Seeds of Wisdom - Basil

Happy Seeds of Wisdom Wednesday! We looked into tomatoes last week and couldn’t help but think of the classic pairing of tomatoes and basil. Basil is a popular culinary herb that many gardeners grow, so let’s dive into the health benefits, medicinal uses and more of this aromatic plant.

The origin of this herb is said to be in Africa, Asia, India and the South Pacific, but is now grown throughout the world. Basil is a common herb in many holistic and ancient medicine systems. Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine recognize this powerful herb and tap into its many uses. This is an honored herb in many cultures. Basil represented hospitality in India, love in Italy, and its name came from “basilikohn”, a Greek word meaning royal.

Basil is part of the mint family and offers many different varieties. Some common varieties to note are sweet basil which is the most popular, especially in Italian food, offering notes of clove and licorice. Greek basil, also known as Bush basil, is great for container gardening, is very aromatic but not overpowering in flavor. Thai basil has more of a note of anise in flavor, has purple flowers and stems, and is a staple in Thai and many Asian cuisines. Cinnamon basil is a spicy basil native to Mexico that is commonly used for jellies, potpourri and vinegars. Another basil commonly used in potpourri, but also teas and salads, is Lemon basil which of course has a lemon flavor and fragrance. Lettuce basil has much larger, sweet leaves that resemble a wrinkly lettuce or large spinach.

If you’re not already growing basil, you should be! It’s a very easy herb to grow in this climate. Basil does well in full sun and well-draining soil or pots. If you want to maximize the production of your basil plant, be sure to pinch off the flowers before they bolt and release seeds. This will keep the leaves from getting bitter while also encouraging new growth.

Basil also has a lot to offer as a companion plant. While sage and rue don’t grow well near basil, there is a handful of veggies that will thrive if you plant your basil near them. Tomatoes and basil are a classic companion planting pair, but asparagus, beans, beets, cabbage, chili, eggplants, peppers and potatoes also benefit from a basil companion. Basil will help keep pests away from these crops and promote an environment they can all thrive in together.

While the flavor of fresh basil is best, drying basil is a great way to preserve a bountiful harvest. The leaves of basil tend to turn brown during the drying process but will last about a year if stored well. Freezing basil is another great way to store extra, whether you freeze the leaves or chop them up and freeze them in ice cube trays with water. You could also make a big batch of basil pesto and freeze smaller containers of it. Due to the volatile oils in basil, exposure to heat will destroy some of the natural flavor, so it is best to add basil to dishes at the end of the cooking process.

Studies are showing that basil can help with:

  • Memory loss and mental alertness
  • Chronic stress
  • Depression
  • Inflammation
  • Nausea
  • Reducing damage from strokes
  • Improving blood sugar levels
  • Supporting healthy blood pressure
  • Repelling insects and soothing bug bites
  • Combatting harmful bacteria

Including basil in your diet will give you calcium, iron, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins A, C and K. In fact, basil offers a significant amount of vitamin K, whether fresh or dried. The significant dose of vitamin K in basil could cause issues for those taking blood-thinning medications, since vitamin K helps the body clot blood. Basil does offer a decent amount of beta-carotene which gets converted to vitamin A and helps promote overall eye and skin health and prevents damage from free radicals. Our good friend, magnesium is also plentiful in basil, supporting blood flow, cardiovascular health and muscle relaxation.

Compounds in basil do provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits that support health in many ways. The oil in the leaves of the plant contain eugenol, which – just like aspirin and ibuprofen – inhibits an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, and thus offers powerful anti-inflammatory benefits. When extracted, this oil is also extremely useful topically on any acne, wounds or skin infections. The essential oil from basil leaves is also useful for aromatherapy treatments. The aroma can help reduce mental fatigue, depression, tension, migraines and nausea.

Studies have shown that basil offers anti-bacterial properties as well. The essential oil is often used for these bacteria fighting benefits. For example, a water and basil essential oil solution can be used as a chemical free way to wash your produce!

Overall, it’s an incredible plant that should be in everyone’s garden!

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  1. Southwest Gardener - Growing Basil by Amy Carlile
  2. Healthline - Basil: Nutrition, Health Benefits, Uses and More by Marsha McCulloch
  3. The World's Healthiest Foods - Basil
  4. From the Grapevine - Why Basil is Good for You by Zach Pontz
  5. Gardening Channel - Companion Planting: Herbs that Pair Perfectly as Growing Partners

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