Basil is an herb commonly loved for its delicious taste. It is used in a number of cuisines throughout the world but most popularly as a main ingredient for Pesto sauce. But apart from tasting good, there is much about the herb that many don’t know about. Apart from its use as an ingredient for food, basil can actually be used for its medicinal purpose. This is because basil contains a number of components that are good for the health. If you never knew just how good basil can be to your health, it’s about time to discover its goodness.
What is Basil?
Also called Saint Joseph’s Wort, basil is an herb that belongs to the same family as mint; to which it closely resembles its pointed leaves. The herb is native to India as well as some tropical parts of Asia. It is commonly used as a seasoning for cooking in different cuisines throughout the world. As mentioned, it is most popular for its involvement in the delicious Italian dish, pesto. But apart from this, it is an ingredient commonly present in Thai, Vietnamese, and Indonesian cuisine.
Types of Basil
Basil comes in a number of types, all differentiating in smell and taste. The most common among these is Sweet Basil, which is often used in Italian cooking, comes with a strong clove scent. This is because it contains eugenol. On the other hand, the Lime and Lemon Basil varieties contain a strong citrus smell due to its high limonene concentration.
Beliefs Associated with Basil
The name for basil is a derivative of the Greek word ‘basileus’ that translates to king. This is why the Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the herb may have been used as a ‘royal unguent, bath, or medicine.’ But apart from this, there are other beliefs that include the herb. In Jewish folklore, the herb was thought to provide strength for those who fasted. And in French culture, the herb was referred to as l’herbe royale (the royal herb). Traditionally, both Tamil and Ayurvedic medicine used the herb as a tool for alternative medicine.
Health Benefits of Basil
Since basil provides a host of health benefits, it is easy to see why it was once used in traditional medicine. And for anyone who consumes the herb, they can surely benefit from its advantages. Here are some of the health benefits that are often associated with the herb:
• Basil leaves contain plant-derived chemical compounds known to help prevent certain diseases and promote good health.
• The leaves also contain a number of essential oils including linalool, citronellol, eugenol, limonene, terpineol, and citral. These have been known to contain anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory purposes.
• Basil also is known to reduce swelling and inflammation of up to 73% after treatment.
• It contains a number of essential vitamins, nutrients, and minerals that are needed to improve health.
• Basil does not contain cholesterol and is low in calories. This makes it a great ingredient for those who are trying to lose weight.
• Basil contains a number of polyphenolic flavonoids such as vicenin and orientin; which have anti-oxidant properties.
• The herb contains a high quantity of (E)-beta-caryophyllene (BCP), which is known to help treat both inflammatory bowel diseases and arthritis.
• It contains anti-aging properties that helps kill off harmful molecules caused by free radicals in the heart, brain and liver.
• It helps protect against age-related macular disease, thanks to the Zea-xanthin compound found in the herb.
• Basil contains vitamin A, which is used as an anti-oxidant and for healthy skin maintenance. This also helps protect the body against oral cavity and lung cancers.
• The herb contains ingredients that help control heart rate and blood pressure.
• Basil is also an excellent source of iron, which helps carry out oxygen throughout the blood.
• The vitamin K found in basil helps in strengthening and mineralizing the bones.
Buying Tips for Basil
The best way to enjoy basil is to consume it while it is still fresh. And if you would like to enjoy fresh basil, the best advice is to grow them in your own backyard. This way, the leaves and flowers can readily be harvested and you can immediately use them. But if growing your own basil is out of the question, you can opt to head to the supermarket and buy basil leaves.
When you buy, make sure to choose the ones with leaves that are free from yellowing and dark spots. You can also find dry basil leaves and seeds. However, keep in mind that sun-dried and radiation-treated leaves may contain a fewer amount of essential oils, carotene, and vitamin C.
Storage Tips for Basil
You can store fresh sweet basil inside the refrigerator at appropriate humidity. As for dried basil, you can store it inside an air-tight container in a cool, dry and dark place. The dried variety can be stored for up to six months.
Cooking Tips for Basil
To prepare fresh basil, it is important that you wash it before using. You may use cold running water to rinse the herb for a few minutes. This ensures that dirt and pesticide residues are removed completely so it will be okay for you to consume. And when it’s time to cook basil, the best way to retain its flavor and fragrance is to add it to the final step of the cooking process. This is because prolonged cooking of the herb may result to it losing its essential oils. By adding it last, you can still taste the herb and get the many health benefits it produces.
Nowadays, there are many ways you can cook basil and enjoy it. But if you would like to really enjoy it, you can make your own pesto sauce. There are countless different recipes available on the Internet on how you can make your own delicious pesto sauce and pair it with noodles. Apart from pesto, basil can be added on any dish you like. The trick is to know your palate and imagine how the dish would taste once you add basil into it.