Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to…Basil

Each time I bring a potted herb home, I feel I’m being watched. I’ve killed more basil plants than your average home cook. Many, many more. The SFPCB is out there and they know where I live. No one says anything when I buy rosemary, or parsley or thyme or sage. Heaven knows, I often have too much thyme on my hands. But basil…sigh.

“You buyin’ another one of them plants?” the cashier asks. The manager turns away, covers his mouth with his hand, and speaks into a cell phone.

I just smile and pay in cash. I don’t want to leave an electronic trail. Sometimes, I cross the Big Muddy and purchase my basil plants in another state. There’s a Trader Joe’s across the river and they have healthy plants. I try to hide my basil in recyclable shopping bags that are taller than the plant. But the Society has me on the Known Basil Torturers Watch List.

It started in Italy. I used lots of fresh basil, so growing my own seemed like a great idea. I bought happy little basil plants and they died, despite all the love and nurturing I gave them. After a long period of accidental basil-cide, a wonderful Italian woman suggested I was overwatering and needed to ignore my plants. I did, mostly because I couldn’t stand watching them die and I was getting an itch between my shoulder blades when I bought basil, as if I were being watched.

On my balcony, with a view of Monte Vesuvio, they flourished. I bought more plants to ignore. They were happy. I was happy. My husband was happy. The balcony no longer looked like a dead basil cemetery and our dinners benefitted from the conversion from bottled dried leaves to fresh. I served lovely green basil leaves layered between thick slices of wholesome tomato and fresh mozzarella di bufala, dripping with local olive oil, with olives and crusty fresh baked bread from the market down the road.


We returned to the States, settled into our new home and I bought new basil plants. They died. I bought more…You see where this is going? Eventually, that itch I had in Italy returned. I knew I was being monitored. They have an international watch list. There’s no escape, once the Society has you in their sights. One morning, a knock on the door woke me. I phoned my neighbor across the street, she looked out her window and reported a dark green sedan with tinted windows was parked in front of my house. Men in sunglasses and dark green trench coats were at my front door. I hid in the closet with the phone until they left. Together my neighbor and I read the card they left. Dark green ink on crisp white card stock proclaimed, “The Society For Prevention of Cruelty to Basil is watching you. Be forewarned.”

That was several years ago. We’ve moved since then. I’ve learned my lesson and never buy basil from the same source within a six month period. I’m hoping to fool them entirely in the Spring. I’m going underground. A relative (who shall remain nameless) mailed me a package of basil seeds. I’m going to grow my own. Shh! Don’t tell the Society.


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