The Mysterious Purple Basil

Part I

For this paper, I chose to look into the history and usage of purple basil, which we found both in the bostan in the church grounds near Yedikule and also in the bostan further north at the mouth of the Black Sea. The name “purple basil,” I have found is far more colloquial than scientific. Technically, Ocimum basilicum, “Purpurascens” was first identified by British botanist, George Betham, in the 1830s (DeBaggio, 2014). In fact there are several species of purple basil, including some that grows in tiny leaves in Thailand and another found in the mountainous regions of north America. At first, I thought there were just two types, the Ruffled and Osmin Purple Basil, and I tried my best to identify which of the two our selection was. I don’t think my analysis was as detailed as it would be without live specimens, proper leaf indexes or detailed descriptions on the differences in species. Therefore, I cannot specify what type of purple basil we found here in Istanbul.

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Photo Credit: Caroline Silber, 2014

Research on the origins of purple basil also posed some challenges. The basil is made purple by the heightened presence of anthocyanin, a purple pigment. Within the genus of purple basil, there is great discrepancy over the taxonomy when it comes to the species and their origins and nature (Phippen, 2000).

In my search for both the origins and arrival of purple and regular green basil in Istanbul, I also didn’t have much luck. I decided to therefore look into the sources given in our class. In the Geoponika, dated back the10th century, I found in the 14th chapter of the 12th book a small paragraph to describe how to best fertilize basil, along with other plants (tl. Cassianus). In the three typika, detailed charters from monasteries and convents of Byzantium in the late middle ages, there was no mention of basil (green or purple) as a plant. There was the mention of a “St. Basil” in the 12th century document (tl. Bandy), and the phrase, “the divine Basil,” as a teacher of God in the 13th century typika (tl. Talbot). Although not plant related, perhaps the origins of their name, reverent in nature, are a result of the productive and fruitful essence of the plant.

The leaf part of the basil plant is the only part that is conventionally eaten. The leaves can be eaten whole or dried as a flavorful accent to other dishes. It can also be pureed into pesto, which capitalizes on the plant’s natural oils.

Although there are a variety of types of basil within the same genus, there are some wild forms of basil that typically showcase more elaborate flowers and have smaller leaves. Their categorization as “wild” may also be a product of certain strains like sweet green basil becoming a domesticated and a harvested crop because of their fuller leaves and thus higher nutritional output.

Part II

Purple basil, and its most common types, the Ruffled and Osmin, both thrive in strong sunlight and moist but drained soil (Backyard Gardener). Osmin Basil prefers more humid environments. Purple Basil is an incredibly durable plant, which often grows on the outskirts of a garden in sort of a protective manner. Its variety is shape allows it to be a versatile container plant (Mississippi State University, 2004). When were were visiting the bostan near the Black Sea, we saw purple basil growing vigorously on the outskirts beyond the borders of the intended crop. It was almost weed-like. Although the report on purple basil released from the Penn State states that there are no pests for this plant, the “Backyard Gardener” reports that the biggest problems for the Purple Basil is the whiteflies as a pest and Verticillium and Fursarium Wilt for diseases (Backyard Gardener).

Since there are so many types of basil found throughout the world, the planting specifics for purple basil have to be geo-specific. In a description of purple basil from an organization founded in Israel, which has similar climate and conditions to Turkey, (despite the biome-diversity of Istanbul itself), the methods for cultivating purple basil are as follows:

-planting time is all year

-crop time is 2-5 weeks

-ideal temperature are 16 degrees at night and 20 degrees at day

-plant size ranges from 12 to 24 inches and should be planted 12 to 18 inches

apart

(Hishtil, 2014)

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Photo Credit: Caroline Silber, 2014

Part III

When I first saw what purple basil was, since I had never seen it before, I was immediately intrigued by its color. Yes, purple is my favorite, beyond favorite, color. I have had basil before; I grew up cultivating it in my family’s small vegetable garden in Massachusetts, but I have never seen it in purple. Being basically the same plant, I expected it to taste the same as what I knew my green sweet basil back home tastes like. I personally don’t really like basil to begin with unless its mashed up into pesto, so I was even more opposed to the more bitter, almost licorice-like taste of the purple basil. It had a more grainy texture than what I’m used to and, as I said, the taste was a bit less of my liking. My favorite part of the whole experience that took place on the third floor of Woods Hall, was the smell. The fresh smell of basil, or what I could fish out of the other vegetable aromas filling up the room, reminded me of the green basil back home. I was back in my kitchen in the late summer afternoon preparing dinner with my family.

Traditionally I have only known basil to be good for pesto and caprese salad. In my research I found that purple basil is complementary with Thai food as well as some Mexican dishes. As for Turkish cuisines, I found an interesting one from a blog called “Turkish Style Cooking.” I’m not sure how legitimate the page is, but we’ll go with it because it’s a fitting title. Plus it’s such an intriguing idea I have to share it.

One Turkish recipe involving purple basil is a purple basil sherbet, or sweet drink.  It’s looks simple and delicious! (Turkish Style Cooking).

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of purple basil,
  • 1 cup sugar,
  • Juice of 1 lemon,
  • 3 lt boiling water.

Preparation:

  1. Wash, drain and dry purple basil,
  2. Transfer into a deep pan or glass cookware and add water,
  3. Set aside to cool to room temperature, lid open,
  4. Take the purple basils out of the water and throw away,
  5. Add lemon juice adn şugar,
  6. Stir until the sugar melts,
  7. Strain with a piece of cloth and chill.

 

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From the primary research we did for this blog post, it is clear to me that there is so much more to learn about the biodiversity that surrounds us, growing in the soil of potted plants on the back window sill or in full gardens directly in the middle of a bustling city.

 

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Sources:

 

Backyard Gardener. “Ocimum basilicum: Purple Delight Sweet Basil.” (http://www.backyardgardener.com/plantname/pd_ada7.html).

Cassianus, Bassus, Geoponika: Farm Work: A Modern Translation of the Roman and Byzantine Farming Handbook. Totnes, Devon: Prospect Books, 2011, 9-55 and  246- 267. (https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/5111268/Harvard%20summer%20school%20readings/Second%20Week/Dalby%20A.%2C%20Geoponika.pdf).

DeBaggio, Thomas. “Growing Purple Basil,”  Mother Earth Living. May 2014. (http://www.motherearthliving.com/gardening/purple-basils.aspx#ixzz39RzeXumW).

Histil. “Ocimum basilicum purpurascens.” 2014. (http://www.hishtil.com/htmls/page_916.aspx?c0=18157&bsp=18222).

Mississippi State University: Office of Agriculture Communications. “Awards selection committee chooses Purple Ruffles basil.” April, 2004. (http://msucares.com/news/print/sgnews/sg04/sg040415.html).

Phippen, WB. “Anthocyanin inheritance and instability in purple basil (Ocimum basilicum L.).”Center for New Crops and Plant Products, Purdue University. June 2000. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10912675)

Turkish Style Cooking. “Purple Basil Sherbet Recipe.” July 2014. (http://www.hishtil.com/htmls/page_916.aspx?c0=18157&bsp=18222).

Typikon of Athanasios Philanthropenos for the Monastery of St. Mamas in Constantinople (trans. Anastasius Bandy) (http://www.doaks.org/resources/publications/doaks-online-publications/byzantine-monastic-foundation-documents/typ043.pdf).

Typikon of Theodora Palaiologina for the Convent of Lips in Constantinople (trans. Alice-Mary Talbot) (http://www.doaks.org/resources/publications/doaks-online-publications/byzantine-monastic-foundation-documents/typ051.pdf)

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Yedikule Found in Other Studies

Today in my reading for another class, Yedikule was mentioned. 

“For the new site of the hospital, influential Armenians first suggested Kinaliada, an island known for its clean air; yet this proposal was rejected due to concerns about transportation. At a meeting that took place at Bezciyan’s house on January 5, 1832, and agreement was reached on building the hospital on the Leblebicioglu farm between Yedikule and Kazlicesme. Yedikule was chosen because of its clean air and suburban location: At a time when epidemics took high tolls, it was uncommon to build hospitals in the city center where population was more dense. It should also be noted that the suggested farmland was owned by Ohannes Amira, the son of Garabed Arzumanyan, an important member of the Armenian Apostolic community who led the efforts to build a new hospital at the time.” (“2012 Declaration: The Seized Properties of Armenian Foundations in Istanbul,” Polatel, Mildanoglu, Lemaneren, Atilgan)

Important to note here is the date of the description and reasoning for picking Yedikule as the location of a new hospital. In the first half of the 19th century, the air was clean and the region was considered “suburban.” Clearly, by the looks of the region today, urban growth has expanded beyond the gardens located at Yedikule and this description doesn’t seem to match up. I also found interesting the demographic of Yedikule. In the reading by Kaldjian he speaks of the different groups of people that migrated in and rotated through the Yedikule gardens as farmers and tenants. Perhaps the existence of the Armenian Apostolic community in the area was a result of an Armenian majority of farmers on the Yedikule gardens at this time. 

Just something small but interesting I stumbled across! Feel free to share your own thoughts and ideas! 

 

 

Private to Public: City Gardens of Constantinople and the Continuity of their Role in Socialization

It is impossible to know the entire history of a place because all we know is what has stood the test of time. More frustrating than that is what has stood the test of time has been wrapped, warped, and twisted by the perceptions, opinions and sometimes manipulation of history by its story tellers. This idea was eloquently shared in Raymond Williams’ book, The Country and the City, when he said, “a memory of a childhood can be said, persuasively, to have some permanent significance,” (Williams, 12). There exists a constant challenge for historians to see passed this “problem of perspective,” to render the truest core of the past.

But that isn’t exactly what I am doing here.

Constructing a historical narrative about the gardens of Constantinople is in many ways an open-ended question because even the sources from which we have chosen to examine admit there is far more to decrypt.  That being said, however, the primary sources, if they are an accurate and unbiased collection, show snapshots of city agriculture throughout the past millenium and a half. They have revealed to me an important pattern of city gardens that has been shared over time. The city gardens of Constantinople have migrated from a private to public institution, opening in inclusivity over time, while perpetually meeting socialization needs of  the city dwellers.

The gardens of constantinople began as private places owned by private entities in the Byzantine era. In Henry McGuire’s “Gardens and Parks in Constantinople,” the gardens that were kept in memory best by historians and artists were the grand gardens administered by the Church and Emperor. Gardens were also privately run by individuals and households. This is clear from the Geoponika, which states in its 12th chapter that gardens are essential for life and health, and should therefore be located close to the home (tl. Dalby, 247).  Despite the usage of “others” and “they” as sources for explanation of the different garden capabilities, the colloquial nature of the text is misleading. Meant for “the improvement of mankind,” the Geoponika was an elite text, further showing that the conversation of gardens and gardeners themselves was a private institution kept to the usage of the home. The Dioskorides show again this confusing mix of private and public, as there existed an alphabet key and several drawings to make the text seemingly accessible to the masses. But this gardening guidebook was intended for an aristocratic crowd and the finer Viennese copy was not a commonplace copy (ed. Littlewood, 204). In “Theodore Hyrtakenos’ Description of the Garden of St. Anna and the Byzantine Descriptions of Gardens,” the idea of a private, fortified garden was the subject of his writing (Mavrudi and Dolezal). St. Anna, locked in the rings of trees and vegetation, is the subject of a major Eden-like garden. This representation shows that contemporary usage and perception of gardens in 10th century Byzantium were for private usage, ushering intimate relations between individuals and nature.

Through the Typika of three centuries, the transition from private to public usage of the gardens is more pronounced. The Typika, charters from the monasteries and convents of Byzantium, serve as historical sources reporting on the day to day and seasonal life. From their descriptions we can draw deeper conclusions in regard to the private and public relations to gardens. The Monastery at St. Mamas, in the 12th century, completely banned women (unless they had specially privilege or standing) and guests of any sort. Even the gatekeeper was to be selective in giving to the poor, further making the monastery and its private garden a separate entity from the public sphere (tl. Bandy, ch. 13, 26, and 27).  In the 13th century Typika of the Convent at St. Lips, access to the grounds, and more specifically to the women in the convent, was limited to outside visitors (tl. Talbot, ch. 17). In this Typika there exists a detailed description of the lands that provide the self-sustaining ability of the convent. This characteristic shows again the exclusivity and privacy of the major city gardens at the time. By the 14th century, however, in the Typika of the convent at St. Kosmas, we see an important bridge between private and public gardens. The inner-workings of the convent were dependent on food no longer produced within church property, but instead from gardens outside the church. People providing the food from these gardens were a separate yet connected entity from the church, as they constitute a lower social class and symbol of poor public beings (tl. Talbot, ch. 4). Towards the end of Byzantium, the gardens written about started to become less confined as private institutions.

In the Typika of St. Mamas, however, there exists one quote that speaks to the private nature of the gardens yet also highlights the spirit of what gardening meant for the people of Constantinople. Those who worked on the gardens for the purpose of producing food were given the title “gardener” and their work was done separate and isolated from the monastery. The meaning of gardens being a tool for personal and household health is shown again. The gardeners were to produce food for the meals that the other monks ate, but they would invite the monks in for meal time in “the name of brotherhood,” so to show that food and agriculture served a social function (tl. Bandy, ch. 19). This concept is shown in different forms throughout the sources presented here.

The Ottoman Era saw a complete change in city gardens as they became far more public entities. This is clear by the involvement of the state and the making of official records, begun by Mehmet II and his official survey of the city’s subjects in 1455. The role of the state in categorizing and organizing these gardens shows that the authority of the land was no longer monitored by private institutions or households, but instead by the Sultanate itself. In her article about the public spaces of Istanbul, Shirine Hamadeh concludes that the gardens of the city became centers for vibrant public life in an era known by historians as the Tulip Period (Hamadeh, 300).

Throughout the change over time from private to public nature of the city gardens, there lies continuity in the gardens’ role in socialization of the city people. From the early guidebooks on agriculture and the various medicinal uses of the garden’s products, there exists a notion that the men and women who counted on the gardens for health also counted on them for social needs. In the Geoponika, it is outlined that the plant rocket serves to combat body odor (tl. Dalby, 259). There would only be a remedy like this if there was a need, which seems to be the case with the growing socialization of the Byzantine society. The rise of coffeehouses paralleled with the phenomenon of urbanization revolutionized the social scene of Ottoman Constantinople. Individuals were socializing at degrees previously unmatched and there grew a greater inclusive nature about the city. This was in the time when public gardens began to flourish. Gardens in this sense also served social needs as being the forum for discussion, courtship, and basic human interaction beginning in the 15th century.

The relationship of man and nature is a very unique one. In the early city gardens of Constantinople, there existed a mystical and revered spirit of the  gardens as they embodied the idea of man’s conquest of nature (ed. Littlewood, 115). Overtime, the skills of gardening became specialized and there arose a separate term and occupation for “gardeners” (tl. Bandy, ch. 9). Finally, gardens were transformed to be conquered by humans once again, but in a completely different context, while still embodying the socialization of the era. Today, we see man against nature repeatedly. The fine line between symbiosis and disruption, unfortunately, has only blurred over time, and today, we find ourselves questioning our relationship with gardens as being one of fruitful ends or ultimately destructive outcomes.

A Place of Tranquility to a Place of Uncertainty: The Bostans of Yedikule

Last week, we visited an area of the city where urban farming had seen better days. The gardens of Istanbul have been an integral part of the city for centuries, facing their greatest challenges and undergoing their most profound transformations in recent years. Although the size, location, demographics and even crops being produced have changed over time for these gardens, the role of the state has had the greatest impact. Today, the overhauling of gardens in the city, owned and maintained by generations of families, has been the move by municipal authorities who feel there can be more beneficial options of the land. These projects, however, for stability and political reasons have not begun to reach completion and the “gardens” in some areas like Yedikule have been left in desolation. Although there were plenty of bostans still growing and producing at rates comparable to the past, there was an immediate feeling that things in essence were not the same when I stood and looked out at the emptiness that once was a productive city garden.

Rosenthal, July 2014

Rosenthal, July 2014

In the picture above, you can see the state of one of these gardens today. Just a few years ago, this entire area was full of green and the families that rented the land from the municipality were free to make their living the best way they, and their neighbors, knew how. In his article, Paul Kaldjian explains the gradual sprawl of the city gardens over time, further out from the center of the metropolis (Kaldjian, 287). When compared to the photographs of this land almost 80 years ago by Nicholas V. Artamonoff, (pictured below), you can see that along with the green agricultural production, there was also a sense of a settled and tight-knit community in the area. Houses were aligned near the gardens on which several families would work side by side. There was a sense of community present from the agricultural neighborhoods that existed along the city walls. In contrast today, there is little settlement in this area and the homes that do exist are, on the surface, in poor condition, and the community is not bond together by the green carpet that once existed.

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Artamonoff, 1937     Robert L. Van Nice Collection, 2012.0013.0031, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C

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Nicholas V. Artamonoff Collection, RV53, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C.

Artomanoff, 1938

Over a hundred years ago, this area was captured in another photo by a man with the name Sebah (pictured below). Here, there is less of a sense of neighborhood and settlement around separate land plots and instead, greater stretches of land, all designated for production of crops. You can see from the photo that the agriculture is not nearly as interrupted by houses and roads as it is in the Artamonoff photographs. This was likely during a time before urbanization further inwards began pushing out to the walls and beyond and absorbing the plotted fields of crops for settlement. In the last century, urbanization revolutionized nearly every modern city into the size and power they are today. In the last few years, for the first time ever, the world’s population was settled more in cities than in urban settings (Kafadar, class 7/3/2014). The growth in population density, coupled with the increase in importation of cheaper, mass-produced agriculture into the city, has lowered the necessity for the urban gardens. Therefore, the city has further undermined the role of the gardens over time by making them smaller and smaller to accommodate the increasing levels of settlement. This can been seen when one compares the photos over time and notice the settlement patterns around the gardens that have changed in their degree of importance and role in the city.

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Sebah, 1890

If farmed regularly, one bostan can host 15 to 20 different crops and be able to feed hundreds of people (Kaldjian, 293). This yield, along with the amount of bostans that exist (or would exist without recent destruction by the state) helps to debunk the many myths about these gardens that they are “marginal, inefficient, and unhygienic” (Kaldjian, 287). When looking out at these empty lands associated with the “gardens” today, these descriptive factors are not hard to believe. It is ironic that the very reason for destroying these gardens, because they aren’t productive enough, is causing the problem to only become worse.

Standing on the ancient walls of the city, it is impossible to not think about what the land below once looked like and functioned as. Although we have the convenience of seeing the land several centuries back from photographs and artistic representations, the origins and beginning histories of these lands are still being deciphered. In his article, “Garden and Parks in Constantinople,” Henry McGuire did his best to make an accurate depiction of the gardens by thoroughly researching four ancient gardens by comparing a variety of interpretations of the land throughout the centuries. Aretai, he concluded, was full of wildlife across a wide ground full of pastures and wooded areas, described as “delightful” by visitors (McGuire, 255). Another garden, the Philopation, was an imperial garden, which was full of places to relax and maintained by the ruling body at the time (McGuire, 252). In both cases, the gardens served a role of providing serenity and relaxation. McGuire goes on to confirm in his analysis of the 4th century perspectives on these gardens as being more appreciative of the areas primarily as a separate sphere of tranquility than a space of production (McGuire, 262). The idea that this physical space can cause a pysiological reaction is significant. The grounds were not just designed for production and economy, they were meant to create a feeling and be a place seperated from everyday life. In her article, “The Suburban Landscape of Sixteenth-Century Istanbul as a Mirror of Classical Ottoman Garden Culture,” Gulru Necipolgu explained that these gardens were a place to host friends and enjoy conversation with one another (Necipolgu, 33). Here we see a larger role the gardens played in society. From the photographs and the location of houses to one another and the gardens shows in the last 100 years a waning and waxing of a sense of community around the agriculture. Today, there is little to compare and I think it’s safe to assume the sense of community bound by the gardens is barren. Interesting to note, also, is the change in the role of the state and the gardens. Centuries ago, they were more or less patrons of these green spaces, today, they are quite the antithesis.

Although these ancient cities didn’t face the modern changes that exist today, such as the growing dichotomy of rural and urban life and economy (Whittaker, 116), there is a profound loss of care and appreciation for these green spaces and what they are capable of producing for our cities today. With the unpredictable and frankly unreliable plans of the municipality, tenants of the farms today face a constant threat that their land will also be taken over. Aleksandar, our guide through the gardens, shared with us a story about a cherry tree he planted five years ago in the Yedikule bostans. A tree, necessitating several years to reach its full production potential, require more certainty in investment than an annual crop. Just last year, Alex’s tree was taken down along with the acreage we don’t see today. The uncertainty of the municipality’s plans poses an enormous challenge to the owners who have to make investments and year-long plans for their crops in the ever changing market of agriculture. It is quite a cruel process to have long-term plans pulled out from under one’s feet, and unfortunately, that has been the pattern with some urban gardens in Istanbul today.