For most, the scent of basil usually means Italian food. But this herb is good for much more than just pasta.
Some say the basil name comes from “basilisk”—the Greek word for dragon or lizard. Others say it comes from “basileus,” the Greek word for king. Tales from basil folklore support both interpretations.
Basil seems to have always been an herb symbolizing extreme opposites, such as love and hate, royalty and poverty. In Medieval Europe, basil was serious magic, believed to both cause and cure evil.
Since the oldest written records, basil was associated with creepy crawly things, such as snakes and lice—but especially scorpions. In the Middle Ages, scorpions and worms were widely believed to be conjured from basil leaves. In the 1500s, doctors of the day warned that merely smelling basil would breed “scorpions of the mind.”
It’s strange that a plant with such a vile reputation would also be called the “king of herbs,” but many ancient cultures treated this plant with great reverence. In India, basil was associated with two of the highest gods in the Hindu pantheon, Krishna and Vishnu. Christians dubbed basil St. Joseph’s Wort, in reference to the earthly father of Jesus. In Bulgarian and Catalan folklore, the smell of basil is identified as the medium for impregnating the Virgin Mary.
Today we primarily think of basil as a culinary herb. But historical evidence suggests it was used for medicine long before it was used for food.
Ancient cultures used basil for many different health issues. In traditional Chinese medicine, basil is used to remove heat and toxins trapped deep in the body.
Basically, basil clears obstacles and gets things moving again. Any internal organ experiencing congestion and stagnation seems to benefit from it. One of the most common applications for basil is to treat lung problems, such as asthma, cough, and chronic bronchitis. It also promotes menstruation and helps with the birthing process, relieves gas, and improves circulation.
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