History of Sweet Basil
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Kay Painter
Posted on: March 6, 2002

I would like to know if you could give me a little history and background on sweet basil.

The book, "Basil, An Herb Lover’s Guide" by Tom Debaggio and Susan Belsinger, has a wonderful 15 page chapter on the history of basil. Let me quote a few passages from it:

"For more than 2,000 years, sweet, curvaceous basil leaves have been associated with images solemn and joyous, frightful and erotic. Such a diverse history befits a humble weed with a noble name and an aroma so intoxicating it makes the sense tingle with the adventure of every breath..."

Another passage:

"Basil is native to Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and South America, but it probably didn’t arrive in Europe until little more than 2,000 years ago. It is likely that early explorers and conquerors were drawn to basil not for its culinary uses, but for its ties to sacred rites and its alleged supernatural powers."

And a final passage:

"Two ancient writers are considered the precursors of modern basil culture and gastronomy. Nearly 2,000 years ago, Pliny, the Roman naturalist and writer, provided farmers with instructions on planting, growing, and using basil; he advised them to feed the plant to their horses and asses to increase the beasts’ fertility."

The book is available from Richters. If you love basil, this book is essential.

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