Basil, Bush

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Basil, Bush

Botanical Name: Ocymum minumum
Family: N.O. Labiatae
Part Used: Leafy tops.

Bush Basil (Ocymum minumum) is a low, bushy plant, seldom above 6 inches in height, much smaller than Sweet Basil.

The leaves are ovate, quite entire, the white flowers in whorls towards the top of the branches, smaller than those of Sweet Basil, and seldom succeeded by ripe seeds in England.

There are two varieties, one with black-purple leaves and the other with variable leaves.

Both Bush and Garden Basil are natives of India, from whence it was introduced in 1573. Bush Basil may occasionally live through the winter in this country, though Sweet Basil never does.

Both varieties flower in July and August.

The leafy tops of Bush Basil are used in the same manner as the Sweet Basil for seasoning and in salads. t

The leaves of O. viride, a native of Western Africa, possess febrifugal properties; and at Sierra Leone, where it bears the name of 'Fever-plant,' a decoction of them, drunk as tea, is used as a remedy for the fevers so prevalent there.

The leaves of O. canum, and O. gratissimum in India, and of O. crispum in Japan, all sweet-scented varieties, are prescribed as a remedy for colds.

O. teniflorum is regarded as an aromatic stimulant in Java; and 0. guineense is much employed by the negroes as a medicine in cases of bilious fever.

These plants are all free of any deleterious secretions; for the most part they are fragrant and aromatic, and hence they have not only been used as tonics, but are also valuable as kitchen herbs.

In Persia and Malaysia Basil is planted on graves, and in Egypt women scatter the flowers on the resting-places of those belonging to them.

These observances are entirely at variance with the idea prevailing among the ancient Greeks that it represented hate and misfortune. They painted poverty as a ragged woman with a Basil at her side, and thought the plant would not grow unless railing and abuse were poured forth at the time of sowing. The Romans, in like manner, believed that the more it was abused, the better it would prosper. The physicians of old were quite unable to agree as to its medicinal value, some declaring that it was a poison, and others a precious simple. Culpepper tells us: 'Galen and Dioscorides hold it is not fitting to be taken inwardly and Chrysippusrails at it. Pliny and the Arabians defend it. Something is the matter, this herb and rue will not grow together, no, nor near one another, and we know rue is as great an enemy to poison as any that grows.'

But it was said to cause sympathy between human beings and a tradition in Moldavia still exists that a youth will love any maiden from whose hand he accepts a sprig of this plant. In Crete it symbolizes 'love washed with tears,' and in some parts of Italy it is a love-token. Boccaccio's story of Isabella and the Pot of Basil, immortalized by Keats, keeps the plant in our memory, though it is now rarely cultivated in this country. It was formerly grown in English herb gardens. Tusser includes it among the Strewing herbs and Drayton places it first in his poem Polyolbion. 'With Basil then I will begin Whose scent is wondrous pleasing.' In Tudor days, little pots of Basil were often given as graceful compliments by farmers' wives to visitors. Parkinson says: 'The ordinary Basill is in a manner wholly spent to make sweete or washing waters among other sweet herbs, yet sometimes it is put into nosegays. The Physicall properties are to procure a cheerfull and merry hearte whereunto the seeds is chiefly used in powder.'

Cultivation: Basil dies down every year in this country, so that the seeds have to be sown annually. If in a very warm sheltered spot, seeds may be sown in the open, about the last week in April, but they are a long time coming up, and it is preferable to sow in a hot bed, about the end of March, and remove to a warm border in May, planting 10 inches to a foot apart.

Basil flourishes best in a rich soil.

Part Used Medicinally: The whole herb, both fresh and dried, gathered in July.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Aromatic and carminative. Though generally employed in cooking as a flavouring, Basil has been occasionally used for mild nervous disorders and for the alleviation of wandering rheumatic pains- the dried leaves, in the form of snuff, are said to be a cure for nervous headaches.

An infusion of the green herb in boiling water is good for all obstructions of the internal organs, arrests vomiting and allays nausea.

The seeds have been reckoned efficacious against the poison of serpents, both taken internally and laid upon the wound. They are also said to cure warts.

In common with other labiates, Basil, both the wild and the sweet, furnishes an aromatic, volatile, camphoraceous oil, and on this account is much employed in France for flavouring soups, especially turtle soup. They also use it in ragoûts and sauces. The leafy tops are a great improvement to salads and cups.

Although it is now comparatively little used in England for culinary purposes, this herb was one of our favourite pot-herbs in older days, and gave the distinctive flavour that once made Fetter Lane sausages famous.

RECIPES A Recipe for Aromatic Seasoning:
'Take of nutmegs and mace one ounce each, of cloves and peppercorns two ounces of each, one ounce of dried bay-leaves, three ounces of basil, the same of marjoram, two ounces of winter savory, and three ounces of thyme, half an ounce of cayenne-pepper, the same of grated lemon-peel, and two cloves of garlic; all these ingredients must be well pulverized in a mortar and sifted through a fine wire sieve, and put away in dry corked bottles for use.' (Francatelli's Cook's Guide.)

O. Americanum. First recorded in 1789 as found in the West Indies.

The name 'Ocymum' is said by Mathiolus to be derived from the Greek word 'To smell,' because of the powerful aromatic and pungent scent characterizing most of the plants of this genus. Decoctions made from 0. Americanum are used in cases of chest trouble and dysentery; and an essential oil is also extracted from the plant.

Closely akin to the above-named is the O. gratissimum cultivated in China as a culinary herb.

O. canum is used as a tincture made from the leaves in homoeopathy.