Botanical name: Ocimum basilicum
If a kitchen has only a few herbs in its possession, basil will likely be one of them. Its fragrant essence combines well with rosemary and thyme in meat dishes, fish, vegetables, cheese, soup and eggs, and is one of the main ingredients in pesto, along with pine nuts and parmesan cheese.
Although more than 60 varieties of basil have been identified, they all fall into three main types: sweet, purple, and bush. Each offers a subtle difference in taste; varieties such as lemon, anise, and cinnamon basil give you an idea of how one might modify and enhance a recipe. It only takes a few leaves to transform a simple dish.
Basil plants are easy to maintain indoors and out. Snip off budding heads whenever they appear and underneath the base of a leaf near the bottom on spindly stems to keep your plant full, and a new branch will appear.
To dry basil leaves, warm your oven to 140 degrees while placing a single layer of basil leaves on a baking sheet. Turn off the oven and pop in your pan for 20 minutes (you don't want them to actually bake). Remove the pan, cool the leaves, and store immediately in airtight bottles or zip-lock bags, away from sunlight.
Health Benefits of Basil
Basil also is considered one of the healthiest herbs. It's best when fresh, exuding a sweet, earthy aroma that indicates not only the promise of pleasantly pungent flavor, but an impressive list of nutrients. Vitamin K, essential for blood clotting, is one of them. Just two tablespoons of basil provides 29 percent of the daily recommended value.
Basil also provides vitamin A, which contains beta-carotenes, powerful antioxidants that protect the cells lining a number of numerous body structures, including the blood vessels, from free radical damage. This helps prevent cholesterol in blood from oxidizing, helping to prevent atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and stroke.
Other vitamins and minerals in basil include iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, vitamin C and potassium. Not surprisingly, basil also has antibacterial properties and contains DNA-protecting flavonoids.
It's the flavonoids and volatile oils in basil that give it the most health benefits, the former protecting on the cellular level, with antibacterial properties related to its volatile oils. Among these are estragole, linalool, cineole, eugenol, sabinene, myrcene, and limonene, all capable of restricting the growth of numerous harmful bacteria, including listeria, staphylococcus, E. coli, yersinia enterocolitica, and pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Some antibiotic medications which have been found to be resistant to some of these strains have been inhibited by basil extracts. One of those oils - eugenol - can block the activity of the harmful enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX). This same effect puts basil in the "anti-inflammatory" category because it provides relief from related problems, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Studies Done on Basil
When scientists tested basil oil in diluted concentrations against several common but serious multidrug-resistant bacteria, including some of those listed above, it strongly reduced the negative effect of the bacteria. Research data noted the encouraging results of the tests, especially in light of the high level of resistance of the bacteria.1
Another study debated the traditional use of basil to treat several respiratory diseases and the symptoms of tuberculosis, exploring the possible use of basil against actual tuberculosis symptoms. Test results were affirmative, with the conclusion that basil could be used to formulate new and natural anti-tuberculosis treatments.2
Since basil extracts reduce sugars as well as free radicals in your body, tests were conducted in relation to its effect on glycemic index, leading researchers to conclude that basil extracts may have the potential to inhibit diabetes.3
One impressive study showed that washing produce in a solution of basil or thyme essential oil in just a 1% concentration diminished the number of infectious Shigella bacteria, which can produce intestine-damaging diarrhea. This result proves that ingesting basil and thyme in as many ways as possible, especially fresh in salads and their dressings, helps ensure the safety of the fresh produce you bring to your table.
Basil Fun Facts
The ancient Greek word "basilikohn," meaning royal, is the derivative of what we now call basil. It reflected an attitude of nobility and a desire to extend hospitality, friendship, and honor whenever it was served.
Basil is arguably one of the favorites among herbs because it has so many uses. Everything from soups to salads can be made simply better with the addition of its fresh, pungent leaves. It also has been found to contain oils and flavonoids that protect the body from illness and infection. Very small concentrations can kill harmful bacteria, but still be very beneficial, even preventing atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and stroke.
- PUBMED: Comparative studies on the activity of basil--an essential oil from Ocimum basilicum L.--against multidrug resistant clinical isolates of the genera Staphylococcus, Enterococcus and Pseudomonas by using different test methods
- pubmed/22982011, Evaluation of the antimycobacterium activity of the constituents from Ocimum basilicum against Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
- pubmed/21636683, Hypoglycemic effect of basil (Ocimum basilicum) aqueous extract is mediated through inhibition of α-glucosidase and α-amylase activities: an in vitro study.