An annual/tender perennial herb growing to about 2′ in height. Grow in full sun with light, well-drained fertile soil, plenty of heat and moisture, and a soil pH of 5.5-6.5. Can be cultivated as a perennial by continually removing the flowers and harvesting frequently. Highly aromatic, with a volatile hint of camphor. Hardy to zone 10. Sensitive to frost preferring a 70 degree F soil temperature. The flower buds should be pinched off, as the production of flowers tends to add bitterness to the leaf flavor. Basil is best fresh, but can also be preserved by drying, freezing, bottling in oil, or steeping in vinegar.
Basil history spans over 4,000 years back to the first written accounts mention it was grown in Egypt, possibly for use in embalming.
Greek mythology explains the origin of a portion of basil’s scientific name. Ocimus organized the combats staged in honor of Pallas who ruled Paralia or Diacria and had 50 sons. It is said that when Ocimus was killed by a gladiator, basil appeared.
The second half of the scientific name for basil is derived from the medieval Latin form of the Greek word for “King” or “Kingly”.
The royal reference stems from the basil plant being considered a sacred herb in its native India. Sacred India basil was considered a powerful protector and was often planted around temples and laid with the dead. Once known as the Toolsee plant, basil was held by the Hindus to be sacred to all gods with no oblation being considered truly sacred without the inclusion of basil leaves.
In other countries, basil is also placed with the dead but for a different reason. Basil is often considered a love token and is planted on graves in Iran, Malaysia and Egypt.
However, in Ancient Greece and Rome, basil did not enjoy such a positive reputation and was associated with poverty, hate and misfortune due to the prevailing belief that basil would only prosper where there was abuse. Another of our basil history sources explained that in Ancient Greece, when planting basil seeds, there was much shouting and cursing which later led to the French coining the phrase ‘semer le basilic’ which means to slander.