There are several varieties of basil, all of which impart beautiful flavors. Sweet basil is known for its use in Italian cuisine, while lemon basil, Thai basil and holy basil are widely used in the cuisines of many Asian countries. The word basil comes from the Greek basileus, meaning king. Basil is a member of the mint family (lamiaceae) which is characterized by a square stem, and opposite leaves. Basil, like all members of the mint family, has a rich and delicious aroma, and a peppery and sweet flavor profile that clearly defines summer. Most people can appreciate a savory batch of fresh pesto on a hot August evening. But, did you know that while you’re enjoying that favorite summer meal, you’re also benefiting from the many health benefits of basil?
Basil is an anti-inflammatory. It has the ability to relieve pain, particularly pain in the digestive system. It also contains lots of vitamin A and beta-carotene which are strong anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants protect our cells from free radicals and can lessen the progression of conditions such as asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
Another one of the health benefits of basil is that it is good for cardiovascular health because of its high magnesium content. It promotes the relaxation of the muscles around the heart, improving blood flow and lessening the risk of spasms. Basil is also antibacterial. It contains essential oils, which have been shown to inhibit several species of bacteria that have become resistant to commonly used antibiotics.
Even the smell of basil is healing; it has a calming effect, which is very good for the nervous system, can improve our mood, and helps to sharpen the senses.
Most of these health qualities are strongest when basil is eaten raw. Most recipes will direct you to add the basil at the very end of cooking, or to not cook it at all.
Plus George Zikos’ recipe for the best vegan pesto ever!
The World’s Healthiest Foods www.whfoods.org
Photos: Basil growing at Mountain View Farm in Easthampton, MA, and Basket of Basil
Photos by Christine Kenneally