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[Image:Basil Sweet.jpg|thumb] Basil or Ocimum Basilicum is a strongly aromatic and pungent herb prized for its culinary as well as medicinal uses. The name basil may be derived from the Greek word basilikos meaning 'royal'(so called because only the sovereign (basileous) was allowed to cut it).

Different world cultures use Basil in manifold ways. In India, Basil is considered sacred to two important deities -- Krishna and Vishnu. Most Hindu houses have a Basil plant in the courtyard and is believed to be a reincarnation of the Mother Goddess. In countries as geographically diverse as Thailand and Italy, Basil lends its unique flavour to regional cuisines.


Why should I be aware of it?

Basil is easily available, either fresh and dried, all over the world. It is an asset to any herbal medicine cabinet for it has many medicinal benefits. Here are some --

  • Basil or Tulsi is known to have disinfecting qualities and is used in very many home remedies.
  • A tea brewed from the leaves of the holy basil or Tulsi is a widely used household remedy for cold and coughs.
  • Basil simmered in water is a wonderful remedy for reducing [fever].

Basil imparts a pungent flavour to oriental stir fries, salads as well as to pastas, pizzas and casseroles.

The aromatic herb also possesses disinfectant and pest repellent qualities.

Did you know?

  • The Romans believed that one had to be abusive and quarrelsome while planting basil so that it would grow well.
  • In 1700s in America, one could be denounced as a practitioner of witchcraft if one was found in possession of a basil plant.
  • There is an old superstition that if a sprig of Basil were left under a pot it would in time turn into a scorpion. Superstition went so far as to affirm that even smelling the plant might bring a scorpion into the brain.
  • A basil leaf placed on the breast of a Hindu before his cremation ensures his easy passage to paradise.

All about basil

Culinary usage

There are several varieties of basil used in cooking. The leaves are used both fresh and dried (though fresh is infinitely more desirable) as a flavouring in all courses of a meal. Basil is notably added in sauces, [soups], omelettes, stews, [salads] and salad dressings, added to vegetables, used to stuff and flavour poultry, aromatise [vinegar], add fragrance to confectionery products, and to the liqueur chartreuse.

Basil is a well known and distinctive flavour in Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Taiwanese and Laotian cuisines. It may be noted that each cuisine uses a different variety. For example, while Italian cuisine famously uses the broad, dark leaved Genovese Basil, the Thais largely use what they call “Horapha”, (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflorum or ‘Siam Queen’)

Internationally, Italian food is most commonly associated with the flavour of basil and tomatoes. Infact, the flavour of basil marries extremely well with that of tomatoes especeially the fleshy Roma variety. Genovese pesto sauce is an emulsion of [garlic], basil, pine-nuts, parmesan cheese and superior quality extra virgin olive oil. A similiar French sauce, Pistou from Provence is used to flavour the traditional local vermicelli soup.

Preservation and storage

Basil is available dried, preserved in oil, or fresh. While drying basil does lessen its aroma, preservation in oil, especially olive oil, retains the taste and favour of the leaf.


There are several varieties, differing in the size, shape, odour and colour of the leaves. Some common basil varieties are listed below.


Basil and health

The servants of Yama do not come to this house in the vicinity of which there is a grove of Tulsi, due to the house having the nature of a holy place. O brahmana, the Tulsi grove is auspicious and removes all sins. She (the Tulsi plant) was formerly planted by Vishnu for the good of the worlds. The leaf and the flower of the Tulsi are valued in all good works. There is the proximity of Vishnu, where there is a Tulsi grove. Brahma also (lives) there, and also Lakshmi with all the hosts of gods. (Padma Purana IV. 22. 2)

The [essential oils] of basil extracted from the leaves is also used as a flavouring. Apart from food it is also used by the dental care industry, cosmetic and the perfume industry.

Basil's therapeutic properties are as a result of [phyto-chemicals]. These phyto chemicals notably [oleoresin] are [antioxidants], anti-bacterial and anti-viral agents and strengthen the immune system.

The therapeutic uses of basil are many. It is brewed as an infusion and as teas and used to treat colds, coughs, fevers, stomach aches and cramps, vomiting, constipation, as a relaxant for nervous hysteria and for kidney and urinary complaints. Basil also apparently eases nausea.

Basil acts as an expectorant and clears the throat and lungs. The juice of the leaves can be used to treat ear aches and fungal infections.

It is also used as an insecticide and as a disinfectant.

What can I do about it?

How to dry it

Here are some tips for drying basil:

  • Don't tie basil stalks together or hang them to dry as you might other herbs.
  • Pinch or snip leaves from the stems and place them on a screen or absorbent towel.
  • Stir daily and allow to dry until crackly.
  • Store in an airtight container.

How to freeze it

To freeze basil leaves, follow these steps:

  • Clip the leaves from the stems and rinse.
  • Spread them on a counter to air-dry for 30 minutes.
  • Loosely layer leaves in a storage bag and freeze.

Here is how one can freeze pureed basil:

  • Place fresh cut leaves in a blender or food processor.
  • Process for a few seconds to coarsely chop the leaves.
  • Add enough water to form a slush and process again.
  • Pour this liquid into ice cube trays and freeze.
  • Once frozen, pop the cubes out of the trays and store them in a freezer container for later use.


  • The Larousse Gastronomique
  • The Book of Ingredients,Philip Dowell and Adrian Bailey; Penguin/ Mermaid Books 1993
  • Basil
  • Curry Sutra
  • Herb Portal
  • Galaxy Gardens

See Also

  • [Gardening for health]
  • [Spices and seeds]
  • [Aromatherapy]
  • [Home remedies for fever]
  • [Homemade Mosquito Repellents]
  • [Green Menstruation]

[Category:Food And Drinks] [Category:Herbs]