The round, often pointed leaves of the basil plant resemble the peppermint plant, to which it's related.
It's highly fragrant leaves are used as a seasoning herb for a variety of foods, but has become ever popular as the main ingredient in pesto, the mixture of basil, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.
Research studies on basil have shown unique health-protecting effects in two basic areas: basil's flavonoids and volatile oils.
DNA Protection Plus Anti-Bacterial Properties
The unique array of active constituents called flavonoids found in basil-spice provide protection at the cellular level.
Orientin and vicenin are two water-soluble flavonoids that have been of particular interest in basil, and in studies on human white blood cells; these components of basil protect cell structures as well as chromosomes from radiation and oxygen-based damage.
In addition, basil=spice has been shown to provide protection against unwanted bacterial growth.
Nutrients Essential for Cardiovascular Health
Want to enrich the taste and cardiovascular health benefits of your pasta sauce?
Add a good helping of basil-spice.
Basil-spice is a very good source of vitamin-A (through its concentration of carotenoids such as beta-carotene).
Called "pro-vitamin-A," since it can be converted into vitamin-A, beta-carotene is a more powerful anti-oxidant than vitamin-A and not only protects epithelial cells (the cells that form the lining of numerous body structures including the blood vessels) from free radical damage, but also helps prevent free radicals from oxidizing cholesterol in the blood stream.
Free radical damage is a contributing factor in many other conditions as well, including asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
The beta-carotene found in basil-spice may help to lessen the progression of these conditions while protecting cells from further damage.
Basil-spice is also a good source of magnesium, which promotes cardiovascular health by prompting muscles and blood vessels to relax, thus improving blood flow and lessening the risk of irregular heart rhythms or a spasm of the heart muscle or a blood vessel.
In addition to the health benefits and nutrients described above, basil also emerged from our food ranking system as a very good source of iron, and calcium, and a good source of potassium and vitamin-C.
Basil is a highly fragrant plant whose leaves are used as a seasoning herb for many different types of foods.
Basil has round leaves that are oftentimes pointed.
They're green in color, although some varieties feature hints of red or purple.
There are more than 60 varieties of basil-spice, all of which differ somewhat in appearance and taste.
While the taste of sweet basil-spice is bright and pungent, other varieties also offer unique tastes: lemon basil, anise basil and cinnamon basil all have flavors that subtly reflect their name.
Basil-spice now grows in many regions throughout the world, but it was first native to India, Asia and Africa.
It's prominently featured in varied cuisines throughout the world including Italian, Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian.
How to Choose and Store
Whenever possible, choose fresh basil over the dried form of the herb since it is superior in flavor.
The leaves of fresh basil should look vibrant and be deep green in color.
They should be free from dark spots or yellowing.
Even through dried herbs and spices like basil-spice are widely available in supermarkets, you may want to explore the local spice stores in your area.
Oftentimes, these stores feature an expansive selection of dried herbs and spices that are of superior quality and freshness compared to those offered in regular markets.
Just like with other dried herbs, when purchasing dried basil, try to select organically grown basil since this will give you more assurance that it has not been irradiated.
(among other potential adverse effects, irradiating basil may lead to a significant decrease in its vitamin-C and carotenoid content.)
Basil is easy to grow, but keeping that fresh, spicy, sweet flavor intact is not so easy unless you know a few vital tips and shortcuts.
Frequent harvesting is key to luscious, flavorful leaves.
Start by pinching the stemless and succulent cluster of new leaves at the top of a shoot above the leaf nodes (the joint in the stem where leaves grow) when plants reach 6 to 8 inches tall.
At 12 to 18 inches tall, cut the plant back by two-thirds every three to four weeks.
This will result in a multi-stemmed, bushy plant full of harvestable leaves.
When storing, forego the refrigerator as the cold can cause leaves to blacken.
Instead, keep basil fresh like you would cut flowers—in a glass of water on the kitchen counter.
Change the water in your bouquet daily and you can keep the fresh flavor going for up to 10 days.
Blessed with a bounty of basil from your garden?
Freeze the excess in ice cube trays.
Finely chop leaves (or puree in a blender) and mix with water, broth or olive oil.
Then fill ice cube trays with the paste and freeze.
Once the cubes are frozen, you can pop them out and transfer the basil pops into a zip-top freezer bag for easy storage.
Drop a frozen cube or two into simmering soups and stews or to bring a touch of summer flavor to winter stir-fries and sautés.
Dried basil should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for about six months.
Tips for Cooking with Basil:
Since the oils in basil are highly volatile, it's best to add the herb near the end of the cooking process, so it will retain its maximum essence and flavor.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
Combine fresh chopped basil with garlic and olive oil to make a dairy-free variety of pesto that can top a variety of dishes including pasta, salmon and whole wheat Brushetta.
Enjoy a taste of Italy by layering fresh basil leaves over tomato slices and mozzarella cheese to create this traditional colorful and delicious salad.
Adding basil to healthy stir-fries, especially those that include eggplant, cabbage, chili peppers, tofu and cashew nuts will give them a Thai flair.
Purée basil, olive oil and onions in a food processor or blender and add to tomato soups.
Enjoy a warm cup of invigorating basil tea by infusing chopped basil leaves in boiling water for eight minutes.
Basil is an excellent source of vitamin-K and a very good source of iron, calcium and vitamin-A.
In addition, basil is a good source of dietary fiber, manganese, magnesium, vitamin-C and potassium.
And, if you're wondering what to have for dinner this evening;
Mediterranean Pasta Salad
Combine the fresh taste of vegetables and herbs with pasta for a salad that is full of flavor and easy to prepare.
Prep and Cook Time: 25 minutes
1/4 lb. Fusilli pasta, (corkscrew)
1 lg. bunch asparagus cut into 1 inch lengths, (remove bottom fourth and discard)
1/2 med. onion, minced
1/2 basket cherry tomatoes, quartered, (gently squeeze to remove seeds)
5-6 med. cloves garlic, pressed
3 Tbs. chopped fresh basil
1 Tbs. chopped fresh tarragon
3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
*optional 4 oz. goat cheese
Cook pasta according to instructions on package.
While pasta is cooking prepare rest of the ingredients.
Place everything but asparagus in a bowl and set aside.
When pasta is about 3 minutes from being done, add asparagus to cooking pasta.
(If asparagus is thick you may want to add at 4 minutes. Or if it is thin, add at 2 minutes. 3 minutes is for medium thick asparagus.)
Drain and rinse in cold water through colander when done.
Make sure it drains well so it doesn't dilute flavor.
Toss with rest of ingredients and season with salt and pepper.
Makes 4 ServingsTweet
*** Our Featured Sponsors ***
They're Finally Here ~ Individual Serving Pouches
Capture the Thunder