Herbs: Basil

Latin name: Ocimum basilicum from the Lamiaceae (mint) family

Native to: India

Popular Cultivars: Lemon and cinnamon, African Blue, Holy Basil, Thai Basil

Basil, King of Herbs. It almost seemsredundant to do a post on basil, but I was inspired by some drying in my workroom. Truthfully, they’ve probably been left too long, but I can’t bear to take them down.

Basil has a long, venerable history across many cultures. Basil itself is thought to have originated in India, and was commonly used for religious and medicinal purposes. From there, it spread both east and west.

There are conflicting views and traditions surrounding basil. Some cultures associate it with death and hatred, others with love, fertility and exorcism. Tulsi, or Holy Basil, is sacred to both the Hindus and those of Greek Orthodox faith. To the Romans, basil was an herb of fertility, and “they believed that it would only flourish where it was tended by a beautiful young maiden” (1). Nicholas Culpeper, the famed herbalist, seemed to think basil as an evil plant, stating that: “This herb and rue will not grow together…and we know rue is as great an enemy of poison as any that grows.” (2) Culpeper associated basil with “the planet Mars and under the Scorpion…it is no marvel if it carry a virulent quality with it.” (3).

Modern Pagan associations aren’t as negative. Scott Cunningham associates the herb mainly with the planet Mars, the element of Fire and with the applications of love, fertility, exorcism and wealth. Ellen Dugan’s book, Cottage Witchery, agrees and corresponds Basil to wealth and good luck.

My personal correspondences with basil are: hot, fire, summer, energetic, moist, growth!, hardy and fresh.

Medicinal uses range from applying fresh leaves to insect bites (this was found in all of my books and throughout history) to drinking an infusion as a tonic for motion sickness and head colds. (4)

Basil needs to be grown in rich soil and in full sun. It loves the heat and can survive extreme temperatures as long as it gets a good drink. Basil is an easy herb to grow from seed, just scatter in a pot and cover lightly with dirt and compost. Keep it moist–but not drenched–and you should have enough basil to keep you from spring to autumn. In  most locations basil is an annual that needs to be replanted every year.

My favorite way to use basil? Fresh and in food! Pesto, caprese salad, julienned on top of pasta sauces and sautéed veggies. I’ve used basil as a remembrance of old friends and to heal emotional wounds. Basil brings me joy in the garden, from its strong and frisky anise aroma to its vigorous growth throughout the season.

(1) The Book of Magical Herbs by Margaret Picton, published 2000.

(2) DK Natural Health: Complete Guide to Medicinal Herbs by Penelope Ody, MNIMH, published 2000, second edition.

(3) Growing and Using Healing Herbs by Gaea and Shandor Weiss, published 1985.

(4) See citation 2.

(5) Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham, published in 2011, second edition, nineteenth printing.

(6) Cottage Witchery by Ellen Dugan, published 2005.

This post is meant to be fun and educational, and in no way meant to be used for self-treatment of self-diagnosis. If you have questions, speak to your doctor.


Summer is…

Ripe tomatoes.


The promise of sweet corn.

Going to the beach. And, if you’re C, eating sand.

Seeing extraordinary things, like a sea turtle release.

Summer is here, no doubt. This Pagan house (as in my literal home) is in a bit of a disarray, but it almost seems normal with the heat of summer descending on us to have an adjustment period. The brief spring is over and the season of (wild)fire has begun.

Litha/Midsummer has been on my mind lately. I’m not sure what to do to celebrate it. Last year, heavily pregnant, I went around town and snapped pictures. This year I’d like to do something a bit more formal.  I think what I have to work out is what summer, heat, fire actually means to me. I much prefer autumn and winter, so this is a bit of a mysterious holiday. I’m taking note of the weather especially, as it’s been odd this year (especially the constant gusty winds!).

What are your plans for the summer? What does Midsummer mean to you?

Wild yarrow growing in my backyard.