Basil: health benefits and virtues
Basil is a herb used as a flavouring in cooking. Its fragrant flavour is characteristic of Italian dishes but it is also widely used in Asian countries, especially in Thailand.
Characteristics of the basil:
- Rich in antioxidants;
- Rich in vitamin K;
- Fight against free radicals;
- Fight against the appearance of certain pathologies.
Basil: health benefits and virtues: understand everything in 2 min
What is basil?
Basil identity card
- Type: Herbal;
- Family: Labiate;
- Origin: Southeast Asia and Central Africa;
- Season: June to August;
- Green color.
Characteristics of basil
Basil is a plant that measures 20 to 60 cm high and has oval-lanceolate leaves, reaching 2 to 3 cm, pale green to dark green in color, sometimes purple-purple. However, it can easily reach more than a meter in length when kept for several years.
Word from the nutritionist
Herbs are usually not consumed in large quantities. Used as seasonings, they cannot therefore provide all the health benefits attributed to them. However, adding herbs to food on a regular and significant basis makes it possible to contribute, if only in a minimal way, to the antioxidant intake of the diet. On the other hand, consumption of herbs alone cannot meet the body’s antioxidant needs.
For 100g of fresh basil:
|Vitamin C||18 mg|
|Vitamin K||414.8 µg|
|Beta carotene||3142 µg|
4 benefits of basil: why eat it?
- Basil is rich in antioxidants which are compounds that reduce the damage caused by free radicals, molecules that are implicated in the onset of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and diseases linked to aging.
- Basil therefore has the capacity to increase the antibacterial activity of certain drugs, which is very promising in the treatment of certain infections.
- Dried basil is an excellent source of vitamin K, while fresh basil is a source. This vitamin is necessary for the production of proteins involved in blood clotting (both in stimulation and in inhibition of blood clotting). It also plays a role in bone formation. In addition to being found in food, vitamin K is manufactured by bacteria present in the intestine, hence the rarity of deficiencies in this vitamin.
- A serving of dried basil is a source of iron for men, but not for women, as their respective needs for iron are different. This mineral is essential for the transport of oxygen and the formation of red blood cells in the blood. It also plays a role in the production of new cells, hormones and neurotransmitters.
Choosing the right basil
To choose your basil well, the leaves must be very green and firm, not wilted.
Dryer: Basil loses a lot of its aroma on drying. It is therefore preferable to consume it fresh or frozen. However, some traditional recipes require dried basil. In this case, finely chop it and put it to dry in the shade on a frame covered with gauze or mosquito net, or in a dehydrator. Store the dried basil in an airtight container in a dry place away from heat and light.
Refrigerator : Chop the leaves and put them in olive oil with coarse salt. Close the jar tightly and keep in the fridge.
Freezer: Pass fresh leaves through a blender to obtain a puree. Add olive oil if desired. Put in an ice cube tray and freeze. Then place the cubes in a freezer bag.
Preparation of the basil
How to cook it? How to match it?
Avoid chopping fresh leaves with a knife, as they may oxidize. Rather, tear them by hand and add them only at the last minute to sauces or salads. In addition, for the preparation of pistou or any other basil-based sauce, diehards say that it is better to pound the leaves in mortar rather than pass them through a blender.
- Basil is a perfect accompaniment to pasta, salads, pâtés, eggs and tomatoes.
- Handle butter with crushed basil, black pepper and lemon zest. Serve over grilled meat, chicken or seafood.
- Purple basil vinegar: macerated in vinegar, the leaves of the purple varieties will give it color and flavor. Then use this vinegar in salad dressings or to deglaze a pan.
- In Georgia, khmeli-suneli is prepared, a mixture of herbs which is to the cuisine of this country what curry powder is to that of India. Its composition differs according to the regions and the cooks, but one generally finds there dried basil, marjoram, dill, savory, pepper and flowers of safflower or marigold. This mixture flavored stews and grilled meats.
- Also in Georgia, we prepare the tkemali sauce, composed of fresh plums which we cook in water before peeling and pitting them. We add olive oil, lemon juice and red wine vinegar, as well as cilantro, dill and basil leaves, and finally cayenne pepper, coriander seeds and cumin ground, and garlic. We pass everything in a blender and serve with the dish of your choice.
- Old European recipe: half a part of cayenne pepper and lemon zest, a part of nutmeg, mace and bay leaf, two parts of cloves, pepper and winter savory, three parts of basil, marjoram and thyme and two cloves of garlic. Mix thoroughly with the mortar, pass through a fine sieve and keep dry and cool in containers of glass or glazed earth. Serve on a vegetable platter, salad, omelet or any other dish of your choice.
- Provencal pistou soup: many recipes exist, but they generally use tomatoes, semi-dry red and white coconut beans (which can be replaced by previously cooked kidney and white beans), green beans, potatoes, celery or zucchini. Cook in plenty of water until the vegetables and legumes are tender. We also prepare a paste composed of basil and garlic crushed in a mortar and softened with a little olive oil, which we place at the bottom of the tureen before pouring the soup over it. Sprinkle with gruyère or grated Parmesan cheese and serve. You can, if you wish, add shells to the soup towards the end of the cooking.
- Pesto sauce: pound a dozen basil leaves with a clove of garlic, a little coarse salt, a handful of pine nuts and grated parmesan. Add olive oil drop by drop, beating vigorously. Season with freshly ground pepper and add to soup or serve over pasta.
- Phô (tonkinoise soup): in a bowl, place thin slices of grilled onions, Chinese vermicelli, lightly grilled ginger slices, thin strips of beef, sliced green onions, soy sprouts, Thai basil, lime juice and, if desired, red pepper flakes. Pour beef broth over the ingredients, add a little fish sauce and enjoy hot.
- Thai soup: it is composed of chicken broth, coconut milk, pieces of chicken, spinach, lemongrass, green onions, garlic, hot pepper and Thai basil, which is added to the the end of the preparation.
- Prepare a carpaccio of duck breast with basil.
- Alternate tomato slices, bocconcini slices and fresh basil leaves. Coat with olive oil and taste this dish which is a reminder of the colors of the Italian flag.
- Add it to dips with garlic and other herbs.
- Dare the basil in sorbets or granita.
- As an infusion after a rich meal, at the rate of one teaspoon per cup of boiling water, basil is known to promote digestion.
- Flowers are consumed. Add them to vegetable or fruit salads.
Basil contains significant amounts of vitamin K. This vitamin, necessary among other things for blood clotting, can be produced by the body in addition to being found in certain foods. People taking blood thinners, such as those marketed under the names Coumadin®, Warfilone® and Sintrom®, should eat a diet in which the vitamin K content is relatively stable from day to day. Herbs, including basil, contain vitamin K and should therefore be used as a seasoning only. People on anticoagulation therapy are advised to consult a dietitian-nutritionist or a doctor in order to know the food sources of vitamin K and to ensure the most stable daily intake possible.
History of basil
The term “basil”, which appeared in the French language in 1120, originally designated a mythical snake whose gaze could kill, unless it was first seen. The word comes from the low Latin basilicum which borrowed it from the Greek basilikos, “little king”. It was not until 1398 that it began to be used to designate the flavoring, possibly because, according to some, its aroma is such that it can appear on the table of kings, or that it was traditionally part of an ointment or a masterful medication.
It also bears the names of “royal herb”, “orange tree of the cobblers”, “herb with sauces”, “pistou”, this last word, of Provençal origin, meaning “grind, pound”, everything like pesto, by the way, its Italian equivalent.
The only pesto from Genoa
In 2002, the Cavalieri delta Confraternita DEL Pesto (literally, the Knights of the Brotherhood of Pesto) proclaimed the region of Genoa “Republic of Pesto” and obtained, for their product, a Denomination of Controlled Origin (DOC). They thus protected their “green gold”, called alla genovese which, since always, is prepared with a variety of basil which grows in this region and a local olive oil.
It is believed that the basil originated in central Africa and that it was domesticated in India or in Southeast Asia, from where it spread throughout Asia. It would have been brought to the West by the soldiers of Alexander the Great about 300 years before our era. The Greeks adopted it immediately and, following them, the Romans. It will be cultivated throughout the Mediterranean basin. However, it did not appear in France until the 12th century. In America, it was cultivated from the 17th century. Today, it is produced almost everywhere in the world, for fresh sales or for the manufacture of essential oils.
We know about 50 species of Ocimum and dozens, even hundreds of varieties. Selected in various parts of the world, they have specific characteristics, in particular their content of essential oils, which can vary considerably from one variety to another and strongly influence the flavor. So it is with Thai basil, mainly liquorice. There are also varieties with aromas of cinnamon, lemon, lime and camphor. The size of the leaves also varies, going from the lilliputian leaf of the Greek basil to that, immense, of the basil lettuce, which can reach 10 cm.
As for the color of the leaves and flowers, it ranges from tender green to purple red, passing through many shades, which makes certain varieties of splendid ornamental plants. Others, of unpleasant flavor, are used for their medicinal properties. This is the case of the West African basil, appreciated in this part of the world for its antiseptic properties (because of its richness in thymol). Finally, a variety bearing the name of sacred basil is used in India in religious rituals dedicated to the god Vishnu.
Sow indoors four to six weeks before the last foreseeable gels. Transplant only when all risk of frost has passed, the plant being very sensitive to cold.
When transplanting, pinch the head to promote the formation of lateral stems and delay flowering. Space the plants 15 cm in the row, and the rows 30 cm.
Basil cannot stand drought. It is therefore necessary to irrigate regularly if necessary.
In areas where a lot of basil is grown, Fusarium wilt, a fungal disease, is a real problem. If so, choose one or the other of the few varieties that have been selected for their resistance to this disease.
Harvest as needed by taking only a few leaves at a time from the plant. For the preparation of sauces or freezing, harvest the entire plant by pruning above the first two true leaves. In good years, we will get a second harvest.
It can be grown in pots, outdoors in summer and indoors in winter. Choose a variety with small leaves, which will best suit this type of crop.
Ecology and environment
There are hardly any plants that get along as well and that are as intimately linked as tomatoes and basil. Not only do they form an admirable couple in the kitchen, but they also constitute an inseparable duo in the garden. Indeed, basil has a reputation for stimulating the growth of tomatoes and improving their quality. Those who practice organic farming do not hesitate to plant them at the foot of their tomato plants. In addition, this herb repels flies and mosquitoes, and when in bloom it attracts bees, which helps pollinate other plants in the garden.