The health benefits of basil are well documented. This very fragrant herb is a staple in Italian cooking from pasta sauces to pesto.
Here are some facts about basil that I think you will find quite interesting and make you want to add basil to your food more often.
Latin Name – Ocimum basilicum
What is Basil?
Basil is a highly fragrant herb whose leaves are used as a seasoning agent.
Its leaves are rounded in the middle and often pointed at the end, depending on the variety. Basil leave are usually a rich green in color, although some varieties have red or purple hues.
There are more than 60 varieties of basil. In addition to the basil flavor we know, which has a pungent, slightly peppery flavor, basil also comes in varieties that carry subtle flavors of cinnamon, lemon or anise.
Basil is an annual plant, which means that it dies off at the end of the season and needs to be replanted again in the spring. The plant is native to India, as well as parts of Africa and Asia, although it is grown and used in many parts of the world today.
Basil, in its numerous varieties, is used in a large number of world cuisines, including Italian and Asians cuisines like Thai and Vietnamese. With the huge popularity of Italian food over the last few decades and more recent interest in Asian cuisines like Thai, basil has become a very common herb and can be found in almost any North American supermarket or grocery store.
Selection and Proper Storage of Basil
It’s always best to use fresh herbs if you can get them. They impart a much brighter, fresher flavor than their dried counterparts. However, for recipes that will be cooked for a longer time, dried basil can be used very successfully.
Look for fresh basil that has vibrant green leaves (or purple red if you are using that variety). If the leaves have dark or yellow spots, don’t buy it.
Store fresh basil in the refrigerator. If you wrap it in a few paper towels that are just slightly damp it keeps fresh for several days without drying out. Basil can also be frozen. Just place some chopped leaves in ice cube trays, cover with water (or broth if you prefer), freeze the cubes and thaw them when needed.
When you buy dried basil, as with all spices and dried herbs, try to buy them from a store that you know provides quality, fresh products. If your dried basil is fairly fresh and kept in a sealed container in your kitchen cupboard, it will be good to use for at least 6 months.
Organic vs regular: If you buy organic basil it is less likely to have been irradiated, which decreases the amount of Vitamin C it contains significantly.
Health Benefits of Basil
Research has proven a few significant health benefits of basil.
Basil contains something called volatile oils or essential oils. The essential oil of basil is found in its leaves. This essential oil has been shown in research to be an antibacterial agent, inhibiting several strains of bacteria including Staphylococcus Listeria, two very dangerous bacteria that have become resistant to many antibiotic drugs.
Basil contains many flavonoids that provide significant health benefits to us. Studies have shown that these flavonoids protect the structure of our cells and our chromosomes from radiation and oxygen-based damage.
More health benefits of basil include its anti-inflammatory effects. Basil’s volatile oils contain a component called eugenol, which has been the subject of much research. Eugenol has the ability to block an enzyme in our bodies called cyclooxygenase (COX), much the same as over the count anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and aspirin (called NSAIDS). The blocking of this enzyme results in reducing inflammation in the body, making eugenol a natural “anti-inflammatory” ingredient. For this reason including basil in your diet on a very regular basis is of great benefit for those who suffer from inflammatory health problems like rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel diseases. Basil or basil oil could help to reduce symptoms of inflammatory diseases.
There are several other health benefits of basil as well. Basil contains a good amount of beta-carotene, which makes it a good source of Vitamin A. Beta-carotene protects the cells in the lining of our blood vessels from free radical damage. It also helps to prevent free radicals from oxidizing cholesterol in our blood stream. Cholesterol in our blood is fine, unless it has been oxidized. Once that happens, it begins to build up in the walls of our blood vessels and become dangerous to our health. Oxidized cholesterol in our blood vessels can eventually become atherosclerosis, or “hardening of the arteries”, which is a leading cause of heart attacks and strokes. It also contributes to both osteo and rheumatoid arthritis.
Basil is also a good source of iron, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Magnesium is important because it helps to regulate our blood pressure, aids in carbohydrate metabolism, body temperature regulation, transmission of nerve impulses and the formation of healthy bones and teeth.
The health benefits of basil certainly make you want to make a pot of spaghetti sauce or put some basil leaves on your next salad.
How to Use Basil and Basil Recipes
If you are using fresh basil, as with all fresh herbs, it is always best to add it at the end of the cooking time. That maintains the taste and the health giving properties of the essential oils. Dried herbs need to be cooked for a while to release their flavors, so add them at the beginning of the cooking time. So if you are making a big batch of spaghetti sauce, which is the perfect way to use this fabulous healthy herb, add some dried basil at the beginning of the cooking time and chop or tear fresh basil leaves to add in the last few minutes.
Basil is the main ingredient in pesto sauce, a delicious alternative to red sauce on pasta. You will find a great recipe for pesto here.
I love oil based pasta sauces. One of my favorite things to do is mix basil with chopped garlic and extra virgin olive oil and use that over pasta. Grate lots of Parmesan cheese and you have a very healthy and delicious pasta sauce. You can also serve this sauce over salmon or chicken.
Italians serve what they call a caprese salad that layers sliced tomatoes with sliced mozzarella cheese then tops each slice with a basil leaf, freshly ground pepper and a drizzle of good olive oil.
Basil is also used in Thai cooking and can be added to any Thai flavored stir fry. If you can’t find Thai basil, use regular.
Like many herbs, basil can be made into a tea (sometimes called a tisane) by steeping its leaves in boiling water for several minutes.
To find all of the basil recipes on the site simply go to a search box on any page and type in basil.
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