Our ‘Go To’ Herb: Basil
Also, Known As:
- Common Basil
- French Basil
- Garden Basil
- Royal Herb
- St. Josephwort
- Sweet Basil
The plant known as the basil is an annual herb, which is cultivated worldwide as a flavoring herb in many cuisines. The basil comes in many different varieties, each with its own unique chemical composition and characteristic flavor – the main use of the herb is culinary. The flavor and character of any particular variety of basil are affected to a great extent by many external environmental factors, including factors such as temperature, the type of soil, the geographic location, and even the amount of rainfall received by the individual plant. Morphologically the plant possesses thin branching root which grows out into bushy stems that can reach 1-2 feet in height when fully grown, the stem of the plant bears many leaves which have a characteristic purple hue or coloration, and the flowers are peculiar in having two lips. Floral colors can vary from fully white to fully red – at times, a slight purple tinge can be detected in the flowers.
Basil is used to preparing many effective and highly beneficial herbal remedies, steaming basil tea can be used in the treatment of patients with fever, and the person inhales the vapors by having his head covered with a blanket over the bowl containing the herbal tea. The herbal tea made from the basil is also utilized in the internal as well as an external treatment of eye problems, it is used as an eyewash and the cooled basil tea is also drank to treat all types of eye disorders. When making the herbal basil tea, it is best to use fresh basil leaves along with some of the seeds – which must not be ground and must be used whole. It may not always be possible to get fresh leaves of the basil everywhere, in such cases, the tea can be made by using basil seeds along, prepare this tea by using fifteen basil seeds in two pints of water, bring this to a boil. Once the water begins to boil, the lid of the pot must be covered and the heat can be reduced, the water must be kept simmering in this way for about forty-five minutes at a stretch on low flame. Once this time has passed, the pot can be removed from the source of heat and to the water, another one to one and a half handfuls of the fresh – if available – or half-dried basil can be mixed. Let the herb steep in the boiling water for about twenty-five minutes more, the tea is now ready; it can be strained and used when necessary. A daily dose of this tea can be about two cups, and you can drink it or gargle using it as and when necessary to treat a variety of problems. Once the tea has cooled down and turned lukewarm, it can be strained carefully using a mesh and utilized as the eyewash to bathe the eyes during eye infections. Another form of the herbal basil tea can be made, if only the ground form of the basil is available, this herbal tea can be used for the treatment of all the problems mentioned before except for one, it is not considered suitable as a herbal eyewash to treat eye problems. To prepare this form of the herbal basil tea, use about three to three and a half cups of water to bring the herbal ground basil to the boiling point. Once the tea is boiling, carefully remove the pot from the source of the heat and then add about one to one-fourth of a leveled teaspoon containing the ground basil. Following this addition of the ground basil, the pot can then be covered and must be allowed to steep for a further thirty minutes. The prepared herbal tea can then be sweetened using a little pure maple syrup, the dosage of the tea can be on average a cup of the tea taken two times every day during the treatment period.
It is normal for many people to experience a headache, it is, however, not always possible to get a simple remedy for the relief of a headache. Such a simple herbal headache remedy can be easily prepared from the basil. Use a cup of hot water and add a level teaspoon of the dried and ground basil, the herb must be allowed to infuse into the water for ten minutes at a stretch; it can then be strained to remove solids. Once the strained herbal tea has cooled down, two full tablespoons of a herbal tincture made from the witch hazel can be mixed in, and the whole tea can then be kept in the freezer for a period of time. The solution can be used as and when needed, the herbal liquid can be used in the form of a compress which can be applied directly to the forehead and temples of the person, the effectiveness of this remedy is such that it amazes most patients.
Plant Parts Used:
Leaves, flowering tops, essential oil.
Herbal Remedy Use:
As a herbal remedy, the beneficial effects of the sweet basil are used mainly for the treatment of different disorders of the digestive and the nervous systems, the remedy also helps in reducing the incidence of flatulence in affected individuals, it is used in the treatment of all kinds of cramps in the stomach, it is also used for the treatment of colic, and to treat cases of indigestion affecting people. Disorders like nausea and vomiting can also be treated using the herbal remedy made from the sweet basil, the remedies derived from the sweet basil is also used to treat intestinal worms in people affected by such parasites. As a herbal remedy the mildly sedative action of the sweet basil is made use of in a variety of ways, it is very helpful and proven in the effective treatment of long-term nervous irritability in different people, it is also used in the treatment of physical tiredness, it is also used to ward off the symptoms of depression, it is used in the treatment of long term and short term anxiety and the sedative action finds great use to treat insomnia in different individuals. The herbal remedies made from the sweet basil have also been used in the treatment of disorders such as epilepsy; they have been used in the treatment of a migraine, and to treat cases of whooping cough in children. Traditionally, breast-milk production has been sought to be increased by making women consume sweet basil during the nursing period. The sweet basil herb is also used as a topical remedy for external application in the treatment of various skin disorders, in this role the leaves of the basil leaves have been used as a herbal insect repellent in houses and as a cream on the skin. Topical relief from insect bites can also be achieved by applying the sweet basil as an external herbal ointment. The well known bactericidal action of the sweet basil is another useful property much lauded by different herbal practitioners.
Other Medical Use
- Altitude sickness
- Ovulation pain
The basil finds extensive uses in the cuisine of many cultures. In many culinary preparations, the basil is used fresh, in the frozen form, or as the dried basil powder in soups, it is used to flavor all kinds of fish dishes, to flavor omelets, it is used in salads and dressings, it is used as a stuffing, it is used in many kinds of pasta dishes, it is used on pizza, and it is also often mixed with many common vegetables such as the artichoke, it is used a flavoring with broccoli, it is used with carrots and eggplant, it is used alongside cabbage, it is also used with squash, and with vegetables such as the zucchini. As a herbal flavoring and seasoning herb, the basil goes best with tomatoes, with which it is often served as the accompaniment, the basil is also a tasty and essential flavor in the making of tomato paste and to flavor all types of tomato-based sauces. It is also used in the making of pesto, this very delectable Italian sauce has exotic ingredients including the crushed leaves of the basil, accompanied by garlic and olive oil, some Parmesan cheese and pine nuts are also typically added to the mix.
The fresh leaves of the basil can be added to salads as a herbal taste enhancer. The smaller leaves of the basil are typically used whole. The best way to preserve the flavor of large leaves it is better to tear them into pieces than to cut them up. For the best aroma and flavor using fresh basil, the leaves are better added towards the end of the recipe’s cooking time. As a flavor, the fresh leaves of the basil can also be added to ordinary vinegar and virgin olive oil; these fluids can then be used to flavor different recipes.
Fresh floral arrangements can be buttressed by adding sprigs of fragrant basil among the different flowers.
Habitat of Basil:
The plant called basil is known commonly in culinary circles as the sweet basil may have originally been a plant from the Indian sub-continent; it is now grown extensively in many other parts of the world and must have been one of the earliest exports from India. At this time, at least one hundred fifty different varieties of the basil are cultivated around the world, each of these varieties has its own type of essential oil and is characterized by its own distinctive flavor – these are used in different processes and culinary recipes. Harvesting of the plant occurs when the flowers come to bloom, at this time the flowering tops and leaves are plucked and sorted. Soil that is light and slightly acidic is preferred by the basil, and the plant also grows best if the soil is well-drained and nutrient-rich having lots of humus and minerals. The basil can tolerate pH ranges starting from 4.3 all the way to pH 8.4 and grows well between these optimum ranges. The basil when growing must be well watered and exposed directly to the sunlight, it is important to avoid water logging in the soil as the plant may die in such conditions. The normal process involved in the cultivation of the basil is to first plant the seeds in pots indoors, this is usually done approximately six weeks before the last spring frost date. Seeds of the basil are sown to a depth of six mm or about one-fourth of an inch into the soil. Soil containing the seeds is kept moistened at all times seeds germinate and this watering is carried out for a period lasting about eight to fourteen days at a stretch, water logging is a danger and the soil has to be carefully watered till the seedling break out. The seedling comes out and at this time, it is normal to trim the tops of the growing seedlings when they reach about fifteen cm or six inches in height, this trimming is necessary to keep the height of the herb manageable and to encourage the growth and lateral branching in the plant. When the danger of frost is passed, the seedling can be transplanted to the well-watered and well-lit soil out of doors. When transplanting the seedlings, these must be kept spaced apart by 30 to 45 cm or 12 to 18 inches per plant. The basil is not very good at tolerating temperatures below 5°C or 41°F and if the temperatures are too low, the plant may die, for this reason, it is important to keep the plants covered with a plastic row cover or using cloches whenever the temperature drops, especially during the night and early morning. To make the plants to continuously give off new leaves, it is necessary to pinch off the flower stalks from time to time – in this way the plant will always be growing. The basil is also quite vulnerable to some plant disease, such as leaf spot disease particularly if the ambient humidity is high such as, during rains, the same susceptibility can also affect the plants grown in very poorly drained soils. In addition, one must guard against aphids and thrips which can easily infest the plant. Seeds must be sown shallowly and the plant must be cultivated in small and well-drained pots if the cultivation of basil is being done indoors as a winter kitchen plant. These pots must be kept in a well lit and warm location within the kitchen. As soon as the seedling of the basil gives out the second pair of true leaves, you must immediately transfer clumps of three to five plants and place them into ten cm or 4 inch wide pots to enable the plant to grow at an optimal rate. The pots must be kept in a place that is well exposed to full sunlight within the house. For optimal growth, potted basil plants require a minimum of five hours of exposure to direct sunlight every day or twelve hours of artificial light per day. Some varieties of the basil are much more suited for growing on the sunlit windowsills, and for this purpose, the small-sized dwarf varieties of the plant such as the ‘Spicy Globe, the’ ‘Minimum,’ and the ‘Green Bouquet’ are ideal varieties which are used by many people around the world.
The small size and ease of growing conditions make the basil a very good herb plant for growing on the sunny deck or patio using pots and plant containers. For individual use of the family, the basil can be easily grown in sufficient numbers during the summer months, using a large basket, which can have about six to eight plants. To grow these plants, line a medium-sized wooden crate or wicker laundry basket using a large plastic garbage bag which has been cut and spread out, let the excess plastic hang down from the sides, make sure to poke several drainage holes in the bottom layer of the plastic bag before putting soil over it. The crate or pot can now be filled with a soil mixture fully all the way up to an inch – or 2.5 cm – to the rim of the crate or large pot, the plants can now be set into the set loosened soil, for aesthetic appearances, cut off the excess plastic if any that is hung over the rim of the crate or pot. Use a transplant fertilizer to water the plants in the soil, and from then on, the plants must be provided with a fertilizer feeding at least once in about every three weeks in a month. The sowing of the basil seeds can even be started about three weeks earlier than the growing season, and the seeds must be directly sown into the container and watered. The best growth indoors will be obtained from the dwarf basil varieties; these bear sufficient leaves for use in the kitchen from day to day. A good sunlit spot must be chosen for the location of the plants, this place must also be warm and with very bright light, on the other hand, the plants can also be placed under artificial plant lights away from the windows, every third week of the month the plants must be given some fertilizer for optimal growth.
Sweet basil contains volatile oil (about 1%), which consists principally of linalool and methyl chavicol, along with small quantities of methyl cinnamate, cineole, and other terpenes.
- FRESH – The leaves of the basil can be plucked fresh and used as a herbal rub and as a topical treatment for various insect bites and to minimize the inflammation and itching due to insect bites.
INFUSION – Freshly plucked basil leaves can be used to make a combination herbal infusion when mixed along with some motherwort herb and this infusion can be drunk in the period immediately following the birth of a child, this herbal remedy can help in the prevention of placental retention in the mother’s body.
TINCTURE – a herbal tincture can also be prepared from the leaves of the basil, this can be used for the treatment of nervous conditions, the basil leaves can be used in combinations with herbs such as the wood betony and the skullcap to make the tincture, the herb can also be combined with the elecampane and the hyssop herbs for the treatment of coughs and bronchitis in different patients.
WASH – Basil leaf juice can be mixed with honey in equal amounts and this herbal combination formula can be used to gain relief from itchiness in the skin and from the symptoms of ringworm infection.
JUICE – The leaves of the basil can be made into a herbal juice mixture by adding a decoction of flavorful cinnamon and cloves, this juice can be drunk to treat chills affecting a person.
SYRUP – For the treatment of coughs, the juice of the basil can be combined with an equal amount of honey and drank by the affected person.
INHALATION – For the treatment of head colds, inhale the steam coming off the basil leaves which have been soaked in boiling water.
- Essential oil:
- OIL – The basil is also valued for its essential herbal oils, problems such as nervous exhaustion, persistent mental fatigue, cases of melancholy, or physical and emotional uneasiness can be treated by adding five to ten drops of the oil of basil in bathwater.
CHEST RUB – The essential oil of the basil can also be used in the topical treatment of many conditions, by diluting five drops of the herbal basil oil in 10 ml almond or sunflower oil, a topical preparation can be made for rubbing the chest of asthma and bronchitis patients. This rub will greatly ease the symptoms associated with the conditions.
MASSAGE OIL – The essential herbal oils of the basil can also be used in the preparation of massage oils, some diluted basil oil can be used for the topical treatment of patients suffering from nervous weakness, this oil can also be used as a topical application to repel insects, as a form of herbal insect repellent which is environmentally safe and harmless to the body.
Basil leaves can be harvested individually at any given time, throughout the growing season of the plant. Leaves of the basil tend to be the tastiest in the younger plant. Harvesting can be carried out by using scissors or a sharp knife if only a few leaves are to be plucked, this is advisable because clean cuts bring minimal damage to the plant compared to just tearing off the leaf manually. To avoid the death of the plant, a minimum of four sets of the leaves each about 13 cm or 5 inches in length must be left on the plant, though it is possible to harvest all the leaves and the stem in the upper part of the plant. Use a jug of water to stock the cut stems and leaves to ensure freshness before use, the stems can be re-cut before storage, place the jug in a cool place inside the house. Discoloration and decay of the leaves must be avoided by not getting the leaves wet with water – discolored leaves lose all their freshness and flavor. For long-term use, the leaves can be blanched and then kept frozen in ice cubes. The flavor of the basil is best preserved when the leaves of the herb are frozen in ice. Another method of storage is to dry the basil, in this case, leaves can be stripped from the stems and then allowed to dry in a dark but airy indoors, the drying plant must be placed well away from all sources of moisture. An airtight container can be used to store the dried leaves whole once the drying process is complete.
Pasta al Pesto
- 2 cups firmly packed fresh sweet basil leaves
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbs. pine nuts or walnut meats
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Sardo cheese
- Fresh ground black pepper to taste
- Hot buttered spaghetti for 4
Put all ingredients, except the cheese, into the blender. At high speed, blend, pushing basil leaves down from time to time. Add more olive oil if the contents stick. When the sauce has the consistency of whipped butter, add the cheese.
Mix thoroughly into hot, buttered spaghetti. (Freeze leftovers and use later for flavoring soups.)
Makes: 4 portions.