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  Food /  Herbs /  Basil

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Herbs and spices of Provence

Latin: ocymum basilicum
Synonyms: pistou; herbe royale

Pistou is the Provençal name for a basil-garlic-olive-oil sauce, and it's so widely used in the Beyond region that you'll find many Pistou restaurants, and soupe au pistou on the menus in many more restaurants.

Basil has a mystical and sacred background. In medieval Europe basil was considered a sorcerer's herb and was closely associated with belladone (belladonna) and digitale (digitalis, foxglove). In ancient India, basil was considered a sacred plant dedicated to Krishna, and in Orthodox countries, basil was used as a ritual plant and could not be used for cooking.


Soupe au Pistou is a famous Provençal dish that's been popular for centuries.

Pâtes au Pistou uses spaghetti or some other pasta flavored and colored with pistou sauce. Basil is also delicious with fresh tomatoes, and you'll find both together at the village markets.


In ancient times, basilic was used to cure snake bites, as well as to ward off dragons (the name was actually used to designate dragons). Currently basil is used to ward off the much smaller, but considerably more prevalent, mosquitoes. A few pots of basil in the window should do the trick nicely, and give you a ready supply of the fresh herb for cooking.

Reader's Comments

Contributed by François Pelatan, 07/9/2005

Good evening from France, just a message to tell you that the word "pistou" has never been a "niçois" word but a genovese word "pesto" pronounced "pestou", when that sauce and pasta were introduced in Provence by italian immigrants from Ligury ( Genoa).

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