Today is a day for exploring herbs. They are defined as plants used for culinary, medicinal, cosmetic or ornamental purposes. Though I prefer this definition: “Herbs are defined as plants whose parts are used to enhance our lives.” 🙂
Generally most herbs have antioxidant properties and the green parts supply chlorophyll (which enhances the body’s ability to produce hemoglobin and therefore increases the delivery of oxygen to cells). A caution to be aware of – medicinal doses of herbs are to be avoided during pregnancy unless following the advice of an expert.
The herb I chose is one of my favorites, maybe also because it is widely used in the region where I come from (a part of Slovenia on the border with Italy). It’s:
- Oscimum basilicum
- Round leaves green in color, some varieties (there are more than 60!) feature hints of red or purple. Sweet basil is most commonly used in the West, other varieties include lemon basil, anise basil, holly basil and cinnamon basil;
- Buying & Storing: whenever possible choose fresh basil – the leaves should look vibrant and deep green, without dark spots or yellowing. It is also a good idea to smell it. Store fresh basil in the fridge wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. Store dried basil in a tightly sealed container in a dry place;
- A good source of:
- Flavonoids: particularly orientin and viceninare, two water-soluble flavonoids, that have been shown to protect cell structures as well as chromosomes from radiation and oxygen-based damage;
- Volatile oils: which contain estragole, linalool, cineole,eugenol, sabinene, myrcene, and limonene are proven to be effective in restricting growth of numerous bacteria. Furthermore eugenol (a substance that can block the activity of the body enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX); aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen, work by inhibiting this same enzyme) in basil has been the subject of extensive study – it qualifies basil as anti-inflammatory food that can provide important healing benefits and relief with inflammatory health problems like rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel conditions;
- VITAMINS: excellent source of vitamin K (2 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil provide 60% of daily value), vitamin A, vitamin C;
- MINERALS: iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, potassium;
- Actions: antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, relieves indigestion, nervous tension, stress and tension headaches;
- In Ayurveda: recommended for Vata and Kapha types, but it aggravates Pitta, used in herb teas Pitta can enjoy it occasionally;
- Culinary uses: used fresh or dried in cooking, baking and raw dishes. Best to be added near the end of the cooking process, so it will retain its maximum essence and flavor;
- Interesting: Holy basil (tulsi), originally from India, is considered a sacred plant by the Hindus and is often planted around Hindu shrines. Its name means “the incomparable one” and is used for treating cold, flu, diabetes, asthma, bronchitis, earache, headache, upset stomach, heart disease, fever, viral hepatitis, malaria, and tuberculosis. Also used for mercury poisoning, to promote longevity, as a mosquito repellent, and to counteract snake and scorpion bites.
Recipe: FRESH VEGAN PESTO:
3 cups fresh basil leaves (packed)
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts (optionally toasted)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
nutritional yeast (optional)
Optional – roast the pine nuts in a small pot until they start emitting a nice nutty smell, take off the stove and let it cool. Put the garlic in the food processor and mince well. Add basil, pine nuts, lemon juice and combine well, then add the oil and blend to get a smooth paste (you can add more oil to get a desired consistency). Spice with salt and pepper, optionally add nutritional yeast. Enjoy with pasta, pizza, veggies, sandwiches, yum yum! 🙂
Who knew basil was such a wonder plant!
p.s.: The words in blue contain a link to the Glossary, where you can check the meaning of some terms used in the post.
– The Vegetarian Cook’s Bible: Pat Crocker,
– The Ayurvedic Cookbook: Amedea Morningstar with Urmila Desai,