Nothing screams “August farmers’ market” like the spicy-sweet scent of fresh basil. The name comes from the Greek basilikón, meaning “royal,” and, indeed, it’s often referred to as the royal herb or king of herbs. Basil is a member of the mint family and a good replacement in juleps and smashes. And stop arguing: Both BAYZ-uhl and BAZ-uhl are accepted pronunciations.
1. Basil is considered an aphrodisiac in Romania; in Mexico it’s believed to attract money.
2. The French phrase semer le basilic (“to sow basil”) means to slander or rant.
3. Basilcello is a bright green, basil-infused liqueur found in some Italian homes.
4. In the U.S., the name Basil—currently on a sharp upswing—reached its peak in 1911.
5. In Hinduism, Tulsi, or “Holy Basil,” is a sacred plant associated with the god Vishnu.
6. The tallest basil plant ever recorded was 11 feet tall and grown in Crete.
“Basil is truly one of the world’s most flexible herbs,” says Bruce Achtermann, head of the beverage program at The Herbfarm in Woodinville, Washington. The restaurant’s tasting menus often focus on herbs from its gardens, which include more than a dozen basil varieties. “Some basils are more citrus driven, others are more spicy in focus. If basil is your primary driver, look to play off of the sharp green aromatics with a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or Chile’s Casablanca Valley. If it’s used more as a spice, your options are endless.”
Achtermann recommends Champagne or a domestic blanc de blancs with spicy Thai basil–driven dishes. He suggests a buttery Chardonnay with sweet Genovese basil and pasta, while a rich, savory Bordeaux blend or Cabernet Franc pairs well with steak crusted in several types of basil. For dessert, he suggests tearing fresh cinnamon basil over ice cream and serving Vin Santo.