I love basil in tomato salad, with olive oil, in tomato and mozzarella sandwiches, in pasta, in pesto and in most foods, but this popular cooking herb also comes with healing properties. Basil gets its name from the Greek word for “king”: basileum. Different varieties of basil grow around the world.
Tulsi: Indian Holy Basil
Although basil is so widely used in Mediterranean cooking, the herb actually originates from India. In India tulsi, or holy basil, is (as the name suggests) a sacred plant and has been used for thousands of years in healing and in religious rituals. It grows in the garden of all Hindu households and it is also used in Ayurvedic medicine, the traditional Indian medical system.
Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) is a different variety of basil than the typical basil (Ocimum basilicum) used in cooking here in the West, and it has been attributed with a range of health-giving properties in India where it is used during coughs and colds, during stress and as a tonic to promote overall health (to name just a few of its properties).
Basil as a Home Remedy
Patricia Davis writes that in 16th century Europe, ground, dried basil was inhaled (like snuff!) to clear the head and to relieve headaches, migraines and head colds. She also points out that today it is a better idea to use the essential oil of basil for the same purpose. Inhaling the essential oil from the bottle or from a napkin, or using it in a steam inhalation can help to relieve colds and to clear the head.
Use the essential oil of basil for respiratory infections and in massage oils for achy muscles, blended together with Lavender or Rosemary. Basil is also said to be a general tonic and a good oil for mental fatigue but should be used in small amounts or it may have the opposite effect. Basil can be a skin irritant if you have a sensitive skin so blend it well. If used in the bath, it can make the skin tingle.
Tips for Using Basil at Home
Use basil in cooking: in salads, especially tomato salads (try tomato, olive oil, fresh basil, salt and pepper), in many Mediterranean foods, especially Italian and Greek cuisine. Use fresh basil to flavor olive oil for salad dressings and for sautéing vegetables. Basil goes well together with zucchini, beans and mushrooms.
Keep a pot of basil growing on the windowsill to keep flies away. Basil grows in sunny, warm places, but outside it needs to be protected from wind and also from too much direct sun.
Lesley Bremness: The Complete Book of Herbs (Studio, 1994)
Patricia Davis: Aromatherapy, an A-Z (Random House, UK, 2004)
Basil photo: Goldlocki (Wikimedia Commons)