Can you imagine your list of favorite herbs without basil? In sunny Greece, where it’s almost impossible to think about a meal without tomato, basil (vassilikos in Greek) is actually one the most popular Greek herbs. Somebody calls basil “the best tomato buddy” and it’s pretty much true. When combined together they enhance each other’s flavour no matter if you cook tomato or eat it fresh.
Basil used in cooking, church and medicine
Greeks use basil in abundance in salads, seafood, meat, and soups. After all, the Greek salad doesn’t go without basil! Well it was not always like that. Although known in Greece from the ancient times, basil was mostly used for medical and religious purposes.
Hippocrates used to prescribe basil as a treatment for heart, nausea and constipation. Ancient Greeks believed that putting a spring of basil in the hands of the dead would open heaven’s gates.
Basil is used also in the Greek Orthodox Church for the preparation of the holy water. Even today, many Greeks bring their basil plants for a church blessing or give them as a gift. Greek name for basil is “Vassilikos” which means “royal”, and it has always represented health and prosperity for Greeks.
There is also the superstition, still palpable among Greeks, that if you keep a pot with basil at the entrance door of your house you will have lots of luck and money.
In was not until last century that this beautiful, aromatic herb, whose roots go back to 5.000 BC., became the common ingredient in the Greek cuisine. And now it’s not possible to imagine it without it.
Species of basil in Greece
There are many different species of basil found in Greece, but the most typical one is “Vassilikos the Greek” – with thin and long green leaves. That’s the one you will find in the famous Greek salad.
With this type of basil when fresh, Greeks don’t cook. For cooking purposes they dry “Vassilikos the Greek” or use other type of fresh basil – the one with wider and “meatier” leaves.