Basil (Ocimum basilicum) of the mint family is a tender, low-growing herb. It is featured in Italian cuisine, and also plays a major role in the Southeast Asian cuisines of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Basil is originally native to Iran, India and other tropical regions of Asia, having been cultivated there for more than 5,000 years[
The word basil comes from the Greek βασιλεύς (basileus), meaning “king”, as it is believed to have grown above the spot where St. Constantine and Helen discovered the Holy Cross. The Oxford English Dictionary quotes speculations that basil may have been used in “some royal unguent, bath, or medicine”.
Basil is very sensitive to cold, with best growth in hot, dry conditions. It behaves as an annual if there is any chance of a frost. In Northern Europe, Canada, the northern states of the U.S., and the South Island of New Zealand it will grow best if sown under glass in a peat pot, then planted out in late spring/early summer (when there is little chance of a frost). It fares best in a well-drained sunny spot.
Although basil will grow best outdoors, it can be grown indoors in a pot and, like most herbs, will do best on an equator-facing windowsill. It should be kept away from extremely cold drafts, and grows best in strong sunlight, therefore a greenhouse or Row cover is ideal if available. They can, however, be grown even in a basement, under fluorescent lights.
If its leaves have wilted from lack of water, it will recover if watered thoroughly and placed in a sunny location. Yellow leaves towards the bottom of the plant are an indication that the plant needs more sunlight or less fertilizer.
In sunnier climates, basil will thrive when planted outside. It also thrives over the summertime in the central and northern United States, but dies out when temperatures reach freezing point. It will grow back the next year if allowed to go to seed.
Basil can also be propagated very reliably from cuttings, with the stems of short cuttings suspended for two weeks or so in water until roots develop.
If a stem successfully produces mature flowers, leaf production slows or stops on any stem which flowers, the stem becomes woody, and essential oil production declines. To prevent this, pinch off any flower stems before they are fully mature. Because only the blooming stem is so affected, some can be pinched for leaf production, while others are left to bloom for decoration or seeds.
Once the plant is allowed to flower, it may produce seed pods containing small black seeds which can be saved and planted the following year. Picking the leaves off the plant helps “promote growth”, largely because the plant responds by converting pairs of leaflets next to the topmost leaves into new stems.
There are many rituals and beliefs associated with basil. The French sometimes call basil “l’herbe royale“. Jewish folklore suggests it adds strength while fasting. It is a symbol of love in present-day Italy, but represented hatred in ancient Greece, and European lore sometimes claims that basil is a symbol of Satan. African legend claims that basil protects against scorpions, while the English botanist Culpeper cites one “Hilarius, a French physician” as affirming it as common knowledge that smelling basil too much would breed scorpions in the brain.
Holy Basil, also called ‘Tulsi’ , is highly revered in Hinduism and also has religious significance in the Greek Orthodox Church, where it is used to prepare holy water. It is said to have been found around Christ’s tomb after his resurrection. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Serbian Orthodox Church, Macedonian Orthodox Church and Romanian Orthodox Church use basil (Bulgarian and Macedonian: босилек; Romanian: busuioc, Serbian: босиљак) to prepare holy water and pots of basil are often placed below church altars.
In Europe, basil is placed in the hands of the dead to ensure a safe journey. In India, they place it in the mouth of the dying to ensure they reach God. The ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks believed that it would open the gates of heaven for a person passing on.
(Info from Wikipedia)
Hasler notes Basil is associated with Mercury, Mars and Jupiter.