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All About Basil
Categories: Food, Ingredients


Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a tender, low-growing culinary herb that is a member of the mint family. Basil is originally native to Iran, India and other tropical regions of Asia and has been cultivated there for more than 5,000 years.

Basil has often been called the “King of herbs” or “l’herbe royal” by many cookbook authors and has a taste reminiscent of its cousin mint, but with notes of anise, cinnamon, clove and lemon. Basil is a pungent, warming herb that helps in restoring balance to the organs of the body, especially complaints related to the stomach or the lungs. Basil is used to treat mild depression, headaches and menstrual pain. It helps to calm anxious nerves, aids digestion and is used to treat fevers, constipation, nausea, insomnia, fatigue and the flu. It is effective against bacterial infections and intestinal parasites and apparently can be quite effective as a mosquito repellent when planted around windows and doors. Basil seeds have an opposite thermal affect than the leaves, and when soaked in water the seeds become a gelatinous, cooling beverage.

Basil is best used fresh as it loses most of its taste when dried or kept too long in the refrigerator. Typically basil is added to a cooked dish at the last minute to maintain its flavor and fragrance as heat will also quickly cause the herb to lose its flavor. Basil is best grown outdoors in hot weather with lots of sun. In northern, colder climates the herb will grow as an annual during the warmer months. As with most herbs, basil can be grown inside as a potted herb and should be placed on a windowsill, preferably sun-facing.

Basil Pesto

"Basil Pesto"

Prominently featured in Italian cuisine, basil is also an important ingredient in the Southeast Asian cuisines of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. There are over 50 different varieties of basil, which are usually green, but sometimes purple. Sweet Basil is the herb commonly used in Italian food, Thai Basil and Lemon Basil are used more in Southeast Asian cooking and Tulsi or Holy Basil is widely recognized as a medicinal or healing plant that is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat ailments such as common colds, headaches, stomach disorders, inflammation, heart disease, various forms of poisoning, and malaria.

Tulsi Basil also has an important role within the Vaishnavite tradition of Hinduism. Tulsi (Sanskrit for “the incomparable one”,) is often regarded as a consort of Vishnu and devotees perform worship involving Tulsi plants or leaves. Tulsi (Holy) Basil also has religious significance in the Orthodox Churches of Greece, Serbia, Macedonia and Romania, where it is used to prepare holy water and pots of basil are often placed below church altars. Holy Basil is said to have been found around Christ’s tomb after his resurrection. In Europe, basil is placed in the hands of the dead to ensure a safe journey. In India, they place it in the mouth of the dying to ensure they reach God. The ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks believed that it would open the gates of heaven for a person passing on.

Tulsi being decorated for Indian Ceremony

"Tulsi being decorated for an Indian Ceremony"

“O God, grant us a deeper sense of fellowship with all living this, our little brothers and sisters to whom in common with us you have given this earth as home. We recall with regret that in the past we have acted high-handedly and cruelly in exercising our domain over them. Thus, the voice of the earth which should have risen to you in song has turned into a groan of travail. May we realize that all these creatures also live for themselves and for you – not for us alone. They too love the goodness of life, as we do, and serve you better in their way than we do in ours. Amen. “Saint Basil of Caesarea, Bishop, Doctor

2 Comments to “All About Basil”

  1. […] effortlessly got the kids involved in making the nutritious green sauce. As she talked about how basil, a member of the mint family, is packed with Vitamin K and that raw garlic is a super cold remedy, […]

  2. […] Basil! I’m still going strong with “l’herb royal“ and concocted a whole basil mezze platter. Basil- quinoa bread (wheat free… I used oat […]

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