The king of herbs basil herb is one of the ancient and popular herbal plants brimming with notable health-benefiting phytonutrients. This highly prized plant is revered as "holy herb" in many cultures all around the world.
Basil belongs to the family of Lamiaceae, in the genus: Ocimum. Its scientific name is "Ocimum basilicum."
|Asian or "holy" basil (Ocimum sanctum). Large, hairy plant with pink flowers and pink leaves.||Asian basil; close up view.|
Basil is originally native to Iran, India and other tropical regions of Asia. This bushy annual herb is especially grown for its medicinally useful leaves and seeds. Basil grows best under warm, tropical climates. Fully-grown plant reaches about 100 cm in height. Its leaves vary from light-green to purple, smooth and silky, about 1 to 2.5 inches long and 0.5 to 1 inch broad with opposite arrangement. The flowers are quite large, white or purple, arranged in terminal spikes.
|Mediterranean sweet basil
(Ocimum basilicum). Note for smooth dark green leaves.
Varieties of basil herb exist. "Mediterranean" cultivar which is typically known as sweet basil has light green leaves as opposite to "Asian basil" (Ocinum sanctum) that features large, hairy stems and stalks with pink flowers, purple or pink leaves in addition to possessing stronger ‘clove’ like flavor. There is also lemon basil, which has "lemon" flavor. Thai basil (O. basilicum 'Horapha') is similar in characteristics to Asian basil but features narrow, pointed, light green color leaves with a sweet licorice like aroma.
Mediterranean sweet basil is mild and possesses sweet anise/clove flavor. For the same reason, it is also recognized as culinary basil since it is used extensively in the cuisine all over the woorld.
Basil leaves hold many notable plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties.
Basil herb contains many polyphenolic flavonoids like orientin and vicenin. These compounds were tested in-vitro laboratory for their possible anti-oxidant protection against radiation-induced lipid per-oxidation in mouse liver.
Basil leaves compose of several health benefiting essential oils such as eugenol, citronellol, linalool, citral, limonene and terpineol. These compounds are known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
The herb is very low in calories and contain no cholesterol. Nonetheless, its is one of the finest sources of many essential nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that are required for optimum health.
Basil herb contains exceptionally high levels of beta-carotene, vitamin A, cryptoxanthin, lutein and zea-xanthin. These compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease processes.
Zea-xanthin, a yellow flavonoid carotenoid compound, is selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea where it found to filter harmful UV rays from reaching the retina. Studies suggest that common herbs, fruits, and vegetables that are rich in zea-xanthin anti-oxidant help to protect from age-related macular disease (AMRD), especially in the elderly.
100 g of fresh herb basil leaves contain astoundingly 5275 mg or 175% of daily required doses of vitamin A. Vitamin A is known to have antioxidant properties and is essential for vision. It is also required for maintaining healthy mucusa and skin. Consumption of natural foods rich in vitamin-A has been found to help the body protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
Vitamin K in basil is essential for production of clotting factors in the blood and plays a vital role in the bone strengthening and mineralization.
Basil herb contains a good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, copper, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids, which helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
Basil leaves are an excellent source of iron. It fresh leaves carry 3.17 mg/100 g (about 26% of RDA) of iron. Iron, being a component of hemoglobin inside the red blood cells, is one of the chief determinants of oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.
Sweet basil employed generously in the cooking in Mediterranen region. Oftentimes, it is grown as pot-herb in the backyard so that its fresh leaves and flowers can be readily harvested for immediate use.
In the herbal stores, choose fresh organic basil over its dried form since fresh leaves carry essential oils and therefore, superior in quality and flavor. Basil leaves should be free from dark spots and yellowing. Dry basil leaves and seeds can be found in these stores. However, sun dried as well as radiation-treated basil leaves may contain significantly decreased concentrtions of essentil oils, vitamin-C and carotene levels.
Fresh sweet basil herb should be stored inside the refrigerator set at appropriate humidity. Dried basil should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for upto six months.
Wash fresh Basil in cold running water or rinse for few minutes to remove any dirt or pesticide residues. In order to keep the fragrance and flavor intact, sweet basil is generally added at the final moment in the cooking recipes since prolonged cooking results in evaporation of its essential oils.
Fresh basil leaves are added to flavor any vegetable, poultry, or meat dish. The herb is also used in tomato and egg dishes, stews, soups, and salads.
Here are some serving tips:
|Tomato-onion cheese tart topped with basil.
Photo courtesy: Jennifer
Fresh or dried basil leaves are being used in the preparation of soups and dishes.
Chopped fresh sweet basil leaves impart richness to vegetable (Italian panzanella salad) as well as fruit salads.
Italian large leaf basil is one of the main ingredients in ‘pesto’, a green sauce that is added to soups, vegetables, fish, and pasta dishes in Mediterranean cooking.
A kind of flavor drink made of Basil seeds is popular in some Asian countries.
Basil leaves contain health benefiting essential oils such as eugenol, citronellol, linalool, citral, limonene, and terpineol. These compounds are known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
Eugenol is an important essential oil in basil that has been found to have anti-inflammatory function by acting against the enzyme cycloxygenase(COX). COX enzyme mediates inflammatory reactions inside the human body. This enzyme-inhibiting effect of the eugenol in basil makes it an important remedy for symptomatic relief in individuals with inflammatory health problems like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and inflammatory bowel conditions.
Oil of basil herb has also been found to have anti-infective functions by inhibiting many pathogenic bacteria like Staphylococcus, Enterococci, Shigella and Pseudomonas.
Basil tea (brewed basil-water) helps relieve nausea and is thought to have mild anti-septic functions. (Medical disclaimer).
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