GREEK BASIL, also known as Bush Basil, Ocimum minimum, has smaller leaves than the more familiar kitchen herb Sweet Basil, Ocimum basilicum. We’re looking after a little Grecian urn of Bush Basil for a neighbour, which has started to flower (left).
Ocimum is from the Greek okimom meaning ‘aromatic herb’. Basils are members of the Labiate family; relatives of mint, thyme, woundwort and dead-nettle.
Writing about Sweet Basil Culpeper says;
‘This is the herb which all authors are together by the ears about, and rail at one another, like lawyers. Galen and Dioscorides hold it not fitting to be taken inwardly, and Chrysippus rails at it with downright Billingsgate rhetoric : Pliny and the Arabian Physicians defend it.’
From this, I guess that Culpeper had some first-hand experience of lawyers and of Billingsgate fishmongers. Basil is such an integral part of the healthy Mediterranean cuisine that today it seems inconceivable that it was ever regarded with such suspicion:
‘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 of it, had a scorpion bred in his brain. . .
‘I dare write no more of it.’