The name Basil comes down to us from ancient Greece [basileus], Rome [basilicum] and medieval France [basilic]. I love the pungent green delicious aroma of Basil herb with its whiff of cloves, such a brilliant partner to ripe tomatoes. There are so many varieties to try – my favourites include purple ruffled Basil, with a strong hint of spice, and Greek Basil which has smaller leaves but a very strong aroma indeed.
Basil’s name has been translated as ‘kingly’ or ‘fit for a king’. Its aroma is cephalic, meaning it has a powerful effect on the brain. It clears a foggy mind, stimulates new ideas and fires up courage. Essential oil of Western Basil, Ocimum basilicum, is extremely stimulating and powerful. [Safety note – it’s important to buy Basil essential oil called ‘the linalool type’. There is a type of Basil essential oil that contains an ingredient called methyl chavicol, which is considered to be toxic. Check with your supplier.]
In India they have a special kind of Basil called Tulsi – or Holy Basil – with more velvety leaves and a strong spice note. Tulsi is sacred to the goddess of the same name – the consort of the god Vishnu. The plant is grown in many Indian gardens and used to make a fortifying tea, as well as being used in local medicine. It is interesting that in India Tulsi is a very female-centred worship, as opposed to the Basil of the West with its kingly associations.
Coming back to the notion of kingly Basil, I can’t help but have a king on my mind, thanks to the extraordinary procession on TV yesterday in Leicester UK, to welcome the bones of our last Plantagenet King Richard III back to the cathedral, to lie in state for three days and then to be reinterred this Thursday. As a lifelong Plantagenet lover, I am so pleased to see Richard welcomed into a place of sanctified rest after all the controversy of his life and his subsequent vilification at the hands of Shakespeare. I’m in the Ricardian camp that maintains there was more to Richard than we can ever know and he has been sadly misrepresented in our history. Yesterday it was wonderful to witness ‘The Return of the King’ and the way it means so much to so many people. Not surprising then, that Basil is my herb and oil of today… in honour of the King who has come back into our consciousness. Here he is, in full scientific reconstruction from his bones and genetic evidence. The face of the king, indeed – and new genetic data suggests he may even have been fair-haired and blue-eyed.
May he finally rest in peace.