How to best grow Basil, and some Folklore, too

Basil – Arguably one of the most popular kitchen herbs today, it adds just the right flavour to so many recipes. But, did you know there is folklore surrounding this tasty plant?!

Inspired by #FolkloreThursday on Twitter for some time now, I began researching my favourite plants and flowers to learn their history, and what connections if any, they may have to ancient lore, superstitions, or stories.

In parts of Italy to this day, Basil is considered an herb that inspires love. Its scent is thought to bring about sympathy, and Medieval Italian maidens gave their chosen love a sprig of Basil to ensure their love would be returned in full.

With antibacterial properties, basil is considered to be good insect repellent. Along those lines, it’s good for hornets and wasp stings too, according to Culpeper, “Being applied to the place bitten by the venomous beast, or stung by a wasp or hornet, it speedily draws the poison to it“.

To carry a sprig of Basil in your purse or wallet is supposed to be a way to draw money and abundance to you and your bank account.  <-  I’ve tried with limited success. 😉

In dispute of what I’ve shared above, the Dierbach’s Flora Mythologica der Griechen und Römer, claims Basil represents poverty. In addition, the approved modern English ‘Dictionary of Flowers,’ states that offering Basil is a way to show hate to one’s enemy.

Who are we supposed to believe? Better not chance it, I’ve just removed the sprig of Basil from my wallet. Perhaps that’s why there was limited success.

According to ‘The Expert Gardener’ (1640), a work “faithfully collected from Dutch and French authors”, and a whole chapter devoted to the times and seasons which one should “sow and replant all manner of seeds”, this book offers special reference to the phases of the Moon. Specific to Basil and when to sow, reads: “must be sowne in March, when the Moone is old.”

As it’s still February, we’re not quite there. Another month to go before sowing those seeds. But when you do, here is some practical information on how best to grow it.

Basil will reach a height of 24″and spreads from 12-15″
Germination takes 7-10 days, and they should be sown at a shallow depth of 1/8″

Planting Season, other than the folklore above, I suggest outdoors in containers, 1-2 weeks after the last Spring frost has gone. Basil requires full sun for best success, and well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter.

In any case, with more than 150 varieties of Basil available, my personal favorites include Lemon Basil (Ocimum citrodorium), Purple Basil, less common than its traditional green counterpart, but with an uplifting, punchy flavour and a rich, show stopping colour, and last but not least, the ever popular Italian Large Leaf Basil, that some call Genovese.

All three are perfect for pesto, pasta sauces, and herbal vinegar.

Basil is best used fresh, picked from containers close to your kitchen! Mine are by our dining room door where we have sun all day long.

Thankfully, Basil has very few pests, and you can also use it as a companion plant to repel mites and tomato worms. As the saying goes, ‘Tomatoes loves Basil’.

Basil loves its tips pinched, which will encourage fuller plants, delay flowers, and keep it from going to seed.

I suggest letting one plant go to seed so that you can save them to grow again next year, or share with friends.

Personally, I grow Basil indoors on our sunny windowsill all year long. The seeds can be planted anytime!

Pest Recipe – Wall Flower Studio – Feel free to print and share.

Enjoy!

The Subtle Splendour of Snowdrops in Springtime

Admired for their subtle splendour, Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), are small flowering bulbs originating from Eastern Europe and Russia. Nowadays, this ornamental plant is naturalized around the world.

A precursor to spring, the snowdrop is one of the earliest flowers blooming in our gardens. A welcome sight to many after a long, cold winter, including me.

As an early flowering plant, snowdrops are an important early spring food source for pollinators.

According to lore, snowdrops were once held sacred as flowers representing virginity during medieval times, which may account for their naturalized state near convents and monastic buildings.

“A flow’r that first in this sweet garden smiled,
To virgins sacred, and the Snowdrop styled.”Thomas Tickell

Peasants in some parts of England considered it unlucky to take a sprig into a house. Single flowers were harbingers of impending death, so I wonder if a bouquet would have been a safer bet?! In any case, this flower was viewed as a death-token by peasants who looked at it like it was a shrouded corpse. I suppose there’s no accounting for taste!

However, knowing that the whole plant is toxic, bulb included, perhaps some poor medieval soul took a bulb inside, ate it thinking it was a shallot, and promptly met their maker. My own speculation, but perhaps that’s how folklore surrounding all sorts of morbidity begins . In this case and others, we’ll not likely ever know!

In any case, right now, snowdrops are blooming in many parts of Europe and the British Isles. I won’t likely see them popping up in my garden for another six weeks or so, but until then, I’ll live vicariously, viewing photos on social media from people across the pond or in the lower U.S. states, where spring is ready to roll!

– Anticipation seems to be the mainstay of many a gardener!

The Red Fox – A fabulous forest-lurker, neighbour, and totem animal.

Fox hunting for voles and mice.

Our backyard is a special place because of the abundance of wildlife in our neck of the woods. I am extremely fortunate to witness a diversity of animal/bird species who wander through on a regular basis.

One of my favourite visitors is the lovely Red Fox, (Vulpes vulpes).

These solitary hunters are intelligent, opportunistic omnivores, about the size of a small to mid-sized dog, and they rather remind me of a cat because of the way they play with their food, tossing the soon to be meal, (voles & other rodents) in the air with abandon, just before ending this celebration to seriously chow down on their catch.

Like many of us humans, the red fox prefers a diverse habitat! For them, that includes farm fields, forests, the edge of thickets, and even urban settings, where like the racoon they also thrive. From my experience in a rural setting, they hunt in and out of these habitats, which describes our backyard, and is likely why I see them so often.

The adult red fox has a year-round coat of red that is absolutely striking to see in the winter, as you can see it here in contrast with snow.

Yes, there are some people who find satisfaction by wearing these beauties on their own backs. I’m not one of them and prefer to see the animal alive and well, in its own coat. Luckily, I don’t yet carry tomatoes & won’t pelt, (pardon the pun) fur wearing folk. However, I will offer an unequivical icy glare and judge you in a negative light. But, I digress…

Fox with mange.

Foxes are shy animals. They’re mainly nocturnal, but occasionally one will see these non-aggressive creatures during the day. If you see a fox during the day, it doesn’t mean that they are diseased with rabies or mange, though that can be the case. It more likely it means food may be more available for them during daylight hours in their respective environment.

If you’re interested in animal lore and totem animals like I am, there is a phenomenal amount of information available, making the fox an interesting subject to read about in many folkloric and mythic tales.

Consider the term “to outfox“, which means “to beat in a competition of wits”, similarly to “outguess”, “outsmart”, and “outwit”.  If you consider Aesop’s Fables from classical antiquity to Beatrix Potter‘s anthropomorpic stories, there are numerous stories involving a fox in popular culture throughout history.

Fox focus

Within the spiritual realm, they’re considered figures of cunning or trickery, or as a familiar animal possessed of magic powers and transformation.

As for having the lovely fox as a totem animal, it suits me well.

According to many who’ve interpreted the fox as a totem animal messanger, a fox will communicate its presence in order to offer the advice that you should think outside of the box. They also show us how to focus on our goals, and to use our creativity in our approach to current circumstances.

My feeling is that the fox encourages us to be aware of our own habits, (good or bad), adapt to our environment using all of our resources, and that we should refrain from certain distractions that may lead us off course when we want to realize a goal.

In any case, the Red Fox is a wonderful creature and participant in the planet’s food chain. They’re an animal that deserves our respect, and it is a real gift to see them in nature.