Basil

Allison McGraw

Origin

The basil spice comes from the basil plant. According to the Herb Society of America Guide, Basil belongs to the "genus Ocimum and is a member of the mint family". Although it belongs to the mint family, basil does not taste minty. The genus, Ocimum, includes may species of annuals, shrubs, and non-woody perennials that are native to Africa.


The most common form of basil is, sweet basil. Sweet basil is used in many culinary dishes. However, there are many forms of basil that can be sweet, fragrant, and vary in color (shades of green and purple). Dealing with the fragrant side of basil, this is do to high amounts of essential oils found in the leaves and various parts of the plant. These chemicals, methyl chavicol, eugenol and linalool, affect basil in various ways. Linalool produces a floral scent, chavicol adds a sweet flavor similar to anise, and eugenol is also found in cloves.

Cultural Background

The exact origin of basil is not known. It is estimated that it originated in Asia or Africa. Ancient records form the Hun Dynasty in China, 907 A.D., indicated that basil was prevalent in this region. It was brought to ancient Greece by Alexander the Great and from there traveled from India to England in the 1500's finally making its way to the America in the 1600's.

Uses in Various Cultures

The Ancient Egyptians used basil during the embalming process. In Greece, basil is associated with St.Basil whose feast day is January 1. During this time, basil is blessed at the church in honor of St. Basil. In India, basil is a symbol of love and is associated with the pagan love goddess, Erzuli. To many Americans, basil is a seen as an Italian spice. Although it is popular in Italy, known as the "love spice", it is did not originate there. In Italy, basil is called “bacia-nicola", which mean Kiss me Nicholas and is said to attract husbands to wives. (HerbSociety.org)

Uses Today in Our Culture

Along with being a spice used in many dishes such as spaghetti, basil is used in a variety of ways. It is helpful when trying to "sooth indigestion and alleviate feeling of fullness". By chewing fresh basil leaves, basil can calm coughing. Using dried basil in tea can sooth many illnesses such as the common cold. You can create a facial steam with dried basil leaves to alleviate the symptoms of a headache. By chewing fresh basil leaves and using it to put on bug bites will relieve the itching. By adding two tea cups of strong basil leaves to a warm bath can help reduce stress. an important use of basil is the fact that the use of basil oil can be used as a treatment for antibiotic resistant infections. (WellnessMama.com)

Allergy Information

Research has not told that there are allergies to basil but rather to ingredients that is used with such as milk and butter. (Pesto Sauce)

What is it made from?

Basil comes from the basil plant. The part of the basil plant that is traditionally used is the leaf.

How does it change the flavor of foods?

Basil is a very strong spice and is generally added at the end of cooking. It changes the flavor by adding a strong peppery taste. It is best paired with tomatoes, garlic, onions, and olives.

Common Recipes that basil is Used In

Sicilian Pesto Pasta
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Recipe


Ingredients:

1/4 cup pine nuts

3 garlic cloves

4 cups loosely packed basil leaves (about 2 ounces)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2 cups chopped seeded tomato, drained (about 2 large)



Preparation:

1. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add nuts to pan; cook 4 minutes or until lightly toasted, stirring constantly. Remove from pan.

2. Combine nuts and garlic in a food processor; process until minced. Add basil, oil, salt, and peppers; process until blended, scraping sides occasionally. Add cheese; process until smooth. Spoon into a bowl; fold in tomato.

3. (Optional) Add pasta and grilled shrimp

Health Benefits

  • High levels of Vitamin K
  • inhibit strains of bacteria that are antibiotic resistant
  • Good source of Vitamin A-cardiovascular help
  • Magnesium-improve blood flow

Interesting facts about Basil

  • Basil is sacred in Hinduism
  • basil plants can grow small flowers on the tops of the plants that can be pink, white, or mauve
  • There are many strains of basil and each strain has a different aroma