So I’ve been doing nothing lately, just trying to make myself write something and at laaaaast the day has come for me to write the long overdue post about basil. Not to waste too much of your time, skip and hop to the post.
Basil and I have been in an on-off relationship for some time now. I have never been a huge basil fan although it goes well with some dishes (ragu, tomatoes, mozzarella), so I use it rarely and in small quantities. The taste is just too strong.
GREEK AND GENOVESE BASIL
Basil is a highly fragrant plant whose leaves are used as a seasoning herb for many different types of foods and has become one of the most recognizable herbs ever since pesto, the mixture of basil, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese has become popular. Basil is originally native to India and other tropical regions of Asia. This bushy annual herb is especially grown for its medicinally useful leaves and seeds. Basil grows best under warm, tropical climates. Fully-grown plant reaches about 100 cm in height. Its leaves vary from light-green to purple, smooth and silky, about 1 to 2.5 inches long and 0.5 to 1 inch broad with opposite arrangement. The flowers are quite large, white or purple, arranged in terminal spikes. There are more than 60 varieties of basil, all of which differ somewhat in appearance and taste. While the taste of sweet basil is bright and pungent, other varieties also offer unique tastes: lemon basil, anise basil and cinnamon basil all have flavors that subtly reflect their name. The scientific name for basil is Ocimum basilicum.Basil has round leaves that are oftentimes pointed. They are green in color, although some varieties feature hints of red or purple. Basil looks a little like peppermint, which is not surprising since they belong to the same plant family. There are more than 60 varieties of basil, all of which differ somewhat in appearance and taste. While the taste of sweet basil is bright and pungent, other varieties also offer unique tastes: lemon basil, anise basil and cinnamon basil all have flavors that subtly reflect their name. The scientific name for basil is Ocimum basilicum. The name “basil” is derived from the old Greek word basilikohn, which means “royal,” reflecting that ancient culture’s attitudes towards an herb that they held to be very noble and sacred. The tradition of reverence of basil has continued in other cultures. In India, basil was cherished as an icon of hospitality, while in Italy, it was a symbol of love.
Cooking With Basil
Since the oils in basil are highly volatile, it is best to add the herb near the end of the cooking process, so it will retain its maximum essence and flavor. Combine fresh chopped basil with garlic and olive oil and cheese (parmesan or grana padano) to make a version of pesto that can top a variety of dishes including pasta, salmon and whole wheat brushetta. Adding basil to healthy stir-fries, especially those that include eggplant, cabbage, chili peppers, tofu and cashew nuts will give them a Thai flair. Purée basil, olive oil and onions in a food processor or blender and add to tomato soups.
Basil is not a commonly allergenic food, is not known to contain measurable amounts of oxalates or purines and is also not included in the Environmental Working Group’s 2010 report “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides” as one of the 12 foods most frequently containing pesticide residues.
Substitutions: 1 tsp dried basil = 1 tbsp chopped fresh basil = 1 tbsp chopped fresh summer savory; 1 tsp dried basil = start with 1/2 tsp marjoram, oregano, thyme or tarragon then add more if necessary.
Health benefits and medicinal uses
Basil leaves hold many notable plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties. The herb is very low in calories and contain no cholesterol. Nonetheless, its is one of the finest sources of many essential nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that are required for optimum health. 100 g of fresh herb basil leaves contain astoundingly 5275 mg or 175% of daily required doses of vitamin A. Vitamin A is known to have antioxidant properties and is essential for vision. It is also required for maintaining healthy mucus and skin. Basil herb contains a good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, copper, and magnesium. Basil leaves contain health benefiting essential oils such as eugenol, citronellol, linalool, citral, limonene, and terpineol. These compounds are known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Eugenol is an important essential oil in basil that has been found to have anti-inflammatory function. The enzyme-inhibiting effect of the eugenol in basil makes it an important remedy for symptomatic relief in individuals with inflammatory health problems like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and inflammatory bowel conditions.
Oil of basil herb has also been found to have anti-infective functions by inhibiting many pathogenic bacteria like Staphylococcus, Enterococci, Shigella and Pseudomonas.
Basil tea (brewed basil-water) helps relieve nausea and is thought to have mild anti-septic functions.
Essential oil of basil, obtained from its leaves, has demonstrated the ability to inhibit several species of pathogenic bacteria that have become resistant to commonly used antibiotic drugs.
Basil is also a good source of magnesium, which promotes cardiovascular health by prompting muscles and blood vessels to relax, thus improving blood flow and lessening the risk of irregular heart rhythms or a spasming of the heart muscle or a blood vessel.
In addition to the health benefits and nutrients described above, basil also emerged from our food ranking system as an excellent source of vitamin K and manganese, a very good source of copper and vitamin C, and a good source of calcium, iron, folate and omega-3 fatty acids.
“The basil tuft, that waves
Its fragrant blossom over graves.”
Thomas Moore, Lalla Rookhm, Light of the Harem