Grow Your Own Basil
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is sometimes referred to as the king of herbs.
It comes in many varieties, which I'll cover further on in this article and is a staple of many delicious recipes, such as basil pesto and tomato and basil soup. I've also included these and many other recipes in this article.
Basil also has a large number of health properties, but to get the full benefit of them, as well as the most intense taste, you really should grow your own. In fact, I'm going to give you this same advice for all of the herbs I talk about.
And you should definitely be embracing organic gardening.
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Try Some Different Types of Basil
Growing your own makes it easy to experiment with all the different varieties of basil and perhaps to find some new favorites.
Most people don't realize that there are hundreds of basil varieties but they can be grouped into 9 different types of basil besides the normal sweet basil that everyone's familiar with. They are all subtly different from one another, each with their own individual fragrance and flavor. They are:
- Lemon Basil
- Genovese Basil
- Holy Basil
- African Blue Basil
- Cinnamon Basil
- Purple Basil
- Dwarf Greek Basil
- Spicy Globe Basil
- Licorice Basil
Lemon basil is mild enough to flavor grilled fish or shrimp and can be substituted for sweet basil if you are looking for a fresh twist of flavor.
It can be finely chopped and added to pasta with julienne vegetables and a flavorful extra virgin olive oil for a light and delicious meal.
Cooking with lemon basil is fun and easy, as there are no rules. Just add it to any of your favorite recipes.
Lemon basil is often used in Indonesian and Thai Cuisines and is delicious when eaten raw in a salad. Lemon basil is a hybrid, primarily grown in north-eastern Africa and southern Asia. As the name suggests, this type has a citrus flavor and sweet aroma. It differs from lemon balm, which is part of the mint family, because it still has that traditional savory-basil taste to it.
Genovese basil is a variety of sweet basil that, as the name suggests, originated in Italy. This specialized European strain has less of a tendency to become bitter after long, slow periods of cooking.
The plant is also less likely to bolt, meaning it won't flower as quickly in hot weather. This means that the vegetative growth will continue, producing more leaves.
Genovese basil has a reputation for making the best pesto, as well as the best insalata caprese, a dish consisting of tomato slices topped with mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves.
The leaves are large, bright green and crinkled. Genovese basil is the second most common after sweet basil and can be used in many ways. You can blend it up and make a tasty pesto, or put some leaves in hot water for a flavorful tea.
Holy basil, while it sounds like something Robin might say to Batman, is actually a natural antioxidant known for its medicinal properties. It is a perennial (different from the more common basil), and this strongly scented herb can used to reduce stress or relieve headaches.
Holy basil is an important medicinal plant considered sacred by the Hindus in the subcontinent of India. In Hindu culture, it is considered a sacred plant, and is often planted around shrines and monuments.
It is mentioned in the Indian collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns called the Rig Veda around 1500 BC, while holy basil is also mentioned in the ancient Hindu religious texts parts of the Vedas called the Purana.
Holy basil is a perennial aromatic shrub that is thought to be native to tropical Asia and north central India. It now grows throughout various tropical climates around the globe, and is respected for its many health benefits.
In the various traditional Southeast Asian systems of medicine, the different parts of tulsi have been used for medicine, including the flowers, stem, leaves, seeds, root, and even the whole plant. It has a characteristic peppery, light lemon scent, along with purple-pink flowers and oval-shaped leaves with a slightly sharp tip, and somewhat toothed edges.
African Blue basil is an aromatic and decorative herb created as a hybrid from Dark Opal basil and Camphor basil. This exotic hybrid has a fragrant, spicy scent and is a tasty seasoning when chopped up for pesto, tomato sauces, salads, squash dishes, chicken and more.
It is used in many skin care products because of its high content of camphor and is another type of perennial basil. The leaves of this basil start off as deep bluish purple, but turn bright green as they mature. You can put the African Blue basil plant right on the dinner table, and pick the leaves off as you eat. It looks gorgeous, so it acts as a decoration too.
Although very attractive to pollinators such as bees, the African Blue basil is sterile and so doesn't seed and can only be propagated from cuttings.
The Cinnamon basil plant can grow up to both three feet tall and three feet wide. It has small thin serrated green leaves with contrasting pale violet-colored stems and lavender spiked flowers.
As its name suggests, cinnamon basil has warm cinnamon properties throughout its composition. It is cultivated primarily for its leaves, which have a spice quality with many culinary uses
Delicious and aromatic in desserts, Cinnamon basil hosts vitamins A and C in low quantities but provides a large dose of vitamin K and has small amounts of folate and iron, all similar to standard sweet basil, but with the added compound methyl cinnamate, which gives it that warm flavor.
It is also known as Mexican basil and has dark green and shiny leaves. You might like to blend up some Cinnamon basil and put it on rice pudding, or you could dry this herb out and use it in potpourri because of its strong, bark-like aroma.
Is purple the new black?
Purple basil leaves have a beautiful, coppery glow and clove-like, slightly spicy flavor.
Use them in salads, preserved in oils and vinegars and for different and surprisingly delicious pesto.
A pot of purple basil provides a striking color contrast in the garden.
It's most often used as an embellishment on a dish and has a flavor quite similar to that of regular basil. One defining feature is the rich purple color of the entire plant, including both the leaves and stems.
This type of basil is a beautiful addition in drinks like lemonade and juice. The strong fragrance and brilliant color will immediately draw attention to the herbs, and will transform your meal or drink into a work of art.
Dwarf Greek basil has been in use for centuries. It was planted in the Mediterranean area where it became established and is much used, eventually making it to the U.S. where it grows prolifically as well.
Producing dome-shaped plants that reach about 8 in. (20 cm.) in height, Dwarf Greek basil is the favorite in sauces for tomato dishes, Italian food and other recipes.
The leaves of the Dwarf Greek basil have a great deal of medicinal value. A basil tea calms the stomach and relieves spasms in the digestive track. Leaves may be chewed for a quick fix for the stomach.
Dwarf Greek basil grows into a spherical shaped bush with very small leaves. It is also called bush basil, has a savory flavor and also finds use as an insect repellent. Since this type of basil has such small leaves, it is easily dried and tastes excellent sprinkled on garlic bread or in a soup or stew.
Spicy Globe basil plants form a short and compact spherical bush, reaching only 6 to 12 in. (15-30 cm.) in most gardens.
Their attractive round shape will make a great addition to your herb garden.
The flavor is different from most basils, adding a spicy kick to pasta dishes and pestos. It is easy to grow and regular harvesting encourages more growth.
It has smaller leaves than the more common types of basil, and this hybrid has both a savory and zesty flavor. Use it in vinegars, salads, and Italian dishes. You may even use a few leaves in desserts. If you have extras from the harvest, dry them or put them in a sealed bag in the freezer.
Licorice basil, a Western strain of Thai basil, is also known as anise basil as it has distinctive anise flavored qualities and aromatics.
It is a lanky plant with pointed green leaves and signature burgundy tinted spiked flowers. Both the leaves and the flowers are edible.
It is far more pungent than sweet basil, making it one of the more intensely flavored and perfumed basil varieties. Licorice basil’s flavor is due to a chemical called anethole, an aromatic compound that occurs widely in nature in essential oils that are produced within the plant.
It is a healthy alternative to licorice candy and has an intense anise flavor. The leaves of this variety are slightly pointed, and the plant is native to India and ancient Persia. With a little bit of honey and some hot water, a cup of licorice basil tea could be a delicious replacement for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Its leaves and flowers when crushed burst with intense basil and licorice aromas, making a fragrant and floral-spicy paste and condiment for multiple culinary uses. It is best mixed with other ingredients to tame its powerful one-dimensional notes.
I'm always eager to experiment with exotic and delicious culinary herbs. As an interior designer, it coincides with my passion for nature to be integrated into design and to be considered as an integrated part of the artistic landscape. There are so many unique and flavorful varieties of basil that you can grow in your own herb garden. With my Thinking Organically e-book, you’ll have the opportunity to grow many other rare herbs and incorporate them into your health routine and lifestyle. Basil is just the start.
Classic Basil Pesto
Toss it with pasta, spread it on sandwiches, or dollop it into soup. A mixture of fresh basil, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic (optional) and Romano or Parmesan cheese, this simple spread can be whipped up in a few minutes.
This versatile dish is everybody's favorite and is incredibly simple to make. You will need:
- Half a cup of basil leaves
- Half a cup of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
- Half a cup of shredded Romano or Parmesan cheese
- 4 large garlic cloves
- 3 tablespoons of pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons of minced parsley
- half a teaspoon of salt
Either pound all the ingredients except the olive oil in a mortar until smooth and then add the olive oil and mix OR throw everything into a blender and blend.
Other Basil Recipes
Salmon with Basil Pesto
Smothering your salmon with pesto before baking it will keep the fish tender and juicy, without risk of it drying out. My favorite way to keep my fish tender and juicy when I bake it is to smother it in sauce.
The sauce seals in the moisture, and the fish doesn’t dry out.
Homemade basil pesto as described above is perfect for this pesto salmon dish. I like to make this with pink salmon fillets. It’s affordable, and the extra-lean fish works well with the oil in the pesto. Squeeze a little lemon juice over it right before serving, and top it with fresh herbs.
Preheat oven to 400 F. (200 C.)
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and place salmon fillets skin side down. Drizzle with salt and pepper. Spread pesto over the top of fillets and sprinkle thyme over the pesto.
Roast the salmon for around 5 minutes. The fish should flake easily with a fork when it's done.
Many people love the crispy taste of the salmon skin but it should peel off easily if you want to remove it. Serve with lemon wedges and a sprinkling of fresh basil.
Basil, Tomato and Corn Soup
This is a great anti-aging meal pre-meal starter or even a meal in itself. Tomatoes are full of the powerful antioxidant lycopene which is the natural pigment that gives some fruits and vegetables their bright red or pink color.
Antioxidants protect against cell and tissue damage, and carotenoids (of which lycopene is one) have long been known to decrease cancer and heart-disease risk.
The interesting thing is that lycopene concentrations increase significantly when cooked and even more so when cooked in olive oil. What’s in this soup and how it’s prepared is what makes it so healthy and anti-aging.
Directions (to serve 4):
Preheat oven to 300°F (200°C).
Place 6 medium tomatoes, 1 brown onion cut into quarters, a whole garlic and a whole sliced jalapeño pepper in a bowl and toss with cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil.
Spread these ingredients onto baking paper in a baking disk and roast for two and a half hours, turning a few times.
Put the roasted ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.
Pour into a medium saucepan and add 1 cup of freshly chopped basil and half a teaspoon of fresh thyme. Add 1 cup of water, 1 cup of cubed tofu and 3 cups of fresh corn kernels direct from the cob. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the corn is soft.
Season with red pepper flakes, black pepper and salt as desired.
Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Basil's Health and Medicinal Benefits
Basil is rich in vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, potassium, and calcium.
Basil is Anti-Bacterial
Basil contains anti-bacterial oils, including estragole, linalool, cineole, eugenol, sabinene, myrcene and limonene.
It restricts the growth of numerous bacteria, including Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Yersinia enterocolitica, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
So adding fresh basil to a salad not only adds flavor but it may also help reduce the number of harmful bacteria on the plate.
Basil Can Reduce Inflammation
Studies have found that an extract from holy basil was shown to reduce swelling by up to 73 percent, 24 hours after treatment and that the anti-swelling effect was similar in extent to those seen with the drug diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory medication that is widely used in the treatment of arthritis.
A study published in the Journal of Bone Reports & Recommendations agreed that BCP (beta-caryophyllene) a chemical found in basil might be useful in the treatment of certain diseases that involve inflammation. The investigation was carried out on arthritic rats and the team of researchers concluded that "The present study is suggestive that beta-caryophyllene [in basil] has prominent anti-arthritic benefits which may be attributed to its anti-inflammatory activity."
Basil for Anti-Aging
According to research presented at the British Pharmaceutical Conference (BPC) in Manchester, basil also has properties that might help prevent some of the harmful effects of aging.
Holy basil extract was effective at killing off harmful molecules and preventing damage caused by some free radicals in the liver, brain, and heart.
The researchers, led by Dr. Vaibhav Shinde from Poona College of Pharmacy, Maharashtra, India, studied the herb for antioxidant and anti-aging properties.
Dr. Shinde said: "The study validates the traditional use of the herb as a youth-promoting substance in the Ayurvedic system of medicine. It also helps describe how the herb acts at a cellular level."
The Many Benefits of Basil
As discussed above, there is a lot of research that points to many health benefits associated with basil.
The herb contains a wide range of essential oils, is rich in phenolic compounds and contains a wide array of other natural products including polyphenols such as flavonoids and anthocyanins.
And tastes great. What's not to love?