Basil

Image The basil family consists of approximately 150 species from Asia, Africa, and South America. Basil, Ocimum basilicum, is a member of the mint family with an aroma like mint and tea. Both leaves and stems are used fresh and dry. Varieties of basil range in color from richly ruffled purple to pale mossy green. Each one has a distinctive taste, with its name revealing the underlying tones: Lemon Basil, Cinnamon Basil, Persian Anise Basil. Even their tiny flowers, which appear in swirls on slender spikes that extend high above the plants, are edible. Depending on the type, the flowers are either bright white, pale pink or delicate lavender. Basil The flavor of the flower is milder, but similar to the leaves of the same plant. Sprinkle them over salad or pasta for a concentrated flavor and a spark of color that gives any dish a fresh, festive look.

The name “basil” is thought to be derived from the Greek word basilikon, meaning “royal” or “king.” It is often referred to as the “king of the herbs.” Basil’s derivation may also have come from the Latin word basiliscus, which referred to the basilisk, a mythical fire-breathing dragon. According to Roman legend, basil is an antidote to the venom of the basilisk. Ocimum (the botanical name for basil) is derived from a Greek word meaning “to be fragrant.” However, many Greeks disliked basil and believed that scorpions bred under basil pots. Basil has been used in Asian cuisine for thousands of years. In India, Hindus believed that a leaf of basil buried with them would serve as their passport to heaven. Basil It was also considered sacred to the gods Krishna and Vishnu in India. In the early 1600s the English used basil in their food and in doorways to ward off uninvited pests, such as flies, as well as evil spirits. Basil also was worn by young Englishmen to signal serious intentions when courting a woman. In Romania when a lad accepted a sprig of basil from a maiden, he was officially engaged. In the 1800s, Europeans and Americans used it as a mild sedative by adding leaves to bath water, teas, and massage oils. Basil is still used for home remedies. In southern Europe, pots of the herb are placed outside to repel flies. It also is used in a variety of home remedies to control headaches and relieve stomach discomfort. Basil is used by herbalists as an antimalarial, as a tranquilizer, to help control sore throat, respiratory problems, constipation, stress, and cold and cough.

Storing and Cooking

Fresh basil should be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. It may also be frozen, either whole or chopped, in airtight containers. Alternatively, you can freeze the basil in ice cube trays covered with either water or stock that can be added when preparing soups or stews. Dried basil should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for about six months.

Since the oils in basil are highly volatile, it is best to add the herb near the end of the cooking process, so it will retain its maximum essence and flavor.

Quick Serving Ideas:

  • Combine fresh chopped basil with garlic and olive oil to make a dairy-free variety of pesto that can top a variety of dishes including pasta, salmon and whole wheat brushetta.
  • Enjoy a taste of Italy by layering fresh basil leaves over tomato slices and mozzarella cheese to create this traditional colorful and delicious salad.
  • Adding basil to healthy stir-fries, especially those that include eggplant, cabbage, chili peppers, tofu and cashew nuts will give them a Thai flair.
  • Purée basil, olive oil and onions in a food processor or blender and add to tomato soups.
  • Enjoy a warm cup of invigorating basil tea by infusing chopped basil leaves in boiling water for eight minutes.

  • Basil Recipes

    Basil, Fennel and Roasted Red Pepper Pesto

    Pesto (Debbie's Dairy-Free Version)

    Insalata Caprese

    Basic Thai Ingredients

Did you know?

Since 1945, crop losses due to insects have nearly doubled, but insecticide use has increased tenfold.

Quotes

"Let us never forget that the cultivation of the earth is the most important labor of man. Man may be civilized in some degree without great progress in manufactures and with little commerce with his distant neighbors. But without the cultivation of the earth, he is, in all countries, a savage. Until he gives up the chase and fixes himself in some place, and seeks a living from the earth, he is a roaming barbarian. When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of civilization."
~Daniel Webster

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