Basil is native to tropical regions from central Africa to Southeast Asia. It is a tender plant, and is used in cuisines worldwide. Depending on the species and cultivar, the leaves may taste somewhat like anise, with a strong, pungent, often sweet smell.
There are many varieties of Ocimum basilicum, as well as several related species or hybrids also called basil. The type used commonly as a flavor is typically called sweet basil (or Genovese basil), as opposed to Thai basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora), lemon basil (O. × citriodorum), and holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum). While most common varieties of basil are treated as annuals, some are perennial in warm, tropical climates, including holy basil and a cultivar known as "African blue basil".
Basil is most commonly used fresh in recipes. In general, it is added at the last moment, as cooking quickly destroys the flavor. The fresh herb can be kept for a short time in plastic bags in the refrigerator, or for a longer period in the freezer, after being blanched quickly in boiling water. The dried herb also loses most of its flavor, and what little flavor remains tastes very different, with a weak coumarin flavor, like hay.
Basil is one of the main ingredients in pesto—a green Italian oil-and-herb sauce.
What Are the Proven Benefits of Basil?
Basil contains antioxidant-rich volatile essential oils, which are considered hydrophobic. This means they don’t dissolve in water and are light and small enough to travel through the air and the pores within our skin. Basil’s volatile essential oils are what give the herb its distinct smell and taste, but they’re also responsible for the healing benefits of basil.
Herbs like basil contain essential oil compounds because these help the plant defend itself from predators like bugs, rodents and strains of bacteria in the soil. When we ingest these protective oils, we experience similar benefits: a boost in immunity and protection from disease.
The most common cooking basil used as a fresh herb in recipes is Italian basil, which also boasts numerous health benefits because of it’s high levels of antioxidants, magnesium and vitamins.
½ cup of fresh chopped basil (or about eight tablespoons) has roughly:(3)
- 2 calories
- 0 fat, protein, sugar or fiber
- 56 milligrams vitamin A (24 percent)
- 88 milligrams vitamin K (108 percent)
- 0.24 milligrams manganese (12 percent)
- 4 milligrams vitamin C (8 percent)
Scientific studies show the following benefits of basil: (2)
- Pain-reducer (analgesic)
- Fever-reducer (antipyretic)
- Liver-protector (hepatoprotective)
- Blood vessel-protector
- Anti-stress solution