The Five Stages of Basil Grief

basil 2

In light of the fact that there are people who have allergies that no longer allow them to eat bread…and others who have had to cut dairy out of their lives entirely, what I’m about to tell you isn’t technically that tragic:

I am allergic to fresh basil.

When I first started using fresh basil in my cooking, about seven years ago, it was love at first bite. But looking back, I realize I’ve been slowly moving through the five stages of grief with my beloved basil.


corn-salad1 When I first started using fresh basil, I realized that my wrists would be strangely itchy after I’d finish cooking. That’s weird…I thought…Could I be allergic to basil?…No! Who’s allergic to herbs? That’s crazy. And then I’d make another batch of fresh corn salad with basil.



But as time went on, and I’d make another batch of pizza rolls sprinkled in fresh, chopped basil, and thyme, the itching got worse, and soon spread to my jaw line too. It got kind of intense. I remember telling Eric, “How can I be allergic to fresh basil? This is ridiculous. I just discovered it after all these years! How could it turn on me like this?” 



farmersmarket-veggie-pizza Then I started experimenting to really test the depths of this so-called “allergy.” I thought, Surely, if I give up FRESH basil and cook with it, bake it, that will help. But even after baking it onto this farmer’s market summer pizza, I was itchy. And then, What about dill? I hate dill! Why couldn’t it be dill?!?! 


bruschetta As I started to think about all the things that fresh basil makes amazing…fresh pesto, caprese salads, and especially bruschetta, the love of my life – I got pretty mopey. I kind of started to feel like summer had no purpose outside of basil…really, what’s the point?




It got especially bad when just being around fresh basil in someone else’s kitchen was enough to make my cheeks start itching. And that’s when I knew…I can’t fight this. Now I’m at the point of just praying the allergy doesn’t spread to other herbs. I mean, I might just shut down if cilantro ever makes me itchy.


So, this is my public farewell to basil…fresh, and even in dishes like this roasted vegetable cheesy pasta bake.

Goodbye, my Basil. Goodbye.

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34 thoughts on “The Five Stages of Basil Grief

  1. How sad! I love basil! I can’t imagine giving it up. However, your allergy just forces you to expand your horizons a bit. Have you ever tried radish leaf or arugula pesto? Delish! And I bet a caprese salad would be great with other fresh herbs as well.

  2. So sad:( I know what you mean about the love…… I recently found out I am gluten intolerant (not too bad with awesome blogs 7 cookbooks),……..AND Dark Chocolate!! Seriously, I am so bummed that I have been forced into Carob without even wanting to! My little piece of Dark chocolate *at least 80%/Organic* would be enjoyed when my toddler would take a nap…….when I am cooking dinner………after dinner…….in my bag when we take car trips……. I must stop really! I have found that it gives me horrible eczema that is itchy around my nose, mouth & eyes! So…….chocolate, or itchy skin……..Bye -Bye Chocolate! I guess it is fitting since I am changing my eating with gluten free. My body says, “Hey, guess what? You are not getting younger, so here are some new challenges with your wrinkles!”
    Drama is needed some times……. I am there with you on the farewell to the foodie loves that make us itch!

  3. Oh no! I feel so bad for you. I am really grateful today that I’m not allergic to basil. In fact (knock on wood), I don’t have any real allergies. (I get a few sniffles during allergy season, but that’s about it. Or perhaps mosquitos. I get welts like you would not believe.)

    I often find my husband’s allergies annoying (poultry, fish, seafood, mangoes, papayas, bananas, kiwis, pinto beans…), but I should really just be grateful that I don’t have them.

    My aunt became allergic to scallops as she aged and I really hope that doesn’t happen to me!

    I’m not sure I could cope as well as you have. Kudos.

  4. No way!! I have a fresh basil allergy too. I hear you with the 5 stages of grief over food allergies, it is all too common over here. But, here is what I can share: spinach + dried basil is a good substitute. In fact, later this week I am sharing my favorite pesto recipe! I am sorry to hear about your allergy though… Allergies stink.

    • Spincah + dried basil – smart! I’ll have to check out your pesto; your site has so many good allergy-sensitive recipes; glad to know you can relate because, of course, misery loves company :)

  5. I just Googled basil allergy because I made a sandwich with fresh basil from my garden and immediately turned a little flush and got an itchy jaw. Arrghh. I’ll have to test it out again, but if it continues, I may have to give it all to my guinea pigs, who adore basil. Too bad because nothing else in my garden survives the Texas summer.

  6. Liz, I made an arugula and pecan pesto last night that is divine. If you’d like the recipe, give me a holler, it’s a pretty darn good replacement. Also, gluten-free pasta, pecan-arugula pesto, and slow roasted heirloom cherry tomatoes may be one of the tastiest, easiest dinners I’ve made in ages.

  7. For the one lady who commented on her husband’s allergies, do some research on the GAPS diet. It’s not easy, but maybe worth looking into for someone with multiple allergies.

  8. I’m not alone!!! It was about 7 years ago I discovered my fresh basil allergy and added bonus, a few years after that I also discovered I’m allergic to fresh mint (they are related). However, my reactions are quite violent and require bed rest, ginger ale, and saltine crackers.
    Regardless, I understand the stages of mourning one experiences when one realizes what “no basil” really means…

    Thank you for sharing. I am sorry, you, too, must face this (and the looks one gets in restaurants when you try to explain your allergy), but feel better to know I am not alone.

    • I too am allergic to basil, fresh or dried. Although the reactions are different, with fresh it makes me violently ill, while dried upsets my stomach. The smell gives me headaches and depending on the proximity can make me itchy. Trying to explain this allergy to servers/chefs is sometimes very irritating, especially since I am a server, they usually blow it off and I’ve had a chef literally scream from the kitchen that its not an allergy she just doesn’t like it. One time I repeatedly asked the server about a dish and she swore their was no basil in it, then I take the first bite and my mouth is immediately itching and red. Mint still does not bother me and I hope it never does. However I have also read that with a basil allergy we have to watch out for oregano.

      • Yikes! Sorry about your chef interactions. That’s got to be really hard with your dried basil allergy! And nooooooo! Not oregano!

  9. I think my little one year old is allergic to basil. Over Christmas he got very sick after meatballs and I thought there was something wrong with the meat. (He actually got sick two times after the same meatballs, I know, what mother would feed him the stuff twice, but who would have thought BASIL). So last night I had made yummy foccacia and he got sick violently AGAIN. The only common ingredient: basil. :(

  10. Glad I found this blog…I thought I was alone in my basil allergy. I too am allergic to FRESH basil, however, I can eat dried basil. Go figure! No issues with mint…and to make it that much more interesting I am gluten intolerant. YES on the looks you get at restaurants when you explain a basil allergy as well as gluten free….I’m sure my travel to Italy this coming summer should be quite interesting. I understand there is a great understanding by the Italians of celiac disease but to put fresh basil in the mix too…oh dear!

  11. So glad I found this. Over the last few years I noticed that when I have basil of any type, I develop horrible stomach distress. Tonight I ordered a Quesadilla, never expecting basil to be in the mix. Turns out they cook the chicken in basil. One bite and I knew what was in it. I am dealing with an unhappy tummy and my daughter has lunch for tomorrow. Just glad to know I am not the only one!

  12. I too am allergic to fresh basil and, just discovered, fresh mint. Frighteningly it causes blisters in my throat. Glad to hear that I am not alone. I do find that I can eat canned sauces that claim to have basil in them. So strange.

  13. I’m allergic to basil too, among many other things. I discovered this when my cousin made a sweet basil salad dressing, After having it a few times, my throat, mouth, and face would get itchy, especially my nose. I am also very allergic to oregano, just smelling it will make me cough, ingesting it gives me itchy hives all over. I basically cook with onions, black pepper and garlic as they are the only things that don’t make me itch. I can have parsley, though. I always have to read labels carefully. I’m allergic to mushrooms too, it’s amazing how many things have mushrooms in them. They make me very sick to my stomach.

    • I’m the same way with smelling basil – I’ll walk into a room and immediately book it the other direction because my jawline starts itching. You sound like you’ve got it rough – especially with the mushrooms!

  14. This makes me feel so relieved! I love herbs and have a huge garden in my back yard – tarragon, chive, cilantro, parsley, shiso – you name it we eat it- EXCEPT any basil variety! Today I inadvertently ate it in a motz sandwich at lunch and have been paying the price ever since :( I thought I was alone in my basil intolerance. I wonder what its is that causes such stomach upset?

    • So strange! A few weeks ago, I put an appetizer from a tray in my mouth at an event…totally had basil, and I ended up spitting it out in the trash immediately. Classy!

  15. Thank you all for helping me confirm that I’m not crazy. a few years ago, we grew basil. My husband prepared a bruscetta with fresh goat cheese and one large basil leave on top. I took one big bite anticipating glorious summer flavors and my throat started to close up. I couldn’t understand, I started gagging and had to rush to the kitchen trash before I stopped breathing. Yes, I felt embarrassed, yes, my hubby laughed, but that feeling never left me and I still freeze up when faced with FRESH BASIL. Again, thank you so much. PS – I can’t eat too many tomatoes and have always gotten a rash when picking them – I have to wear kitchen gloves to keep them off my arms. I mentioned this to my mom and what was her response? Oh, you’re just like Aunt Nel, she’s deathly allergic!. Sheesh, Wish I had known that before growing a bumper crop two years ago and finding out the hard way.

    • Oh man! I’m glad I could help. Isn’t it weird how it comes out of nowhere after years of being fine with basil? So strange! Interesting that it runs in the family; I’ve definitely been curious if my kids will inherit that from me or not (like I could even serve it to them at this point!)

  16. Another person with a herb allergy! Well, to be honest, mine is more of an intollerance … But it still is quite a bother.

    I remember very clearly being at a birthday party when I was nine and the parents ordered in pizza. I took a slice, bit into it and spit it out. It tasted rotten, mouldy, like it had been sitting under a house for a year. I looked around and everyone else was enjoying theirs, so I avoided it and put it from my mind.

    I meet my husband and he is a whiz at cooking. He makes up a batch of spaghetti sauce and throws in a healthy dash of oregano and bam, it tastes horribly rotten. That was my ah-hah moment. My parents never cooked with any herbs, so I never figured this one out till then.

    I don’t just have the rotten taste problem, if there is some cleverly hidden herb that I don’t taste at first…. Bam! Nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, the whole kit and caboodle. And so I smelled all the various herbs in the kitchen and I’m able to stomach cilantro, basil (sorry!) and dill.

    I can’t find any information on this particular intollerance, maybe I am too unique? Anyways, thanks for sharing!

    • Interesting! That rotten taste does sound so unique…but nice that you could test it out by smelling and not having to give each one a taste! I’m glad there’s a few that still work for you (long live cilantro!).

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