African legend affirms that basil protects from scorpions stings, and in places such as India, basil is extremely revered. Similarly, in present days, it is a sign of love in Italy.
However, basil represented hatred, misfortune and the poverty in old Greece, and the plant has frequently been believed to be poisonous, although this seems to be mainly because of the fact that it will not grow close to the herb rue (Ruta gaveolens). Celebrated physician and botanist, Nicholas Culpeper
wrote in the 17th century:
"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."
European traditions assert that basil is a symbol of Satan. People who planted the seeds would utter a curse upon the seeds themselves to ensure that they germinated and grew. In the illuminations of the Middle Ages, basil was the symbol of hate. In Crete the basil plant has been considered an emblem of the devil, and placed on many window ledges, which is though to be a way of using the herb as some
kind of charm.
In old Gaul, the forefathers of today's France picked basil between July and August when it was in flower. The pickers of this sacred plant had to devote themselves to strict rituals of purification: They would wash their hands which they would use for picking basil in the water of three different sources, and would be sure to dress themselves in clean clothes. In addition they would stay away from
unclean or impure persons, or women in the period of menstruation, and would also be sure to not use metal tools to cut the stems. It was considered to be a sacred plant because the French attributed to
the herb the power to cure grievous wounds. It thus became part of the composition of a red vulnerary water (from the latin"vulnus" which means "wound"), used for healing or treating wounds.
Elizabeth, heroine of Bocace, buried the head of her lover in a pot of basil which was watered with her
Basil has also been the subject of classical poetry by Boccaccio and Keats, who have made the name of the sweet basil plant sound pleasantly in the ears of many people who may have previously know nothing
of this lovely plant.