Sunday, July 22, 2012

Take Heed Ye Smellers of Basil

There is one herb that above all others symbolizes summer to me,
and that is basil. 
I adore the fragrance of basil,
and even though I may not cook with it at all during summer, 
I always plant  some because  just brushing the leaves 
 to release their delicious odor is sufficient for me.

So it is a good thing that I did not live during the early to mid-1500s
when basil was widely considered  a "sinister" poisonous plant.
Alice M. Coats' includes in her book Flowers and their Histories
a story first published in Thomas Lupton's A Thousand Notable Things:
It seems Jacobus Hollerius, a well-regarded doctor,
warned ignorant yet willful "smellers of basil" 
against a fate that had befallen an Italian who so frequently smelled basil 
that a scorpion bred inside his head and eventually killed him,
but only after a long, agonizing illness.

Another physician, this one living in Italy,
confirmed Hollerius's point of view,
explaining that basil placed under a stone for two days
would indeed produce a scorpion.
And Coats also includes the herbalist William Turner's advice
that basil is only "'good for the stryking [striking] of a se [sea] dragon.''

But with time, basil's good reputation was restored.
John Gerard, who published his herbal in 1697, avowed that 
"' the smell of basil is good for the heart ... it taketh away sorrowfulness ... ."
Parkinson, also cited in Coats, explains that basil's chief properties
were able to "'procure a cheerefull and merry heart.'"

So with these reassurances,
 I will continue to enjoy the fragrance of basil
--without fear of hatching scorpions.

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