Basil, Ocinum Basilicum, is an aromatic plant that belongs to the Lamiaceae family that includes also lavender, oregano and mint. Basil is easily grown in pots and makes a fine show in gardens, vegetable gardens and balconies. The scent of basil calms and drives away insects but also its leaves, if added to dishes, are really interesting thanks to their properties for health. So let's try to understand the properties of basil and how to use it in the kitchen.
Basil provides carotenes, such as lutein and beta-carotene, mineral salts, such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, manganese and selenium, and vitamins, such as vitamin B, folate, vitamin A and K (FDA Database). Basil is carminative, helps fight abdominal pain and helps keep blood sugar and fat under control (Sarahroodi et al, Anc Sci Life, 2012). This aromatic plant is also anti-inflammatory and is appreciated for its antioxidant properties thanks to the substances it contains, such as polyphenols and flavonoids (Sestili et al, Expert Opin Drug Metab Toxicol, 2018). It is precisely these antioxidant properties that make basil an anticancer seedling and capable of strengthening memory (Sarahroodi et al, Anc Sci Life, 2012). Not only that, basil leaves contain essential oils that exhibit antimicrobial, antifungal but also insect repellent properties (Joshi et al, Anc Sci Life, 2014). That's why surrounding yourself with basil plants can also help against mosquitoes! Finally, basil is anti-thrombotic and also has antiviral properties, especially against the herpes virus, adenovirus and hepatitis B (Chiang et al, Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol, 2005).
Basil, harvest and warnings
Basil is a simple plant to grow but you need to pay attention to one fact. The leaves should only be harvested from adult plants higher than 10 cm because otherwise they contain a toxic substance, methileugenol. Methyleugenol is mainly present in young plants to protect them from external attacks, this substance is reduced in older plants. In any case, a scientific study was performed and it observed that the amount of methyleugenol that is consumed through food is several orders of magnitude less than the dose that could cause health problems (Robison et al, Environ Health Perspect., 2006 ).
Basil in the kitchen
A good choice is to add basil to dishes after cooking so as not to alter its properties. Basil can be eaten fresh, added for example at the end of cooking to pasta sauce or in salads, on pizza, on fish or it can be used to make delicious sauces. In the Healthy Food section you can find the recipe for pesto alla Genovese or pasta with herbs, health is served!
Basil can also be used to make infusions to help in case of digestive problems, when you have eaten too much or to counteract stomach pain and trapped wind. Leave a dozen fresh basil leaves to infuse for 5 minutes, or one tablespoon of dried leaves, in a cup of boiling water, filter and drink.
Basil, essential oil
The essential oil of basil is anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and soothing, therefore useful for irritated and itchy skin (Li et al, J Food Sci, Technol, 2017). This essential oil calms and soothes, counteracts insomnia and mental exhaustion. Therefore, you can pour a couple of drops on a handkerchief and breathe during the day (Ali et al, Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine, 2015). According to tradition, the essential oil of basil can also be useful in treating headaches and coughs (Joshi et al, Anc Sci Life, 2014).