Although more than 60 varieties of basil have been identified, they all fall into three main types: sweet, purple, and bush. Each offers a subtle difference in taste; varieties such as lemon, anise, and cinnamon basil give you an idea of how one might modify and enhance a recipe. It only takes a few leaves to transform a simple dish - Yes, even a sandwich. (This was a delicious lunch - basil, tomato, mozzarella, onion and horseradish!!)
Plus, basil is considered one of the healthiest herbs. It's best when fresh, exuding a sweet, earthy aroma that indicates not only the promise of pleasantly pungent flavor, but an impressive list of nutrients. Vitamin K, essential for blood clotting, is one of them. Just two tablespoons of basil provides 29 percent of the daily recommended value.
Basil also provides vitamin A, which contains beta-carotenes, powerful antioxidants that protect the cells lining a number of body structures, including the blood vessels, from free radical damage. This helps prevent cholesterol in blood from oxidizing, helping to prevent atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and stroke.
Other vitamins and minerals in basil include iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, vitamin C and potassium. Not surprisingly, basil also has antibacterial properties and contains DNA-protecting flavonoids. It's the flavonoids and volatile oils in basil that give it the most health benefits, the former protecting on the cellular level, with antibacterial properties related to its volatile oils. Among these are estragole, linalool, cineole, eugenol, sabinene, myrcene, and limonene, all capable of restricting the growth of numerous harmful bacteria, including listeria, staphylococcus, E. coli, yersinia enterocolitica, and pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Some antibiotic medications that have been found to be resistant to some of these strains have been inhibited by basil extracts. One of those oils - eugenol - can block the activity of the harmful enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX). This same effect puts basil in the "anti-inflammatory" category because it provides relief from related problems, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
When scientists tested basil oil in diluted concentrations against several common but serious multidrug-resistant bacteria, including some of those listed above, it strongly reduced the negative effect of the bacteria. Research data noted the encouraging results of the tests, especially in light of the high level of resistance of the bacteria.
Another study debated the traditional use of basil to treat several respiratory diseases and the symptoms of tuberculosis, exploring the possible use of basil against actual tuberculosis symptoms. Test results were affirmative, with the conclusion that basil could be used to formulate new and natural anti-tuberculosis treatments.
I suppose my favorite reason to grown and use basil is pretty simple – it is just darn good!
One impressive study showed that washing produce in a solution of basil or thyme essential oil in just a 1% concentration diminished the number of infectious Shigella bacteria, which can produce intestine-damaging diarrhea. This result proves that ingesting basil and thyme in as many ways as possible, especially fresh in salads and their dressings, helps ensure the safety of the fresh produce you bring to your table.
The ancient Greek word "basilikohn," meaning royal, is the derivative of what we now call basil. It reflected an attitude of nobility and a desire to extend hospitality, friendship, and honor whenever it was served.
But again, I love it because it just plain tastes great!