The basil that we know -- either in the form of fresh basil leaves or dried basil powder -- comes from the plant scientifically known as Ocimum basilicum which belongs to the mint family of herbs. Basil has a sweet and minty taste that has a lovely fragrance. It goes well with meats, cheese, eggs, tomatoes and many vegetables.
Origin of Basil
Basil finds its roots in India and Persia as it thrives well in the hot and dry conditions of the tropics. Lately I have even been seeing basil leaves being regularly sold in my city’s farmers’ market. The United States and Egypt are the world’s top cultivators of this wonderful herb.
Basil in Different Countries
Basil appears to have a universal appeal as evidenced by the fact that nearly all regions of the world -- Mediterranean, European, Asian and American -- have adopted this aromatic herb into their respective cuisines.
- The Italians are probably the most ardent lovers of basil, sneaking in the herb in nearly all their dishes.
- The Hindus also adore basil so much so that every home in India keeps a pot of basil.
- The Romans highly value basil to the extent that they have made the herb a symbol of love and fertility.
- The Thais are yet another basil-loving people. Thai cusine makes frequent and liberal use of basil.
Health Benefits of Basil
Basil fans would be delighted to know that this spice also happens to be superior in nutrition.
- Antioxidant. Basil scores high in terms of antioxidant content and thus combats free radical damage which is the primary culprit in degenerative diseases and cancer.
- Antibacterial. The essential oil of basil has shown antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus (common skin bacteria), Enterococcus and Pseudomonas (which attack the colon).
- Protects against radiation. Two prominent flavonoids in basil -- orientin and vicenin -- have been found to protect cells against radiation-induced damage. This is especially needful in our gadget-crazy world.
- Rich in beta-carotene. Basil may be bright green in color but it surprisingly has high amounts of the antioxidant beta-carotene which protects the linings of the blood vessels from free radical damage which causes a host of cardiovascular problems.
- Treats digestive problems. In many cultures, tea made of basil leaves is traditionally used to treat common digestive ailments such as flatulence, indigestion, stomach cramps and constipation.
- Nutritionally dense. Basil is classified as a good source of Vitamins C and K and the minerals iron, magnesium, calcium and potassium. Of course it also has lots of fiber.
- Aromatherapeutic. The essential oil of basil has calming powers and is commonly used in aromatherapy to soothe stress away.
Some basil usage tips:
- Use half a teaspoon of ground basil leaves for every 4 servings of food. You can gradually increase the proportion as you get the hang of its taste.
- You can dry basil leaves in the shade, crush them in a mortar and then keep in a nifty glass bottle.
- Basil goes especially well with tomato-based dishes such as pastas.
- Crumbling basil leaves over baked fish or chicken will impart a lovely flavor and fragrance.