On my list of “must have” spices, basil ranks in the top five. It is one that you just can’t make due without for Italian-inspired dishes. And just the thought of pesto makes me smile. It turns out that basil is not only delicious, but it is very healthy and is said to even have medicinal qualities too.
A Little Background
Basil originally comes to us from the tropical regions of Asia. It has been considered a “holy herb” in many cultures for ages. It is a bushy annual plant that has many cultivars to impart slightly different flavors to your cooking, depending on what you are looking for. If you want traditional type for spaghetti sauce, you use the most common (Mediterranean) “Sweet Basil.” If you are going for a stronger flavor with a hint of clove, you use Asian Basil. If you want a lemony tang to add to fish, you can use Lemon Basil. And the list goes on.
The Health Benefits
Basil contains beneficial phytonutrients and polyphenolic flavanoids which are known to be health promoting/disease preventing. In addition, it is known to provide many essential oils that have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Basil has exceptionally high levels of vitamin A, beta-carotene, cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zea-xanthin. These help rid the body of “free radicals.” In addition, basil contains notable amounts of vitamin K, iron, copper, potassium, manganese, and magnesium.
In the Hindu religion, “holy basil” or Tulsi, is revered and believed to cure many things. The list includes respiratory mucus and flu while working prophylactically to prevent malaria and dengue fever. Basil tea is used for sore throats and is believed to “strengthen” the stomach and kidneys. It is believed to lower cholesterol levels and “purify blood.” Canker sores and other oral infections are treated by chewing basil leaves. Consuming the herb is supposed to prevent insect bites and drinking the juices or applying a paste of the plant is supposed to relieve bites after the fact. It is applied topically to cure ringworm also. Basil tea is said to cure headaches.
Fresh basil is always superior to dried since the volatile oils are much more potent while fresh. The anti-inflammatory properties credited to basil make it good for the natural treatment of irritable bowel syndrome as well as rheumatoid arthritis.
With all that members of the basil family have to offer, shouldn’t you have at least one variety of this wonderful plant in your medicinal garden?
What is your favorite use for basil? Please comment.