outdoors in the spring and summer, but it can be grown indoors as well. Also when growing Basil it is important to pluck flowers as they begin to develop flowers as the plant will start to develop a woody stem otherwise and it will not provide the same levels of delicious oils that Basil is grown for. If there are any members of the community that would like their own personal Basil plant, come and let me know as I have 6 extra plants in the Greenhouse.