Image: Wikipedia Commons
This is the first of a series of posts on herbs and spices used in Greek cooking. We're going to keep it in alphabetical order.
The word Basil comes from the Greek word Vasiliko, which is what it is still called in Greece today, meaning royal. It is believed to have grown above the spot where St. Constantine and Helen discovered the Holy Cross in 330 AD and it has been speculated that it may have been used in "some royal unguent, bath, or medicine" (Oxford English Dictionary).
In ancient Greece Hippocrates regarded basil as beneficial to the heart and prescribed it for treatment of constipation and as an anti-emetic.
It also has religious significance. Many Greeks bring basil plants as gifts to the church and the priest will bless the plants for the health and prosperity of people's homes. The Greek Orthodox Church also uses it to prepare holy water. The ancient Greeks, along with the Egyptians, believed that if basil was placed in the hands of a dead person, it would ensure a safe journey and open the gates of heaven for them.