Basil

Basil is an annual plant and one of the principal members of the “Mint” family. It is also known as Sweet Basil. This plant is used as a herb and is one of the main ingredients in various cuisines all over the world.

Basil Scientific Name

The scientific name for this plant is Ocimum Basilicum.

History of Basil

The plants acquired the name “Basil” from the Greek word “Basileus”, which means “king”. Due to this reason, it is still referred to as the “King of Herbs”. These plants are native to India where they are considered sacred.

However, it was considered to be harmful and poisonous during ancient times in some countries. But this concept has completely died away with time.

Description of Basil Plant

There are many different varieties of these plants with different appearances.

Height: Most of the varieties reach an average height of 2.5 feet. The plants usually spread into a wide area. However, there are dwarf plants growing only up to 6 inches in height.

Leaves: The leaf color may vary from different shades of green to red and purple.

Flowers: The flowers may be white or brown.

Types of Basil

There are many varieties of these plants.

Thai Basil – These plants usually grow up to 24 inches in height and are 2 feet wide.

Genovese Basil – It has wrinkled dark green leaves with an aroma similar to cloves. These are principally used in Italian cuisine.

Holy BasilThis variety is also known as Sacred Basil or ‘Tulsi’ (in Hindi). These plants are originally from India and are principally used in Thai cooking. People of Hindu religion use these leaves for worship.

Lemon Basil – The plants of this variety have flat and narrow leaves with a citric aroma.

Cinnamon Basil – The leaves of these plants have a Cinnamon-like scent. These purple flowered plants are also referred to as the Mexican Spice Basil.

African blue Basil – This beautiful variety is one of the few perennial members of this species. They have a strong camphor-like smell. In addition to the above mentioned, there are numerous other varieties of Basil like Red Rubin, Boxwood and Lettuce Leaf.

Distribution of Basil

It is originally from India. However, the plants are cultivated in different parts of the world including Italy, Egypt, France, Morocco, USA and Hungary.

Growing Basil

These plants can be easily cultivated from seeds which take less than two weeks to germinate. One may also buy a small plant and grow it in the garden or indoors. The Basil plants need pruning once every 2-3 weeks to grow properly.

Growing Conditions

  • Soil: The seeds are sowed in well drained soil. The pH or acidity of the soil can range from 5.5 to 6.5.
  • Sunlight: These plants need plenty of sunlight to grow.
  • Water: They also need ample amounts of water. It is ideal to keep the soil slightly moist.
  • Climate: The Basil plants grow well in tropical climates but they are unable to survive in cold weathers.

Basil Picture
Picture 1 - Basil
Source – blogs.bu.edu

Harvesting Basil

It is important to know about the right time for harvesting the leaves, while retaining their finest aroma. Once the flowers bloom, the leaves of the plant turn bitter and lose their flavor.

Uses of Basil Herb

It has been used by mankind for diverse reasons for a very long period of time. Different varieties of these plants are used for different purposes.

Culinary Uses

  • It is one of the most used herbs in the world and is used in numerous cuisines.
  • Thai Basil leaves are principally used to prepare stir fried foods.
  • The leaves of the Lemon and Lime Basil are ideal for dressings and salads.
  • The seeds of the plant are often used in Asian desserts and drinks like falooda and Sherbet.

Medicinal Uses

  • It is used as an expectorant for the treatments of diseases like asthma, flu, cold and bronchitis.
  • The leaves are also good for keeping diabetes under control.
  • Leaf extract is used to reduce throat pain and high body-temperature.
  • The extract is also used as an anti-venom for snake bites.
  • It is used along with honey for the treatment of cataract.
  • Holy Basil leaves are used in Ayurvedic medicines.
  • The leaves of these plants are used to prepare “Basil Tea” which helps to prevent diseases like Dengue and Malaria.
  • The tea also treats several health disorders including constipation, diarrhea and indignation.
  • The essential oil is used in the treatments of migraines, headaches and allergies.
  • Massaging with this essential oil extraction reduces arthritis.

Other Uses

  • The leaf extract is used in cosmetics as it is beneficial for skin and hair.
  • The oil extracted from these plants is used in aromatherapy to improve mental strength.
  • Some beautiful varieties of these plants like the African Blue Basil are used for decorative purposes.

Recipes with Basil

It is used in the preparation of main course dishes as well as desserts. This herb is able to enhance the taste of any preparation – be it a chicken dish, a pizza or an ice cream. It is also one of the main ingredients for the popular sauce “Basil Pesto”. Other recipes using this herb includes

  • Thai Spicy Basil Chicken Fried Rice
  • Lemon Basil Chicken
  • Steamed Artichokes with Basil Aioli
  • Tomato Mozzarella and Basil Salad
  • Basil Pesto Pasta
  • Basil Ice Cream

Substitutes for Basil

No other herb can be an ideal replacement for it. However, one may use Thyme or Oregano as a substitute for Basil in case it is absolutely unavailable.

Basil Oil

Oil is extracted from the leaves and flowers of these plants using the steam distillation process. The greenish-yellow essential oil is used for many medicinal and other purposes. Sometimes, it causes irritation when applied to sensitive skin.

Pictures of Basil
Picture 2 – Basil Picture
Source - gianino.files.wordpress.com

Health Benefits of Basil

Numerous health benefits can be derived from these plants.

  • Anti-Bacterial properties: The volatile oil of this plant contains fatty acids including Estragole, Eugenol, Cineole and Linalool. These give the plant strong anti-bacterial properties. Due to this reason it can be useful to fight certain bacterial diseases like Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
  • Anti-Inflammatory: It also possesses anti-inflammatory properties which make it very healthy for people with migraine and arthritis. The Eugenol content in it prevents swelling of the different parts of human body.
  • Good for the Heart: It helps the heart by increasing the circulation of blood and relaxing the blood vessels.
  • Digestive Benefits: Basil tea is beneficial for constipation, indigestion, gas etc.
  • Respiratory Problems: It relieves problems like cold, flu, asthma, whooping cough and bronchitis.

Basil Nutritional Facts

Here is the nutritional information for two table spoons (chopped) of this herb:

Vitamins:

Name Amount
Vitamin A 277 IU
Vitamin C 0.9mg
Vitamin D -
Vitamin E 0.0mg
Vitamin K 21.8mcg
Thiamin 0.0mg
Riboflavin 0.0mg
Niacin 0.0mg
Vitamin B6 0.0mg
Folate 3.6mcg
Vitamin B12 0.0mg
Pantothenic Acid 0.0mg
Choline 0.6mg
Betaine 0.0mg

Minerals:

Name Amount
Calcium 9.3mg
Iron 0.2mg
Magnesium 3.4mg
Phosphorus 2.9mg
Potassium 15.5 mg
Sodium 0.2mg
Zinc 0.0mg
Copper 0.0mg
Manganese 0.1mg
Selenium 0.0mcg
Fluoride -

Calorie:

Name Amount
Calories 1.2(5.0 kJ)
From Carbohydrate 0.5(2.1 kJ)
From Fat 0.3(1.3 kJ)
From Protein 0.4(1.7 kJ)
From Alcohol 0.0(0.0 kJ)

Carbohydrates:

Name Amount
Total Carbohydrate 0.1gm
Dietary Fiber 0.1gm
Starch -
Sugar 0.0gm

Protein and Amino Acids:

Name Amount
Protein 0.2gm

Fats and Fatty Acids:

Name Amount
Total Fat 0.0gm
Saturated Fat 0.0gm
Monounsaturated Fat 0.0gm
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.0gm
Total trans fatty acids -
Total trans-monoenoic fatty acids -
Total trans-polyenoic fatty acids -
Total Omega-3 fatty acids 16.6mg
Total Omega-6 fatty acids 3.8mg

Using Basil during Pregnancy

One should avoid consuming this herb in any form during pregnancy as it may cause contractions.

How to Cook Basil?

It is used as herb and the fresh or dried leaves are added to a dish to improve its flavor and taste. The stems and the flowers are not used in cooking.

Storing Basil

There are two ways to store this herb.

Drying - One may dry the leaves in order to store them for more than a year. The leaves are usually placed between two sheets of newspaper and hung to dry. They can also be placed on a baking sheet and dried in the microwave (350°C).

Freezing – The leaves are frozen inside an ice cube or in a blended form in a freezer bag.

Basil Interesting Facts

Despite having a very long history, there are still many things about this plant that one may not know.

  • There are more than thirty varieties of this plant.
  • In ancient times, some people believed that smelling these leaves will grow scorpions in one’s brain.
  • These plants are sometimes known as Saint Joseph’s Wort.

Availability of Basil

This herb is available at herb stores all over the world. It is also available at any online herbs and spices store.

Basil Side Effects

It is quite safe to consume this herb in small amounts along with food. But consumption of large amounts may cause:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Heavy sweating
  • Trembling
  • Rapid pulse

One should immediately seek medical consultancy if any of these side effects occur.

Basil Pictures

Here are some images of some varieties of this plant.

Images of Basil
Picture 3 - Basil Image
Source - 3.bp.blogspot.com

Photos of Basil
Picture 4 – Basil Photo
Source - riverlandfarm.com

References:

http://www.basilbasics.com/harvesting-basil.html

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=85

http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/spices-and-herbs/213/2

http://gardening.about.com/od/herbsspecificplants1/p/Basil.htm

http://healthmad.com/alternative/18-wonderful-uses-for-basil/

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