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Plants: Species

Basil: Sweet Basil Ocimum basilicum


The fragrant and popular basil Ocimum basilicum was introduced to Europe from India in the late 1500s. Because of its aromatic and pungent scent, some consider its genus name Ocimum to derive from the Greek ozo , meaning "to smell." But the ancient Greeks apparently weren't fond of the plant, as it was used to represent hate and misfortune, and they claimed it would only grow if abuse were heaped upon it. Medieval physicians weren't sure about basil either: some declared it was a poison, calling it "untrustworthy" and saying it could "breed scorpions in the brain." Others, however, touted its healing properties, and in some countries it was, and still is, considered a love token or a thoughtful gift to visitors. Today, considering that most countries use it in tonics and as a culinary herb, the world seems to have decided against the scorpion philosophy, siding instead with one Tudor physician who said that basil's "Physicall properties are to procure a cheerfull and merry hearte."