Probably originating in the East, Basil (Tulasi) is considered sacred in India, where it is grown around the temples and placed on the altars. Although it arrived in the West in the days of antiquity, the ancients seemed to have felt ambivalent towards its use. Invariably it is associated with demons, dragons and scorpions. Some say it protects against the effects of bites from such venomous beasts, whilst others claim that there is no hope for him who had eaten Basil and was unlucky enough to subsequently be stung by a scorpion. Others deem that scorpions could grow from chopped up basil, while Culpeper even claims that a scorpion would develop in the heads of those who merely smelled the herb too frequently.
Basil certainly had an ambivalent reputation. In Egypt it was associated with the cult of the dead and used in embalming rituals as well as laid on the chest of the deceased. Basil was also placed or grown on the grave. On the other hand Basil symbolized tragic love - 'love washed in tears', while in Italy girls decorated their hair with a sprig of the herb to signal their willingness to a potential suitor. It is said that Basil would only grow well if sown under a barrage of swearwords, which is why recent writers concluded that Basil is associated with hate. However, in the old days swearing was a kind of protection spell, in the same vein as we might say 'break a leg' to wish someone luck. Swearing, or saying the opposite to what was intended was a 'deception manoeuvre', thought to avert unseemly attention from the eyes of jealous demons by making a plant, animal or child seem worthless, so they could grow in peace, without becoming the target of envy. Basil is also associated with courage and with money magic, and in Central America it is used as magical wash/ cleansing lotion to attract benevolent spirits. See also Basil Essential Oil
Most of us are unaware of this rich folklore and magical history when we enjoy our tomato salad decorated with fragrant basil leaves. It is as spice that we are most familiar with it. As such, it adds not just flavour, but also its carminative benefits to a dish, dispelling nausea, flatulence and intestinal parasites. Therapeutically it is said to calm nervous excitement and depression and may be useful in states of anxiety and insomnia. Mothers appreciate it for its galactagogue properties. Externally it helps to soothe insect bites and acts as an insect repellent. Basil has proven antibacterial properties.
Sprinkled around the temple or house, or used in cleansing rites prior to ritual it will attract good spirits and give courage to the practitioner. Basil can be used in the last rite of passage to easy the journey of the soul to the Otherworld. It can also be used to confer courage to the novice during initiation rites. Basil is associated with money magic. Sprinkle the place of business or the till with basil oil or carry some leaves in your pocket to attract money. It can also be included in love philtres and potions to attract lovers, though the unions that ensue may be fiery and short-lived.