Lots of things are sacred in India. Cows are sacred, milk is sacred, moments are sacred, life is sacred, and basil, most definitely, is considered sacred. The most potent varieties are referred to as ‘holy basil’, and a Hindu household is considered incomplete without a little plant somewhere. I cannot speak to the historical reasons for such a thing, but if the overall personality of the plant is anything to go by, it’s understandable. Basil is, simply put, opening and uplifting. It blasts things open, air passages, neurons, muscle fibers, digestive tracts, blockages. While all herbs by nature have more than just a physical effect, basil is one of those herbs that affects the higher reaches of the nervous system. In plain English, it can light up the synapses in your brain. In plainer English, basil opens passages you didn’t even know were stuck, and over time you will start to feel lighter, more connected to the world around you, and unreasonably content about it all. The Indian varieties (though technically basil is all native to India) are strong indeed, but garden basil opens things too, and it’s easy to come by.
A hot cup of basil tea can dispel the winter blues, or help you focus to study. It can wake you up in the morning, and help you sleep at night. Let the cup warm your hands and inhale the steam and it’ll wake up your senses. Throw in rose petals and a sprig of lavender for more happy, or mint and sage to aid digestion. The steam rising up out of a pot bubbling with basil leaves will do the same if you close your eyes and breathe deeply. It’s a subtle thing, these plants. You won’t get hit over the head by them (often), but they do work, gently and carefully, in a way that you won’t notice until its happened. Basil in a foot bath will warm your extremities and make you happy for no apparent reason. Throw in some rosemary to increase circulation and wake you up, or some lavender to make you relax a bit more. Its a good thing to have around. I make sure to always have some in the garden*.
Throwing it in with a batch of plum jam wasn’t an accident, but in the case of most happy experiments, it was just something I did because I had too much and it was passing its prime therefore I didn’t want to tincture it or put it in salads. And I don’t know if you’ve ever had plum and basil jam before, but, quite honestly, I don’t know why it isn’t done always. I used santa rosa plums because they were there, you can use the most delicious tasting variety you can find. And basil. Whatever basil you can come across. If you have Indian variety tulsi then use that, if you have Thai basil then use that, and if you have big-leaved Italian basil from a box at the grocery store, then use that. When you’ve used enough in jam, throw the rest in a mason jar and cover it with cheap brandy or vodka and, voila, your very own basil tincture to lift you up in times of need, or to slip in your miserable friend’s water when she’s not looking.
Or just cook it into things. Like jams and sauces. And when you dish it out you know its in there, and you can wink at it, conspiratorially, because you know what went in there and what its capable of.
*Tip: if you don’t have it in the garden, and buy a big bunch, keep it in a glass of water on the countertop, much like you would a bunch of flowers. It lasts longer and scents the air around it.
Santa Rosa Plum and Basil Jam
9 lbs plums, halved and pitted 15 cups sugar juice of 2 lemons 15 basil leaves (fragrant ones)
De-pit all the plums. I've done this two ways- the first being the 'proper' way with a knife and abig bowl in front of me on the stoop. The second way is on teh kichen floor late at night with some plums nearing over-ripeness and a stonr set of hands, squeeezing oug the pits as I go. This way is messier. But its fun. And when you can't be bothered with a knife it works.
Put them all in a big old pot. Add the sugar and lemon juice, then bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the basil leaves, and simmer for another 10.
Can them as you would any jam- in clean, sterilised jars. Process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes. They're good for a year.