Sweet Basil

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genovese basil seedling
genovese basil seedling

Botanical: Ocimum basilicum

Family: N.O. Labiatae

Parts Used: Leaves

Garden companion: tomato

Basil, a common culinary herb, has its origins in Africa and Asia, where it is believed to contain divine essence. It loves a warm, sunny, and fertile soil. To look at it, you would think it needs a lot of water, but honestly it prefers to grow on the dry side. Never water at night, when the leaves could stay damp too long. Starting basil from seed (a very easy way to propagate basil) it is vulnerable to “damping off“. If that happens, brew a cup of chamomile tea, strain, put in a mister bottle, and water the seedlings by misting the seedlings with the tea instead of regular water.

Basil is happiest cozied up with protection from high winds but it can take the sun full on, but forget frost, basil can’t stand the cold. Basil is a tender annual. While, like most herbs it better used fresh from the garden, it maintains good color and value when dried. Dry the leaves whole (on the stem if you can) and only crush it when you need to use it. Freezing is good too, but the leaves will maintain better with a painting of olive oil. If you use it for pesto (along with parsley, yum!) that freezes well too.

The volatile oils of dried basil are weak, so fresh basil is usually better in both our cooking and when using for wellness.

Basil can be harvested at any time by snipping the fresh young leaves as they are needed. If whole stems are harvested, cut just above a pair of leaves. New growth will be encouraged at the cut point and should be seen within a week’s time. if basil is allowed to flower and form seed, it will become woody and yields will be considerably less. Nutritive quality will also be affected.Some of the flowers however, do have ornamental value, especially the purple-leafed varieties, which have pink blooms, so if your plants flower, cut some stems for a mixed bouquet.

Uses of Basil

Culinary

Sweet Genovese basil often shows up in Italian cooking and pesto. Lemon basil is widely used in Southeast Asia. Called kemangi, it is a common ingredient in sambals, Indonesian chili-based condiments.

Since basil is a culinary delight, you can use in many recipes, with wonderful results. Try in sweet breads, on salads, in vinegars, marinades, marinara sauce, jellies. Its flavor compliments garlic nicely. If you
make Pesto with it, you can use that to make savory muffins, or put some in soups and stews.

The leaves can be stored in oil to make a flavorful infused oil (add salt to reduce bacteria) or use it an herbal vinegar.

Cosmetic

Make a tea, strain, and add to the bath for a refreshing experience.

In remote parts of the African brush, basil tea is used as an after shampoo hair rinse to help control dandruff and scalp psoriasis. Though this is not an officially documented remedy, at the very least, basil teas rinse does leave the hair silky and the scalp feeling fresh. (I know, I tried it, it is lovely.)

Basil is a common ingredient in so many remedies for so many ailments. It only makes sense that one of its many uses is also to ward off mosquitoes. The mosquitoes avoid the scent, so rub on some fresh leaves, or use a basil oil.

Using Basil for Wellness

dried basil seeds
basil seeds

The main use of basil to support health is as a natural anti-inflammatory. It is similar to the compounds found in oregano and medical marijuana – and may be used as a substitute for the later because it offers the same relief without the “high”. The same compound that makes it useful as an anti-inflammatory is also believed to help combat bowel inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis.

Naturopathic doctors often prescribe basil for treating diabetes, respiratory disorders, allergies, impotence, and infertility. This may be because basil contains cinnamanic acid, which has been found to enhance circulation, stabilize blood sugar, and improve breathing for those with respiratory disorders.

It is good to know that something so tasty is very high in antioxidants, especially when it is used as an extract or oil. Antioxidants protect your body against free radical damage associated with aging, some skin ailments, and most forms of cancer. Antioxidants have become an important part of keeping our bodies healthy, and basil may be among the safest and most effective source of this medley of elements.

The infusion is an excellent, if often overlooked digestive aid. The essential oil is an uplifting and energizing antidepressant. The volatile oils in basil, combined with its antioxidant effects make it an excellent boost for the immune system. When inhaled, it is said to improve the circulation and help alleviate high blood pressure.

Ocimum basilicum L has been traditionally used for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease in Iran. It is being studied in relation to colitis, helping to reduce tissue damage.3

How to use Basil

  • Is known to sharpen memory, use as a nerve tonic, and remove phlegm from your bronchial tubes. Repeat up to once an hour. Leaves can strengthen the stomach and induce perfuse sweating. The seeds can be used to rid the body of excess mucus.
  • Fevers: Basil leaves are used for quenching fevers, especially those related to malaria and other infectious, eruptive fevers common to tropical areas. Boiling leaves with some cardamom in about two quarts of water, then mixed with sugar and milk, brings down temperature. An extract of basil leaves in fresh water should be given every 2 to 3 hours; between doses you can give sips of cold water. This method is especially effective for reducing fevers in children.
  • Coughs: Basil is an important ingredient in cough syrups and expectorants. It can also relieve mucus in asthma and bronchitis. Chewing on basil leaves can relieve colds and flu symptoms.
  • Sore Throat: Water boiled with basil leaves can be taken as a tonic or used as a gargle when you have a sore throat.
  • Respiratory Disorders: Boiling basil leaves with honey and ginger is useful for treating asthma,bronchitis, cough, cold, and influenza. Boiling the leaves, cloves, and sea salt in some water will give rapid relief of influenza. These combinations should be boiled in about two quarts of water until only half the water remains before they are taken.
  • Kidney Stones: Basil can be used to strengthen your kidneys. In cases of stones in your kidney, the juice of basil leaves mixed with honey and taken daily for 6 months will expel them through the urinary tract.
  • Heart Problems: Basil can be used to strengthen those weakened by heart disease. It can also reduce your cholesterol.
  • Children’s Illnesses: Pediatric complaints like colds, coughs, fever, diarrhea, and vomiting have been know to respond to treatment with the juice of basil leaves. Also if the rash associated with chicken pox is delayed, basil leaves with saffron will bring them to the surface more quickly.
  • Stress: Basil leaves can be used as an anti-stress agent. Chewing 12 basil leaves twice a day can prevent stress. It will purify the blood and help prevent many other common ailments.2
  • Mouth Infections: Chewing a few leaves twice daily can support relief from infections and ulcerations of the mouth.
  • Insect Bites: Basil can be used preventatively and as a curative. A teaspoonful of the basil leaf juice taken every few hours is preventative. Rubbing the bites with juice can relieve the itching and swelling. Also a paste of the root is effective for treating the bites of insects and leeches.
  • Skin Disorders: Basil juice applied directly to the effected area is good for ringworm and other common skin ailments. Some naturopaths have used it successfully in the treatment of leucoderma (patches of white or light-colored skin).
  • Tooth Problems: Dry basil leaves in the sun and grind into powder for a tooth cleansing powder. You can also mix with mustard oil to make herbal toothpaste. Both of these methods will counter bad breath and can be used to massage the gums, treat pyorrhea, and other dental health problems.
  • Headaches: Basil is a good headache remedy. Boil leaves in half a quart of water, cooking until half the liquid remains. Take a couple of teaspoons an hour with water to relieve your pain and swelling. You can also make a paste of basil leaves pounded with sandalwood to apply to your forehead to relieve headache and provide coolness in general.
  • Eye Disorders: Basil juice is a good for night-blindness and sore eyes. Two drops of black basil juice in each eye at bedtimes each day is soothing.

“With Basil then I will begin
Whose scent is wondrous pleasing”
– Polyolbion by Michael Drayton

Works Cited:

  • http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/m1219.html
  • Essential Oil of Ocimum basilicum L. and (-)-Linalool Blocks the Excitability of Rat Sciatic Nerve, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4944029/
  • Protective Effect of Ocimum basilicum Essential Oil Against Acetic Acid–Induced Colitis, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2156587215616550