This is an old world, tender, low growing, aromatic culinary herb in the mint family, cultivated for its leaves. Basil is prominently featured in Italian cuisine, and also plays a major role in the Southeast Asian cuisines of Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
Basil has a strong, pungent, sweet and somewhat menthol aroma.
Fresh basil has an initial subtle peppery flavour. The taste then evolves into a slightly sweet anise flavor. There are many varieties of basil, each with their own distinct flavour, that are used in cooking and for medicinal purposes. Basil is native to India and Persia but is also commercially cultivated in the Mediterranean.The most popular type of basil that is used in cooking is sweet basil but some people like to cook with lemon basil, clove basil or cinnamon basil.The name of the herb “basil” comes from the Greek word meaning “king” or “royal”, reflecting that this herb was regarded extremely highly. In Italy, basil was symbolic for love and was sometimes used as an aphrodisiac.
Basil is nutritious
Basil can be consumed in larger quantities than some of the stronger flavoured herbs and therefore may be of a higher nutritional value. Basil is an excellent source of iron, calcium, potassium and Vitamin C, all of which are hugely beneficial to one’s health. It also contains smaller amounts of Vitamin A, magnesium and manganese.
Health benefits of basil
Basil is a good source of antioxidants and contains more antioxidants per serve than most vegetables and many fruit so adding just a little Basil to your meals can also give your diet an antioxidant boost.
Basil is recognised for its soothing and sedative properties and is useful to calm the nervous system and aid digestion. As well as this, basil is said to:
- Treat respiratory and chest problems such as bronchitis or coughs.
- Relieve cold and flu symptoms.
- Inhibit the growth of certain bacteria.
- Protects cells from oxidation and damage.
- Act as an anti-inflammatory and relieve rheumatic and arthritic conditions.
- Prevent the progression of the above illnesses.
- Improve blood flow through the body by relaxing the muscles and blood vessels.
- Prevent heart disease and failure.
- Act as a digestive.
- Ease stomach cramps and pains.
- Treat nervousness, anxiety, depression, exhaustion and tiredness.
- Relieve migraines.
- Increase the production of breast milk.
- Repel insects.
- Treat insect bites.
- Cure insomnia.
Buying and storing basil
Basil can be bought from your local supermarket, fresh or dried. Fresh basil sold already cut, will keep for a few days if refrigerated and wrapped in a damp paper towel. Fresh basil is much more aromatic and flavoursome than dried basil and gives a completely different taste to your dishes. Always try to use fresh basil when possible, although you may have to plan your meals and buy the herb fresh accordingly.
Ideas for cooking with basil
To preserve the delicate flavours, it is best to add basil at the very end of the cooking process or stir through fresh dressings and soups. Sweet Basil is an essential ingredient in Italian and Mediterranean cooking. Sweet basil pairs beautifully with olive oil, oregano, thyme, garlic, onions, tomatoes, chilli, chicken, pasta, eggs, zucchini, capsicum, bell peppers, pizza and green leaf salads
Basil goes well with any type of tomato dish, whether it is hot or cold.
- Sprinkle fresh basil over the top of your pizza.
- Add to tomato-based pasta sauces just before serving.
- Add to soups.
- Sprinkle torn basil over a tomato and mozzarella salad.
- Add to stir-fried vegetables.
- Use in a marinade with garlic and olive oil.
- Add fresh leaves of basil to your salad.
Fresh herbs in the garden can be dried, frozen (most) or enjoyed immediately in recipes such as herb breads, herb butters, and pestos. You can also preserve the fresh flavours of summer herbs in oils and vinegars, which can then be added to salads, sauces, or used to flavour most cooked dishes, adding a lovely depth of flavour.