What is Basil?
The basil plant belongs to the family of Ocimum, which is obtained from the Greek word Ozo, meaning “to smell.”
The precise origins of basil are kind of unclear, but, it’s believed that the herb is indigenous to the Asian and African regions.
Basil plants started growing as wild perennials in the Pacific Islands centuries ago and afterward, was brought to Europe from India in the 16th century directly from the Middle East.
Sometime during the 17th-century, the basil herb made its way into the Americas.
Whether you’re out to cook up a mouthwatering dish, add a touch of splendor to your home or find a best friend for your tomato plant, basil is up to the challenge.
Although among the world’s oldest and most commonly used herbs, basil has a strong disposition and a surprising number of uses that make it a compelling addition to any kitchen or a beautiful landscape.
While it’s best known for its use in Italian cooking, it is also used in many ethnic culinary creations.
From Greek pesto to Thai stir-fry, savory tomato sauce and even cheesecakes, basil is quite the cosmopolitan spice!
Few people realize this, but basil enhances the flavor of the tomato plant by merely growing next to it.
Basil benefits don’t stop there; it also helps protect plants against certain insects.
The unique biochemistry and biology of basil are complex.
It is made up of a vast selection of beneficial compounds referred to as phytochemicals.
Working together, these organic compounds possess powerful free radical cleansing, antibacterial, antiviral, adaptogenic, and immune-enhancing attributes.
They help promote overall health and wellbeing supporting the body’s natural defense against stress and illnesses.
The organic oils in the leaves of basil, which give it an aromatic fragrance and refreshing flavor is a rich source of these valuable phytochemicals.
In ancient European history, basil was linked to several superstitious beliefs.
One popular lore has to do with scorpions. Scorpions liked to rest under pots of basil plants, and old folklore believed that if a basil plant were left for too long, it would turn into a scorpion!
One thing is sure – whether it’s with ancient cultures or modern man – if a pantry has only a few herbs, basil will most probably be one of them. Its aromatic essence mixes well with other herbs like rosemary and thyme. It is great for dishes that contain fish, vegetables, meat, cheese, eggs, and soup. It is also one of the critical ingredients in pesto, along with parmesan cheese and pine nuts.
Although there is an estimate of more 50 to 150 species of basil, they all fall into three major categories: sweet, bush, and purple. Each group has a slight difference in taste. For example, species such as anise, lemon, and cinnamon can be used to modify and improve on many recipes. All that’s needed is a few leaves of basil to transform a basic dish into a mouthwatering delicacy.
Basil is not only great as a culinary spice, but it also has some critical medicinal properties and has been used by various traditional and ancient cultures as medicine for different medical conditions. One famous example is Holy basil.
Holy basil is typically called Tulsi in India and is viewed as a sacred herb. It has been used for thousands of years in more than 300 different Ayurvedic herbal treatments. Today, you will find Holy basil in teas, tinctures, tonics, and ointments. It is also an important symbol in several Hindu religious practices and traditions. In Sanskrit, Tulsi means “the incomparable one.”
Basil Uses and Benefits
Like I mentioned above, basil has many uses aside from being a food spice. It isn’t a very well know fact, but there are some fantastic herbal uses of Basil.
Basil for Cooking
I bet your mind goes to pesto when you hear the words basil and cooking in the same sentence.
Basil is an excellent addition to pesto and other traditional dishes because of its fragrant essence. In my kitchen, I add it to everything from fresh cucumber to meat and eggs.
Although it is ideal to use basil when its fresh, you can also use dried basil for practically any dish.
I use it in many different recipes and with good reason. It adds a depth and flavor that is unrivaled by any other herb.
I use it in making a homemade spice blend with other herbs like oregano, thyme, etc.
Basil for Calming the Stomach
Basil is believed to have a calming effect in the stomach. Just add some dried or fresh basil in water to help in calming your stomach and provide relief from indigestion and an upset stomach.
Basil for Coughing and Colds
Basil is used in Ayurvedic medicine for common colds, flu, headaches, stomach disorders, inflammation, heart disease, various forms of poisoning, and malaria.
Basil plant is considered an adaptogen, which means that it assists the body in adapting to stress (environmental, physical, or chemical), restore balance in the body, and normalize body functions.
Basil for Facial Steam
Basil makes hot facial steam and can help relieve a problem. Inhaling the fragrant vapor with herb included can release all your stress and pent-up negative emotions.
Just add some dried basil to some boiling water in a large bowl and inhale.
Basil for Ear Infections
Because of its antibacterial properties, a few drops of basil oil can be used to relieve ear infections.
Basil for Gardening
Basil is not just for dinner or medicinal uses anymore!
Many people don’t realize that one of the best methods for basil is an ornament in their homes.
Basil is colorful, attracts beneficial insects and is heat tolerant.
Additionally, it can be used in the same fashion as many sun-loving coleuses as they all belong to the mint family. For example, African blue basil.
While not recommended for culinary uses, African blue basil is more often used as an ornamental decorative plant.
You’ll be so proud of this one that it would be torture to eat it!
An adequately tended African blue basil plant with plenty of room to expand can quickly become a grand showpiece in your late spring or early summer garden, making itself the center of conversation among your guests.
Because it can mature to four feet, African blue basil works best at the back of an annual border.
Its pink and purple flowers with purple stems and leaves add to its desirability.
In fact, many gardeners choose this basil in place of pink- or purple-flowering sage.
There’s no need to be afraid of this plant’s ample volume as, like most basils, it can easily be trimmed back without destruction.
Basil for Aromatherapy
Basil has an aromatic scent making it an ideal addition to your aromatherapy kit.
Siam queen basil is my personal favorite because it is a type of Thai basil that produces mint green leaves with huge flower heads and gives off a spicy anise scent.
Sprinkle some of the fresh leaves in your home or bath water and inhale the aromatic essence.
You can also use basil oil with specific scents to suit your taste.
Basil for Ayurvedic medicine
Basil plant is an essential symbol in the Hindu religion and is a significant herb in Ayurvedic medicine.
The herb has been used for thousands of years as a principal herb in alternative medicine and is also believed to be a religious plant seen in their homes and temples.
The leaves are also essential parts of their meditation, praise, and worship.
The basil is so useful is because of the chemical and nutritional compounds found in the herb.
Among the chemical compounds are eugenol, cineole, sabinene, estragole, myrcene, Linalool, and limonene.
All these compounds are capable of limiting the growth of many dangerous bacteria, including E. coli, listeria, Staphylococcus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
The nutritional components include calcium, iron, potassium, Vitamin C, magnesium, and manganese.
It also has some antibacterial properties including DNA-protecting flavonoids.
It is these flavonoids that give it most of its health benefits. Flavonoids protect the body on a cellular level.
Basil Benefits For Overall Good Health
Many centuries ago, our ancestors had to figure out ways to enhance meals and treat illnesses.
They found that many fruits and plants produced herbs that could help including basil.
The Hindu found and worshiped the plant every day because of the cure it was able to provide for many illnesses.
As time went on, extensive research was done to prove that indeed the antibodies and antioxidants that the basil plant possesses can reduce the risk of many diseases and that the old cultural practices were not just ancient beliefs.
Basil is now viewed as one of the healthiest herbs on earth because of its impressive list of nutrients like Vitamin K, which is necessary for blood clotting.
Basil Reduces Stress
As a natural adaptogen, basil is effective at normalizing the dangerous effects of stress.
For example, researchers carried out some tests to assess the anti-stress properties of the fresh basil plant.
It was given to rabbits that were placed in a high-stress environment.
After the study, they discovered a remarkable improvement in the oxidative stress levels of the rabbits after the use of basil.
The rabbits were given the 2 grams of fresh basil for thirty days and experienced respiratory and cardiovascular stability in response to stress.
A considerable reduction in blood sugar levels was also noticed, while a more significant improvement in antioxidant activities was observed.
Basil Fights Depression
Basil benefits also extend to mental health disorders.
People with mood-related abnormalities, including anxiety and depressions, can receive some level of relief from basil.
The herb is regarded as an antidepressant because it can positively affect brain functions in the adrenal cortex, stimulating neurotransmitters that control the hormones responsible for energy and happiness.
Basil Promotes Cardiovascular Health
It works as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory herb.
That is why basil can positively affect the muscles that control blood vessel functioning by contracting, relaxing, and subsequently supporting healthy blood pressure.
Basil plant has the capability of preventing dangerous platelet production which could lead to clotting in the arteries increasing the chances of cardiac arrest.
Basil for Bronchial Problems
An old herb with various healing components it can tone and balance the energetic ‘Chakra’ process of our bodies.
It is mainly used in herbal supplements to deal with bronchial problems and can enhance the well-being of the throat, chest, and lungs.
Basil for Antimicrobial and Antibacterial Properties
Basil is known to have some antimicrobial properties. It has been used against many types of bacteria, molds, yeasts, and viruses. What this means is that you can easily protect your family from a wide range of bacteria just by consuming or topically applying basil to your skin.
This is one of the main reasons to add basil to your diet. It can act as a shield against harmful bacterial growth.
In a research study, basil was shown to help inhibit some resistant bacteria strains that don’t respond to antibiotic treatments.
Researchers at the Medical University of Lodz in Poland studied the antibacterial effect of basil and tested it against certain strains of E. coli as well as other potent bacteria.
It showed that basil was powerful enough to destroy the bacteria strains and helped to stop their growth.
Basil for Anti-inflammatory
Basil essential oil can be a powerful addition to your first aid kit. Because it contains some potent chemicals, you can use its enzyme-inhibiting properties to help lower inflammation.
In case you didn’t know, inflammation is the cause of many diseases like heart disease, inflammatory bowel conditions, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Basil Fights Cancer
Research studies also revealed that the phytochemicals in basil could help to prevent cancer naturally – this includes chemically-induced skin, oral, liver and lung cancers.
The basil plant can enhance antioxidant activities, produce cancerous-cell apoptosis, positively modify gene expression, and prevent cancerous tumors from spreading.
Some research that included animals revealed that basil extract could protect the body against cancer and at the same time selectively preserve healthy tissue and cells from the adverse effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
This means that by consuming or using basil extract, cancer patients can supplement the treatment they are receiving and boost its effectiveness.
Basil Improves Digestion
Basil plant is used in balancing the acids within the body and improve the body’s pH level.
This can promote better digestion and boost the immune system by helping healthy bacteria thrive in the gut microflora.
As it increases helpful bacteria, it also decreases the harmful bacterias that can cause diseases.
Another basil benefit to the digestive system is that it can be used to help reduce water retention, bloating, stomach cramps, acid reflux, loss of appetite, and also kill stomach worms and parasites.
Basil Natural Aphrodisiac
In Italy, basil has been viewed as a symbol of love for ages.
The aroma of the herb is considered as a libido booster and aphrodisiac. There is no scientific proof, but many users swear by this benefit.
It’s probably the herbs ability to increase energy levels and blood flow that has contributed to this belief.
In the Hindu tradition and Ayurveda practices, Tulsi or holy basil is called the “elixir of life” and is used to support a healthy sexual life and good mood.
Also Read: 35 Cayenne Pepper Benefits and Uses
Basil is Rich in Antioxidant
The antioxidants found in the basil plant keeps our chromosomes from being changed protecting us from cell mutations or cancer cell growth.
This is the main benefit of many natural herbs today – antioxidants.
Basil is no different because it is rich in antioxidants and is considered hydrophobic.
What this means is that it won’t dissolve in water, and is light enough to penetrate the skin via topical application.
Basil’s has volatile essential oils which give the herb its unique aroma and flavor.
These volatile essential oils are the reason basil has many health benefits.
These volatile essential oils are also the reason why the plant can protect itself from insects like bugs, predators like rodents and strains of bacteria in the soil.
When we consume these essential oils, we will reap the benefits of immunity from diseases and protection from disease.
Basil for Diabetes
Basil plant has been known to balance blood sugar levels, which makes it a perfect choice for treating diabetes and other types of metabolic conditions.
Also, the advantages of basil include its ability to lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
This is an essential function that diabetic patients need to in control.
Researchers at India’s Azad University of Agriculture and Technology discovered the powerful effects of the basil plant when they tested it on blood sugar and cholesterol levels in human beings.
The trial was a double-blind clinical procedure, and the result revealed that basil could cause meaningful improvements in controlling blood glucose and the moderate increase in cholesterol levels.
This means that when basil is consumed, it will be a natural and safe way of managing diabetes or any complications resulting from the disease.
Basil Protects The Body From Free Radicals
Basil plant contains Vitamin A, and it is packed with beta-carotene. This powerful antioxidant protects the body from free radicals helping you check your cholesterol level.
How to Preserve The Basil Plant
If you have a batch of basil from the store or your garden, you don’t have to use it all at once.
There are several ways you can preserve your basil for later use:
Freeze the leaves
Blanch basil leaves and places them in an air-tight plastic bag in the freezer.
The downside to this storage method is that the basil leaves tend to turn a dark color, making it unsightly.
Unless your dinner guests have a taste for blackened basil goop, it’s best to use this method for recipes that call for basil to be well-blended into cooked foods.
That way you can enjoy the taste of your basil without being subjected to its less-than-attractive appearance.
Salt the leaves
Using sea or kosher salt, pack alternate layers of salt and basil leaves in a container (glass or plastic).
Take care to thoroughly cover basil layers with salt and make sure there are not too many overlapping leaves of basil.
If the basil leaf layers are too thick, you may just be growing a very large container of mold spores.
Place a layer of salt on the top, seal, and place in the freezer. The contents should last for several months.
Reuse the salt in other cooking projects or to make a new batch of preserved basil leaves.
This method is believed to be the best for keeping the basil leaf intact.
Also Read: 15 Oregano Oil Benefits and Uses
Grind and freeze
Puree basil leaves in a food processor, mixed with a small amount of water, pour into ice cube trays and freeze.
This method allows you to use your basil in any dish.
Preserve in oil
This really should not be used as a long-term preservation method unless you have a natural immunity to botulism poisoning!
(Even if you do, your dinner guests probably won’t!) Use this oil quickly (within two weeks) and keep it in the fridge!
Preserve in vinegar
Basil in vinegar is a better, and safer, preservation method than basil in oil.
To use this method, chop the basil, place inside a glass jar, pour warm vinegar into the pot and cap with a corrosion- and acid-proof lid.
Store it in a cabinet or refrigerator for a while and shake (not stir) regularly to develop flavor.
In case you didn’t know, do not eat the basil plant if mold is present or if it has a rancid smell.
There’s no doubt about it; basil is a versatile culinary herb for cooking and good health.
Just remember to take it in reasonable quantities, and if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it is recommended that you consult with a doctor before taking any herbal supplements – natural or not.