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Name that plant - for the answer scroll to the end
October 2001)

This annual herb of the mint family is native to central and tropical Asia and Africa (some say it originated in India). It is an important ingredient in Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian cuisine. Today it is cultivated commercially in California, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Germany, Israel, Egypt, Morocco, Italy, Madagascar, India and Mexico. It has been grown in areas around the Mediterranean since antiquity, but Britain did not begin using it until the 16th century. The many varieties of this herb have seeds that can germinate after 10 years!

In addition to its culinary uses, it is also used in perfumes, soaps, shampoos and dental preparations. In Mexico it is supposed to keep a lover's eye off others, and is considered a powerful protector in Haiti. During British colonial days, magistrates would have witnesses swear on this holy herb. It is recommended in Herbals for the relief of dysentery, gas pains, nausea, and as a cure for worms and warts.

The ancient Greeks and Romans thought it would only grow if you screamed wild curses and shouted unintelligibly while sowing the seeds. They also believed if you left a leaf under a pot, it would turn into a scorpion. Many believed that even smelling the leaves would cause scorpions to grow in the brain! Salome hid John the Baptist's head in a pot of this herb to cover up the odor of it's decomposition.

Returning to some less morbid uses, in Italy it is a token of love, in Romania if a girl gives a sprig to her boyfriend, they are engaged, and a good Hindu goes to rest with a leaf on his breast as a passport to Paradise.

Chef James EhlerThis article is from Chef James Ehler of Key West, Florida.

James is a webmaster, cook, chef, writer and (like me) a self-confessed computer nerd. He is the former executive chef of Martha's Steak & Seafood Restaurant and the former Reach Hotel (both in Key West), the Hilton Hotel in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and the New Bern Golf and Country Club, North Carolina.

He is now webmaster and cook at the Blue Heaven Restaurant in Key West while he works on his Food Encyclopedia (five years so far). It is well worth paying a visit to James' food reference website which is a useful resource well worth Bookmarking - to visit either website just click on their title:

The Food Reference Website
The Blue Heaven Restaurant, Key West, Florida

If you want to contact James just email him by clicking here.

The answer : Basil

© James T. Ehler, 2001
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