Recent research suggests that basil can help fight bacteria, viruses, and chronic diseases.
Basil, an aromatic herb belonging to the mint family, is perhaps best known as the key ingredient in pesto – that savory Italian sauce made from olive oil, garlic, crushed pine nuts [or walnuts] and loads of fresh basil leaves.
The type of basil used in Mediterranean cooking – Italian large-leaf – pairs well with tomato dishes. Other common varieties like sweet, lemon, Thai and holy basil are used judiciously in Thai, Vietnamese and Indian cuisine.
There are more than 40 cultivars of this pungent plant, each with its own characteristic color and aroma. Depending on the variety, basil can be green, white or purple with a scent reminiscent of lemon, cloves, cinnamon, anise, camphor or thyme.
But it is basil’s medicinal properties, rather than its culinary value, that extend the herb’s uses far beyond the humble pesto. Like other aromatic plants, basil contains essential oils and phytochemicals in the leaves, stem, flowers, roots and seeds that have biological activity in the body.
Throughout history, ancient cultures have used herbal remedies to prevent and treat illness and disease. Basil is just one example of the wide range of medicinal flora historically used in plant-based tinctures, compresses, syrups and ointments.
For instance, holy basil, or tulsi in Hindi, has been used as a treatment for gastric, hepatic, respiratory and inflammatory disorders as well as a remedy for headache, fever, anxiety, convulsions, nausea and hypertension.
In addition to its culinary uses, basil is also used in perfumes, soaps, shampoos and dental preparations. It is recommended in herbals for the relief of dysentery, gas pains, nausea, and as a cure for worms and warts.
Recipe – Basil Pesto
One package of fresh basil (4 oz.), always available at Trader Joe’s or any Asian market
2 handfuls walnuts
2 small garlic cloves
Juice of one lemon
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
¾ cup olive oil
Blend all ingredients in blender; add more olive oil if more liquid consistency is desired. Serve on pasta. The pesto will last in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. It can also be used as spread on sandwiches or added to salads, or anywhere instead of mayonnaise.