BASIL, Ocimum basilicum
Basil, or sweet basil as most people know it, has been cultivated for about 4,000 years. History says that basil is native to India. Through trade and commerce it spread throughout Asia, then to Egypt. Around 340 BC Alexander the Great brought it to Greece, then to Rome. In time, I reached west along the Mediterranean and on into southern Europe. They say by the 1600s it had reached England and France.
Some basil plants were bought from England to the American colonies in the late 1600s. They soon became part of the pilgrims’ medical herb garden. Basil was used for nervous disorders and epilepsy. It was also used by mothers to increase their milk and calm their babies, cure thrush, and relieve gas and colic.
Although basil is a cultivated plant, it has escaped and become wild in many parts of the tropical and subtropical world.
Basil is listed as an annual plant propagated from the seeds it grows from year to year. However, in many tropical and subtropical regions it is a perennial. We had a couple of big, beautiful basil plants when we lived in Leeds, Utah, that survived three or four winters. The leaves are soft and green and very aromatic.
The plan is bushy with stalks that grow to height of about two feet. The plan is the member of the mint family. It has square stems. The leaves are a deep green and sometimes have a purplish hue, depending on the soil. They are ovate and slightly toothed and come out of opposite side of the stalk in pairs. The flowers are two lipped, varying in color from white to deep pink or purple and bloom from June until September. The flowers grow in racemes from the top of the stalk in whorls of six, just above the leaf axil.
In ancient times, basil had different meanings. In Italy, it meant love. In Greece, it meant hate. You had to swear at it. To Jews, it meant strength through fasting. In India, basil was the sacred herb to a god. The French called it “king of herbs’.
There are many different species of basil. Each has its own personality. Together these basils are of the most popular culinary herbs that there are. Many cooks and homemakers would find it difficult to do without basil. It is used to enhance many different kinds of dishes, especially tomatoes. Besides being used on tomatoes and in tomato sauce, basil has gained a new popularity in pesto – a sauce used over pasta.
Basil is also used to flavor vegetables like zucchini, summer squash, parsnips, eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, spinach and carrots. Basil seems to add a special flavor to soups and stews. Basil is used on poultry, fish and lamb. It is also good to use when you cook beans, rice, eggs and cheese. A few fresh leaves in the pot bring out much additional flavor. The best way to use basil is from the fresh plant. Many homemakers grow a plant of basil in a flower pot on a window sill. It makes the home smell better, it looks nice and it is always handy when you are cooking. You should plan some.
Basil is also a medical herb. It is an appetizer to stimulate the flow of gastric juices. It is an antispasmodic and a nervine. It helps to calm the nerves, soothe the feelings and even settle vertigo or dizziness. It also helps children and adults get to sleep. It has been used to overcome candida albicans, help skin infection and acne and even kill parasites. It is highly recommended for digestive complaints. A cup of basil tea after dinner will aid digestion, help get rid of stomach gas and intestinal cramps and even soothe a headache.
Just for fun, make some basil vinegar and basil olive oil.