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Myths, legends and folklore – Belonging to a family of herbs that have been cultivated for in excess of 2000 years, Hairy Basil has acquired a large folklore, but much of this folklore is shared with other branches of the family.
At one time, the story goes that basil was so royal, that only the king could harvest it, and only with a gold sickle.
It was introduced to Europe in the mid 16th century, and acquired the reputation of being connected to scorpions. It also had the reputation of being an antidote to poisons.
Culpeper says, “Being applied to the place bitten by venomous beasts, or stung by a wasp or hornet, it speedily draws the poison to it. Every like draws its like. Mizaldus affirms that being laid to rot in horse dung, it will breed venomous beasts. Hilarius, a French physician, affirms upon his own knowledge, that an acquaintance of his, by common smelling to it, had a scorpion breed in his brain.”
He also says “This herb and Rue will not grow together, and we know Rue is as great an enemy of poison as any that grows
In Tudor times, small pots were given by farmers’ wives to visitors as a parting gift, and young girls would place some on their windowsill to indicate they were looking for a suitor.
When sowing Basil, both Greeks and Romans believed the best Basil resulted from swearing and ranting at the seed while sowing it. In French, the phrase “semer le basilica”i.e. to sow basil, means to rant and rave.
While ancient Greece and Rome regarded Basil as a symbol of hatred, in areas where Rome once ruled, basil has an entirely different meaning. In Sicily, Basil is called “Kiss me, Nicholas,” while in Rumania, if a boy accepts a sprig of Basil from a girl, he accepts that they are engaged.
In Crete and parts of Greece, basil has an important role at Christmas time. Christmas trees are not commonly used in Greece. In most homes, the main symbol of the season is a shallow bowl with a piece of wire suspended across the rim; from that hangs a sprig of basil wrapped round a wooden cross. A small amount of water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once a day, a family member, usually the mother, dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house. This ritual is to keep away the (Killantzaroi) from the house. These are half animal, half human monsters who overturn all the furniture, devour the Christmas pork, befoul all the water and wine and remaining food, and leave the occupants half dead with fright or violence.
They are a danger till Epiphany when the blessing of the waters takes place.
It is thought that this is a tradition which dates back to the masquerades of the winter festival of Dionysus.
In Haiti, the herb is considered to be under the influence of the goddess Erzulie, and is used in her worship.