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Hippocrates regarded basil as beneficial to the heart and prescribed it for treatment of constipation and as an anti-emetic (to prevent vomiting). Pliny suggested vinegar scented with basil would help prevent fainting. Dioscurides believed basil to be soothing for the stomach and abdomen, and useful as a diuretic and a galactagogue (e.g., an aid in lactation).

In 330 A.D., the Holy Cross was found by Aghia Eleni (Saint Helen) in Palestine on a hill that was covered with basil bushes. For this reason, some Greeks do not cook with basil. It is grown and admired for the beauty of its shapes and colors, for its fragrance, and religious significance. Many Greeks bring basil plants as gifts to the church or to have their basil plants blessed by the priest, a blessing for the health and prosperity of their home.

It was not until recent years when Italian recipes gained popularity in Greece (i.e., pesto sauce) that basil was used regularly in cooking.