Thursday, January 23, 2020

Magical and Medicinal Uses of Basil

basil, herb magic, witchcraft, herbal remedies

Gender: Masculine
Planet: Mars
Element: Fire
Powers: Astral Travel, Exorcism, Love, Protection, Wealth
Magical Uses and History: Basil's history dates back over 5000 years, beginning in India before moving west into the Mediterranean where it became a staple herb in culinary, magical, and medicinal practices. Sweet basil, along with other basil and mint plants, belongs to the genus Ocimum which is derived from the Greek meaning "to be fragrant." This is exceptionally true of the basil plant, which is often described as being very fragrant. The word basil itself, however, comes from the Greek word for "king," thus associating it with wealth and royalty. Basil can be carried in your pockets to attract wealth or kept in cash registers or grown by the door to attract business. However, basil is more commonly associated with love than wealth and royalty.

Holy Basil, which is highly revered in India, is a sacred Hindu herb and is believed to be a manifestation of the Goddess Tulasi. According to legend, the god Vishnu disguised himself as Tulasi's husband to seduce her. When Tulasi realized she had been unfaithful to her husband she killed herself. In some stories, Tulsai was a mortal named Vrinda who threw herself onto a funeral pyre after her husband's death. In both cases, her burnt hair turned into Holy Basil (Tulsi). In both stories, Vishnu ultimately defied Tulasi's wishes to die and declared she be worshiped by wives and would prevent said wives from becoming widows. As such, Holy Basil is the symbol of love, fidelity, eternal life, purification, and protection. Often times people swear over basil bushes to ensure they will tell the truth during court hearings.

My favorite myth regarding basil, however, comes from The Decameron. The story of Isabetta (sometimes referred to as Isabella or Elisabetta) is a tragic one that begins with Isabetta, who comes from a wealthy family, falling in love with a lower-class man named Lorenzo. When Isabetta's three brothers discovered their love, they lured Lorenzo into the woods where they killed and buried him, telling Isabetta that Lorenzo had gone away on business. That night, however, Lorenzo visited Isabetta in her dreams, informing her of her brothers' deceit and asked that she give him a proper burial. Struck with grief, Isabetta dashed away into the forest with nothing but a knife to dig up Lorenzo's body. When she realized she had no way of doing so with just a knife, she cut off his head and snuck it back home where she buried it in a pot of basil. Every day for one hour she would cry over the pot, watering the basil with her tears. When her brothers discovered the pot contains Lorenzo's head they stole it away to hide the evidence of their murderous deed. Isabetta, realizing her Lorenzo was gone forever, dies of a broken heart shortly after. John Keats later retells this tale in a 63 eight-line rhyming stanza which is absolutely breathtaking. It was so loved that painter William Homan immortalized the story in his famous painting Isabella and the Pot of Basil (1868). Needless to say, basil is strongly connected with love and fidelity, and in this case with easing sorrow and grief, especially when attributed to the loss of a loved one.

The association of basil with love became so strong that men began wearing basil in their hats when they were ready to seek a wife. Women would give sprigs of basil to their love interest to solidify the relationship and was even used to divine future lovers. Two fresh basil leaves were placed upon a lump of hot coal. if the leaves remain falt and burn quickly, it is said that the relationship will be harmonious, but if they crackle or move slightly, then the relationship will be plagued with quarrels. If the leaves fly apart, the relationship will eventually end. To ensure your partner is faithful, sprinkle basil over their heart while they are asleep. Concerned they may be unfaithful? Hand them a sprig of basil and if it withers quickly, they are likely being unfaithful.

In other parts of Europe, however, basil became associated with the Devil, death, and witches. Some folklore suggests that basil belongs to Satan and therefore you must curse the soil before you plant basil in order for it to grow properly. This might explain why I can never grow basil... It is believed the French idiom, "semer le basilic" which means "to sow the basil" comes from this belief and refers to ranting. This may have arisen from the idea that basil was sacred to the dead and was often placed in the hands of the deceased in order to secure safe passage to the Underworld. As such, basil is seen as protective and can be placed around the home to protect against evil and harmful spells. In some folklore, basil is strewn across the floor as a protection charm because where basil lives no evil can live. In Greece, Basil leaves were burned to oust witches. While the leaves were burning, a name of a suspected witch was called out. If the leaves hissed in response, it was believed that the person was, in fact, practicing witchcraft.

However, the most pertinent use of basil in hedgecraft is for flying. Accordingly to legend witches would drink a concoction of basil oil or an infusion of basil before embarking on astral travel. This is referenced over and over in multiple magical sources, but I can't find where this belief originated, so if you can point me in the right direction, please do! Either way, basil is associated with flight and is used by some witches to aid in hedge riding. It is known that during the time of the Tudors, small plants of basil were given to guests as a parting gift, likely to aid them in their travels. As such, basil could be used to aid in traveling, both within the physical and metaphysical realms.

Basil can be used in a number of spells including:
    Protection Spells
    Love Spells and Rituals
    Psychic Development
    Hedge Riding
    Money Magic

Medicinal Uses: Sweet Basil is commonly used to stimulate and soothe the stomach and intestinal activity, stomach cramps, nausea, indigestion, gas, and bloating. Due to its fragrant nature, it has also been used to cure bad breath. Topically, the juice from the leaves can be used to speed the healing of infected cuts, insect bites, and stings. The leaves can also be rubbed against the skin to repel insects. Holy Basil, on the other hand, promotes healthy uptake of sugars by the body and has been found to be beneficial in the early stages of diabetes. Holy Basil is also used to treat coughs and bronchitis and lowers blood pressure and cholesterol.

Preparation and Dosage: Sweet Basil and Holy Basil can be taken internally by eating the leaves straight, cooking the plant into foods, or through an infusion. To make an infusion, combine one cup of hot water with 5-10 fresh leaves. Allow the leaves to infuse for 10 minutes. Drink up to three times a day. Externally, the juice from the leaves of Sweet Basil can be used to treat insect bites, stings, and minor cuts. To make a poultice, grind a handful of fresh sweet basil leaves and apply directly to the wound. Holy Basil should not be used to treat diabetes alone and you should consult your doctor before taking.

Want to print a copy of this for your Book of Shadows? Click below for your free copy! This particular plant profile is 2 pages due to the length of the content.

basil, herb magic, witchcraft, herbal remedies

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  1. My eyes lit up like Imbolc candles over this stellar post. Basil is a lifelong herbal love of mine, both culinarily and magically.

    Marrying a native son of Italy, the country with perhaps the deepest cultural ties of all to basil, I've deepend my appreciation for and connection to this versatile, powerful, awesome herb all the more in the past 15+ years (yes, we married young :D).

    Thank you for this wonderfully informative and enjoyable post. I know what herb will be starring in tonight's supper. :)

    ♥ Autumn

    1. Thank you, Autumn! I'm having basil tonight too in my spaghetti. So delicious! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. It was certainly the longest herbarium post I have written, and I know there is so much more I could have said!


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