This aromatic annual plant belongs to the Labiatae family and is widely spread and used in cooking in the Liguria territory where it is particularly perfumed thanks to the temperate climate and wet climate.
It is certainly of oriental origins and the basil plant seems to have been fruit of marittime and taken up by many of the Genoan people through its commercial traffic.
The origins probably came from India, also if already four thousand years ago its cultivation was spread throughout Asia. In Europe it was introduced by the Romans, whereas in America it was known only on the arrival of English colonies in the XVI century. This modest plant, well-known in all cases for its perfume that adds to mediterranean cooking, has enjoyed in the past much respect. This is also confirmed by the etymology of its name, that derives, in the opinion of some, from basiliscus (basilisk - an ancient dragon who could kill with a look, and the plant represented a valid antidote to this), according to others from the Greek basiliḳs, that means “royal”.
In ancient times the Greeks thought that to have a good harvest of the plant it was necessary to say a series of curses at the moment of planting. In the Christian tradition however the sacredness attributed to basil derives from two distinct legends but confluent between them: the first speaks of basil beginning in a vase in which Salome had placed the head of John the Baptist; the second story says that it was found by the Empress Elena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, at the place of the Crucifiction of Christ, and from her followed the spread throughout the world.
Other popular traditions on the contrary associate basil with the idea of earthly love. In the Thirties there was composed in Italy a popular song inspired by the story of Isabella da Messina, who preserved the head of her lover who had been beheaded by her brothers, in a vase of basil, which was then stolen by these brothers (episode taken from Boccaccio of his “Decameron”). In more recent centuries the symbology attributed to this plant changes again: a vase of basil on the balcony of a young woman seems to have been interpreted as a sign of her availability to receive her lover.
Today substantiated by many, is that this plant placed on a window repels mosquitoes and other insects as they don’t like its perfume. What is indisputable is the use of basil in cooking that from Liguria became widely used in all of Italy (even though there still exist some areas of the south in which this plant, even though growing profusely, is not used in culinary art), elements indispensable for a good pomarola, and for all tomato based dishes, but also for many appetising sauces; and not forgetting its function as a decoration on vegetable dishes as well as first courses.