Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Uses for Basil

Basil (Ocimum basilicum L.) is a herb from the family of Laminaceae which is believed to be used since 500 B.C. The word basil comes from Greek word meaning "king" as it was seen to have a royal fragrance.

Basil, or commonly called sweet basil originates from Africa and Asia but today is cultivates widely across France, Hungary, Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco, United States, Greece and Israel.

There are around sixty varieties of basil, each with its own distinctive color and flavor. Sweet basil is widely used as a culinary spice added to vast varieties of culinary recipes. It is the leaves that are used, and it is recommended to pick fresh leaves before the plant begins to flower. When buying in supermarket I usually pick fresh vibrant green leaves without dark spots. It is recommended to store them in layered paper towels in a plastic bag and keep them in the fridge for up to four days or until first signs of decay.

Basil can also be found in dry form, but it does not retain its flavor well when dried. It goes good with tomatoes, tomato sauce, onions, garlic and olives. I always put a lot of it when making spaghetti Bolognese, it is my favorite one. Basil goes well in combination with oregano.

Sweet basil has traditional medicinal use for curing headaches, constipation, diarrhea, coughs, warms and kidney malfunctions. It is also believed that it has regenerative impact on lung tissue. Basil is also known by its antioxidant properties and there are ongoing researches of whether basil could constitute new sources of antioxidant phenolics in the diet.

Basil has long been recognized as diverse source of essential oils (Ocimum Basillicum). They are extracted via steam distillation of leaves and plant tops. Extracted essential oils are used to flavor foods, as dental and oral products and in the traditional medicines and rituals. These oils have been shown to contain biologically-active factors that have antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.

The oils are also used in aromatherapy as they are believed to uplift spirit and promote mental clarity.

One of my favorite dishes with sweet basil is very simple to make, and it tastes delicious. Cut about 3 medium tomatoes and block of mozzarella or feta cheese, drizzle some olive oil, basil, mix, and serve. It is that simple and very tasty.

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