Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Herbs : Basil

 The next herb I am going to introduce to you is Basil.  This herb has a very long and interesting history. It has, of course, long been used by both the French and the Italians in cooking, but there are also many rituals and beliefs associated with it.

Jewish folklore suggests it adds strength while fasting, and Basil was said to be found in Christ's tomb after his resurrection. The Greek Orthodox use Basil to prepare holy water, and pots of Basil are placed below church alters.  In Europe and India they place Basil in the hands of the dead to ensure a safe journey.  The Egyptians and the Grecians believed it will actually open the gates of Heaven for a person passing on.

Basil is a bushy annual plant and is grown both for culinary and medicinal purposes.  It grows best in warm climates.  

There are several different varieties of Basil including :
  • Mediterranean - called sweet basil, this is the usual variety used in cooking
  • Asian - Has purple or red leaves and a strong clove-like flavour.
  • Lemon basil - has a lemon favour
  • Thai basil - similar to Asian basil. Has a sweet liquorice flavour

Health benefits of Basil

Basil is not only a delicious addition to many dishes, it also has a surprisingly large number of health benefits. Some of these benefits are :
  • Contain many essential oils such as eugenol, citronellol, linalool, citral, limonene and terpineol.  These oils are known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties
  • The enzyme-inhibiting effect of the eugenol in Basil helps to stop swelling which makes it very useful for symptomatic relief of inflammatory health problems such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and inflammatory bowl conditions. 
  • Contain high levels of beta-corotene, vitamin A, cryptoxanthin and lutein.  These compounds help protect against oxygen-derived free radicals that play a role in aging and various diseases.
  • Rich in Zeaxanthin, a compound that helps to protect against age related macular disease in the elderly.  The vitamin A helps with this as well.
  • The high vitamin A also helps protect the body from lung and oral cavity cancers.
  • The vitamin K in Basil is essential for many coagulant factors in the blood, and plays a vital role in the bone strengthening function as well by helping the mineralization process in the bones.
  • Basil also contains a large amount of potassium, manganese, copper and magnesium.  Potassium helps control heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Basil is also a great source or iron, containing 3.17 mg/100g of fresh leaves, which is approximately 26% of RDA requirements.  Iron is a component of hemoglobin inside the red blood cells and determines the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood.
  • Basil tea helps relieve nausea
  • Basil can be applied to wounds to help prevent bacterial infections
  • Basil can be used to treat constipation, stomach cramps and indigestion as well as the cold, flu, asthma, whooping cough, bronchitis and sinus infections
  • A pot of Basil on your patio will repel insects, and if you do get bitten, rub some crushed basil leaves on the bite to help remove the sting.

How to grow Basil

Basil is very easy to grow both from seed or from plants as long as you give it a lot of sun and well drained soil.  These plants tend to get large and bushy so you need to make sure you allow them a lot of room.

One thing to remember about basil - and this is true of most herbs - the smaller the plant the more flavourful will be the leaves, so don't allow yours to get too out of hand.  Also, when flowers start to form make sure you take these off so the plant concentrates on producing more leaves instead of seeds.

Here is a video on how to plant Basil

And a video on how to grow it.

How to use Basil

Basil Tea

To make Basil tea it is recommended that you steep the leaves for 5 to 10 minutes in hot water in order to get the full benefits from the leaves.  

As well as drinking it, you can use this tea as the water for making my coconut flour pizza dough the next time your making pizza. And make sure you add a few chopped leaves as garnish as well.

You can also use it as a base for soup with added vegetables 

And it's also a great way to add more flavour to egg noodles.

Basil Vinegar

Basil vinegar is a great addition to salads.  You can use any kind of basil but purple basil especially, with it's stronger flavour, makes a great vinegar.

To make flavoured vinegar I usually buy a bottle of white wine vinegar and use that as a base.  Here is how you make it :
  • Open the bottle of vinegar and pour it into a saucepan.  Bring it to a boil.
  • Meanwhile, slightly bruise a packed cup of basil leaves and place in the empty bottle with a few garlic cloves.
  • Pour the hot vinegar over the basil and garlic.  Screw the lid back on, and let stand at room temperature for 2 weeks.
  • Strain the vinegar into another container temporarily, discarding the basil and garlic.  Add a couple of fresh sprigs of basil and whole garlic cloves to the empty bottle, then pour in the strained vinegar and screw the lid back on.

You can now use this vinegar for your salads, and you will find that over time it will get even stronger.

Lastly, Basil is wonderful in all kinds of dishes including basic tomato sauce and pizza sauceCaprese salad, and Cioppino (Italian seafood stew) and Chicken Cacciatorie to just name a few. In fact whenever you serve a dish of sliced tomatoes, add a bit of chopped Basil for added flavour and take advantage of the health benefits as well.

Because it is not only delicious in many dishes but also has lots of health benefits to boot, I recommend that everyone have at least one or two basil plants in their garden, no matter how small that garden may be.  And if you have room to grow a patch of this herb, you can chop and freeze your harvest for use during the rest of the year as well. 

 Watch for my post on Friday for more basil recipes.

"Almost any garden, if you see it at just the right moment, can be confused with paradise."

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