Basil is native to semi-tropical areas of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and South America. Even from ancient times it has been popular throughout the world, including Europe and the United States. It has squared stems, opposing leaves, seeds called nutlets, and spiky flowers. However the plants vary in size and color according to species.
There are more than 60 species of basil recorded. The true number is contested because basil has a tendency to cross-breed giving either new species or false species. Each species has a different taste. Some taste like cinnamon, lemon, mint, and licorice. Many of the properties are similar so it probably just depends on which flavor you like most or which flavor goes along with the food you are serving. The two types most people are familiar with are sweet basil and holy basil.
Basil is an herb that is related to peppermint. It is a bushy annual plant and can be easily recognized by the aroma given off by the leaves. Some say that the name "basil" is derived from basileus, a Greek word meaning royal.
Basil is easily grown under the right conditions. It requires decent soil and warm moist weather. Just make sure all chance of frost is gone. It is also a plant that can be grown indoors.
To harvest basil you can either trim the top leaves and stems or pick leaves randomly. That will prune the plant and allow it to bush out and continue to produce until its season is over.
Basil is best used fresh. You can also dry the leaves and store them and even freeze them until needed. Basil oil is a handy way to use basil. Remember that you should not store basil oil for more than two weeks because of the danger of botulism.
In cooking, basil has many uses. In soups and stews it enhances flavors. It can be used in a marinade for meat and poultry or sprinkled directly on the meat like salt and pepper. The oils are highly volatile so it should be added toward the end of cooking if used this way.
Add it to vegetables for a bit of flavor. Basil goes especially well with tomatoes so you can sprinkle it over tomato slices for a nice side dish. Or use it to make a salad dressing. It is a must for sauces using tomatoes as a base. It is used in curries and stir fries.
There are teas made using the basil of your choice to give yu a soothing break. It is used in making cocktails and I found a recipe for gazpacho that uses basil. It adds to the taste of lemonade. It is one of the ingredients of the French liqueur Chartreuse.
There are breads as well as spreads for breads made with basil. Try adding basil when making an omelet. They even make basil ice cream. As Americans love to do, they also deep fry basil leaves. I am told they are a good crunchy snack.
Basil has practically no calories. But it has a lot of nutrients. It contains iron, vitamin C, carotene, calcium. potassium, and phosphorus. Lesser amounts of vitamin A, manganese, and magnesium are present.
Some people believe that basil was used in the bath of royalty. The sweet smell is thought to aid in relaxation and to help ease depression. Basil is used in soaps, bath oils, and perfumes.
Basil is associated with certain rituals around the world. For instance in Moldavia, it is said that a young man will love any young woman who offers him a sprig of basil. In Crete it symbolizes a love washed with tears. In parts of Italy it is a love token. To ensure a cheery disposition, make a pillow for sleeping that contains equal parts of clove basil, piney rosemary, and spicy marjoram.
Also in Italy a young woman who put basil on her balcony was said to be receptive to her lover. (No wonder it is considered to be an aphrodisiac.) If two lovers each place a leaf of basil in the fire they can foretell how their relationship will be. If both leaves are smoothly consumed by the fire the union will be harmonious. If the leaves spit and sputter, there will be quarreling. If the leaves crackle and fly apart the relationship will not have a happy outcome.
In Egypt and Greece they believed that basil would open the gates of heaven for the dearly departed. In India they place it in the mouth of the dying to ensure that they reach God. Europeans place basil in the hands of the dead to secure a safe journey. In Persia and Malaysia it is planted on graves and women scatter the flowers on the graves of loved ones.
Basil is supposed to bring happiness and prosperity when planted in the garden. It is given as a goodwill wish to new homeowners. A house surrounded by basil is considered to be blessed. A sprig of basil by the cash register will draw customers to your place of business.
Many cultures consider basil to be a symbol for love, purity, and holiness. The Hindi religion thinks so highly of the spiritual powers of basil that they named one species Holy basil. Jewish folklore says that basil helps add strength to the body while fasting. Some people in Africa think that basil protects against scorpions.
Because of the belief that basil was found around the tomb of Jesus Christ after his resurrection many churches use basil when preparing their holy water. Pots of basil are often placed below church altars.
Not everyone believes basil is used for good. Smelling too much basil was thought to breed scorpions in the brain. In ancient Greece basil represented hatred. European legend suggests that it is a symbol for Satan. Many people feel that basil will not grow unless you yell and perhaps even curse it at planting.
Basil is toxic to mosquitoes and because of that it is a good repellant and seems to repel other insects as well. There is some evidence that it has anti-fungal properties, anti-inflammatory properties, and antiseptic properties.
Before we go further I must tell you that all of the following information is what I have found in research. I have seen no medical evidence that any of these claims are true. The only research I found that indicates that basil might be harmful is a German study that says that large amounts of basil might cause cancer. Another study says that a person would have to eat more than is physically possible for that to happen. You can make up your own mind.
As with anything that might affect the way your body operates, speak to your doctor before using anything that is not recommended by your physician. Extra care is needed for children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those who are ill.
Before we get to the good stuff, I need to tell you that there are any number of ways to use basil medicinally. There are oils, teas, decoctions, pastes, capsules, juice, and fresh basil to name only a few. Some uses are evident while others might be more obscure. Do a little research before deciding what to use.
A basil bath is soothing and can help rid you of depression. Applied as a paste it can get rid of acne and help to minimize pores. Basil oil can be used for lubrication during massage to relax and also tone the skin.
Basil helps settle upset stomach. It aids digestion. It combats the nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. It has anti-gas properties. It eases diarrhea and constipation. Cramps from stomach upsets and menstruation respond well to basil.
Basil shows some promise for the treatment of cancer. Chemicals in basil act in the same way as aspirin so it can help with arthritis pain and inflammatory bowel disease.
For diabetics, basil helps control several problems. It increases blood circulation, acts as a diuretic, and helps reduce edema. It stimulates the pancreas to help with the production of insulation. It opens cell receptors so they can take in the insulin to help control blood sugar.
Basil treats colds, bronchial infections, congestion, cough, whooping cough, sore throat, ear infections, fever, immunological disorders, asthma, and other respiratory problems.
Headache, including migraines, eye disorders are soothed by basil.
Arthritis is eased by taking basil.
Acts as a sedative to aid relaxation and sleep and relieves stress and anxiety.
Effective in fighting insect bites,snake bites, and fungal infections like ring worm.
Basil is an anti-oxidant that gets rid of damaged cells that are toxic to the body. Induces perspiration to rid the body of poisons.
It lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Internal organs can operate more efficiently. Strengthens the heart and fights heart disease. It lowers blood pressure.
Used as a toothpaste and mouthwash it keeps your mouth healthy and can cure some gum diseases and infections.
Eases kidney ailments
Basil is used to make salves, liniments, and ointments.
It increases the production of breast milk but it could also make the milk unsuitable for the baby.
Eases "female" complaints.
If you use basil for any of the above I would love to hear about the results. It is my favorite herb for cooking but I have yet to try it for a medicine. It is a tasty herb and we need to see if it is worthwhile for curing our ills.