The secret life of basil: it's all about sex and scorpions
BASIL: It's sweet, it's sexy and it's sacred.
In some Hindu cultures, the tasty herb with the big green leaves is believed to be a favourite of the gods, sacred to Vishnu and Krishna.
While to many of us basil is a passport to delicious aromas and flavours, for Hindus it can be a passport to paradise - some Hindus go to their rest with a basil leaf on their chest.
In Italy, it's a love token.
Mexican tradition says basil will stop your lover's eye wandering.
Romania locks down that tradition further: If a boy accepts a sprig of basil from his girl, they are engaged.
Not bad for a herb called Saint Joseph's Wort in some countries.
Basil means "king" or "kingly" or "royal" (from the Greek basileus). Ancient Greeks held that only a sovereign with a golden sickle should be allowed to cut it. Doubtless, Greek kings had better things to do.
But the story of basil is not all sweet, stately or romantic. Salome was supposed to have hidden John the Baptist's severed head in a pot of basil to hide the smell.
As with many herbs, superstitions about basil have abounded over the centuries.
Here are some of my favourites:
- Basil will only grow if you scream wild curses while sowing the seeds. Sounds like my sort of gardening.
- If you leave a leaf of basil under a pot, the leaf will turn into a scorpion.
- Smelling basil will cause scorpions to grow in the brain.
- But then if you're stung by a scorpion, just eat basil and you'll feel no pain.
But today, basil is known as one of our most popular herbs, easy to grow in our climate and versatile in many styles of cooking.
From Saturday (Sept 13) we will be giving away a seed packet a day - starting with sweet basil and absolutely zero scorpions - to get your garden growing green for spring.
There will be 12 different seed varieties in all over the next two weeks - a week of delicious herb and a week of beautiful flowers.
Redeem a token from our paper each day and exchange it for a free packet of seeds from participating newsagents.
The seeds will be:
Saturday Sept 13: Basil
Tuesday: Coriander and Italian Parsley
Tuesday: Zinnia and Golden Everlastings
Thursday: Fresh Flower Mix