Basil is a beautiful, fragrant plant with more culinary uses than one might think. Often associated with Mediterranean flavors and Italian cuisine, actually digging in to the wide use of basil by chefs and cooks around the world yields some surprising results. Even more surprising is that there is more to basil than just being a dash of spice for the palate.
Health, History & Nutrition: If you had a grandmother who lovingly crafted homemade remedies, she may have referred to basil as St. Joseph's Wort. As part of the mint family, Lamiaceae, basil may have originated in India, but, being a hardy herb, it soon spread throughout tropical Asia and then found its way to the rest of the world. Throughout history, cultures have long appreciated the health benefits of dishes seasoned with Ocimum basilicum, or, basil.
The word basil is derived from the Greek, basileus. Translated, basil is king. Ancient privileged people would add basil to baths as well as dinner. The French often refer to this culinary delight as l'herbe royale or, the royal herb. Jewish tradition holds that basil gives strength so should be included in meals eaten prior to, and after, a period of religious fasting. Throughout India's Tamil and Ayurvedic medical history, the herb was one of the most popular treatments for a variety of ailments. Here are some of the properties users of basil enjoy:
- Anti-inflammatory: Contains (E)-beta-caryophyllene (BCP) which is useful in reducing the inflammation typical to conditions like arthritis or irritable bowel afflictions. Some studies reveal that swelling can be reduced by more than 70% within 24 hours of basil treatment.
- Anti-bacterial: Volatile oils such as cineole, eugenol, estragole, limonene, myrcene, and sabinene are successful at restricting growth of a number of common bacteria.
- Lean Health: Nutrient heavy yet calorie-light (22 calories for every 100 grams)
- Anti-aging properties: Holy basil has anti-oxidant properties that destroy free radicals in organs like the brain, heart and liver.
Varieties: Basil comes in many varieties. There are 8 that are, perhaps, the preferred favorites for chefs and fans of natural medicine. Although there are differences in aroma and presentation, almost all basil varieties will grow to an average height of about 20 inches and are hardy plants requiring little effort by gardeners to produce a plant that thrives. Whatever your climate, there is probably a basil perfectly suited for your garden. Basil loves plenty of sunlight and warm temperatures above 65F. If it gets too hot or cold outdoors, plant your basil in a large pot and bring it inside, placed before a sunny window.
- Italian Large Leaf Basil ( Ocimum basilicum): Produces palm-sized, dark green leaves, rich with flavor and fragrance.
- Holy Basil ( Ocimum sanctum): The sacred herb of the Hindu, expect the scent of Anise produced by delicate leaves and flowers.
- Sweet Basil ( Ocimum basilicum): Large, tender, fragrant leaves that are very tasty in salads.
- Lemon Basil ( Ocimum basillicum citriodorum): The sharp citrus aroma is accompanied by a lemony flavor, making this an interesting addition to soups and pasta.
- Thai Basil (Ocimum basilicum): Showy, attractive display of foliage that can reach a green so dark and rich that the leaves appear as a deep burgundy. The sweet Anise scent and color makes this a favorite in salads and many other Thai recipes. Can also be used as an ornamental in the garden to attract butterflies, hummingbirds and bees.
Enjoyment Tips: Whether you quick-serve basil or let it simmer in a slow, lovingly prepared dish, the wonderful properties of this delightful herb will still give a boost to your immune system. Here are some tips on how to enjoy your garden fresh basil:
- Perfect Pesto: Chop fine and combine with garlic and olive oil. Serve with pasta, fish or hard breads.
- Simple Salad: Layer over tomato slices and chunks of mozzarella for a traditional Italian salad.
- Traditional Thai: Chop and mix with cabbage, cashews, chili peppers, eggplant and tofu for a classic stir-fry.
- Soup Puree: Puree in a blender with olive oil and onions. Add to soups for a bit of spice in the base, particularly tomato soup.
- Tea: Boil some water then infuse a few fresh leaves for 5-10 minutes, depending on the strength preferred.
Purchase seeds to start your own herb garden featuring healthy and tasty basil. We have everything you need to fill your own culinary garden with flavors and aromas that are the envy of the world's most renown chefs.