Basil UnEarthed

This seemingly ubiquitous and easy-to-grow herb has an amazing history of culinary, medicinal and religious use.

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Did you know that basil can be found in 92 percent of spice racks around the world? That’s okay if you didn’t. It’s a made-up statistic, but it sure seems like it could be true. Open a random spice cabinet and there’s a very good chance you’ll see a container of it.

For many people, their first taste of basil comes through in Italian dishes, where it’s a staple in pasta sauces and pizza – indeed, it’s often listed as a pizza topping, right there with pepperoni and olives and banana peppers. From pesto to cocktails, basil is amazingly versatile, with roots spanning many years and many different cultures.  

Written references to basil date back more than 4,000 years. In ancient Egypt, the herb was a symbol for mourning and death, and was also used as a preservative agent in embalmings. In Malaysia and Iran, people saw basil as a token of affection. It was often planted at the grave sites of loved ones, to keep them safe during their passage into the afterlife. The herb has various religious associations, and has long been used at the altars of Greek Orthodox churches.

Some other historical notes stray into the realm of hilarity. One from the 1500s links basil with worms and scorpions, and the belief that these creatures could be conjured from the plant’s leaves. Some physicians of the era believed that if you smelled the herb you might contract “scorpions of the mind” – not a metaphor for headache, but literally, scorpions growing in your brain. Oh, the Middle Ages.

Today we are fairly certain that sniffing basil will not cause spontaneous intracranial scorpion growth. Chewing the leaves before a meal can aid digestion, and basil also has a number of uses outside the kitchen. It is increasingly popular as an essential oil*. In this form, it can be used to soothe sore muscles and joints, or as a cooling agent on minor cuts and burns. In aromatherapy, basil is used to reduce anxiety and help ease nasal congestion.

There are many different varieties, with Holy Basil considered one of the healthiest – it is packed with vitamins and minerals, and has mild antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Basil is a handy herb to have around, and if you’d like to grow your own to enjoy its many benefits, it is easily cultivated inside or out. It likes a lot of light and compost-enriched soil, and doesn’t need a lot of water (check out this article from thespruce.com for more growing tips). 

Don’t miss out on three of our favorites ways to use basil HERE

*Make sure you know what you’re purchasing when choosing an essential oil. There are lots of brands that claim to be pure and organic but that is not always the case. Check out this helpful article on prevention.com to help you recognize the best essential oils. Here at Know How we like to use doTERRA, Rocky Mountain Oils and Edens Garden.

Photos Styled by Rachel Rivers