Italian Language Blog

Il Basilico – L’Erba Regale Posted by on Aug 2, 2009 in Uncategorized

It’s difficult to imagine Italian cuisine without il basilico (basil). The name basilico derives from the Greek word basilicòn which means ‘royal’, and in fact it was the Greeks themselves who introduced this most archetypal of Mediterranean herbs into Europe, importing it from its native habitat of India. For the Romans, besides being an important aromatic ingredient in their cuisine, il basilico was the emblem of gli innamorati (those in love). 

Il basilico is an annual arbusto (bushy plant) which can grow up to about 60 cm high. It is used a lot as an aroma (an aromatic ingredient) in la cucina Italiana (Italian cuisine), especially in sughi al pomodoro (tomato sauces), insalate fresche (fresh salads) and, of course, as the main ingredient of Pesto alla Genovese.

If you want to grow il basilico at home you should plant it in a fairly light soil, or terriccio (compost), and keep it well watered. It has a sweet fragrance, especially when it gets a lot of sun, and the scent of the leaves is at its strongest just before the plant begins to flower although older leaves tend to have a more piccante (peppery) flavor.

One of the hidden benefits of il basilico is that it attracts le api (bees) and therefore helps with l’impollinazione (the pollination) of other plants growing nearby.

The Egyptians, incidentally, incorporated il basilico into the balsam which they used to mummify their dead, but I’m afraid I don’t know the whole recipe!

Coming soon……….Ricette Italiane col Basilico (Italian Recipes with Basil).

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  1. Kavita:

    Il basilico italiano is a cousin of indian basil (tulsi)!
    This is interesting. Basil has so many beneficial properties it is considered holy here in India. I wondered where the connection lay besides the shared name, as the two tippi bear no physical resemblance. Italian basil is mmm.. che

    Also, I didn’t know that balsam was used for embalming.

    Grazie mille, Serena, for a good post!

  2. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    Is there any relationship between ‘basilica’, ‘basilico’ and ‘St. Basil’?

    It might be interesting to have a list of common words that are totally different in meaning when you change from masculine to feminine.


  3. Serena:

    Salve Vince!

    The name St.Basil (in Italian San Basilio), and the words “basilica” and “basilico” all come from the Greek word “basileus” meaning “king”, so they are all related. The original Greek word for basilica was “basilike stoa” meaning “royal porch”, and was used to describe the building where law courts and assemblies were held. The Romans developed its architecture into a public building formed by an oblong hall with a double colonnade and an apse, which from the 4th century AD was adopted as a Christian building. You can find out more about the name Basil on this website:

    As for words that change their meanings depending on their masculine and feminine ending, I wrote a small blog some time ago: Of course, you can keep adding to this list.

    A presto!

  4. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    I just checked your masculine and feminine ending positing and it’s just what I wanted! I will try to add to it and make flash cards of all of them.

    I have been to the stoa in Athens. Your post has been very helpful, once again.



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