Basil is a culinary herb of the mint family (Lamiaceae).
Although it is estimated that there are 50 to 150 species of basil, most, but not all, culinary basils are cultivars of O. basilicum, or sweet basil.
It is believed that basil has origins in India, but the herb has been cultivated for over 5,000 with its reach spreading to all corners of the globe.
Basil has long been used in culinary traditions, but its history is rich with other uses in society.
It was found in mummies in Egypt because the ancient Egyptians used this herb for embalming.
In Greece where it was known as basilikon phuton, meaning magnificent, royal, or kingly herb and was a symbol of mourning.
Basil also has a strong history in ancient traditional medicines like Ayurveda, the traditional medicinal system of ancient India, in addition to other medicinal herbal traditions.
It was used as an antidote for snake bites, and was believed to give strength during religious fasting.
It is believed that basil have been found around Christ’s tomb after his resurrection. The Serbian Orthodox Church, Macedonian Orthodox Church and Romanian Orthodox Church use basil to prepare holy water and pots of basil are often placed below church altars.
The name “basil” comes from Latin, basilius, and Greek βασιλικόν φυτόν (basilikón phutón), “royal/kingly plant”. This is because it is believed to have grown above the spot where St. Constantine and Helen discovered the Holy Cross.
Basil grows to between 30 and 60 centimeters tall, with opposite, light green, silky, flat, shiny leaves 3 to 7 cm long and 1 to 3 cm broad. The flowers are quite big. They are white in color and arranged as a spike.
Basil is most commonly used fresh in recipes. In general, it is added at the last moment, as cooking quickly destroys the flavor.
In Italian cuisine, basil adds wonderful flavor to tomato sauce, pesto, and vinegars. It can also be sprinkled over salads and sliced tomatoes. In Asian cuisine, this herb is great on salads and on many types of meat and vegetable dishes. It is also great in pesto.
Basil is an excellent source of vitamin K and manganese; a very good source of copper, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids such as beta-carotene), and vitamin C; and a good source of calcium, iron, folate, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids.
The health benefits of basil include supporting healthy brain, managing arthritis, managing stress, slowing down aging, supporting bone health, managing epilepsy and aid metabolism. Other benefits includes relieving post menstrual syndrome, providing energy, preventing cancer and supporting eye health.
Brew basil tea by adding a teaspoon of dried, organic basil or a tablespoon of fresh basil leaves to a cup of boiled water and let it steep for 10 minutes. Strain and drink a cup three times daily for best results.
Puree fresh basil leaves in a food processor with garlic, olive oil, sea salt, a dash of pepper and some fresh pine nuts (optional). Use immediately or freeze in ice cube trays. Once frozen store the cubes in a sealed bag in the freezer. Add the cubes as desired to add a punch of flavor to cooked soups, pasta dishes, stews, and sauces.
The fresh herb can be kept for a short time in plastic bags in the refrigerator, or for a longer period in the freezer, after being blanched quickly in boiling water.
The various basils have such different scents because the herb has a number of different essential oils in different proportions for various cultivars.