Uses Of Basil (Ocimum basilicum) - image to repin / share
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Basil - Botany And History

Next to rosemary, thyme, and parsley, basil is one of the most well-known and well-loved culinary herbs, with a rich history of both medicinal and culinary use that dates back to ancient times. Once referred to as the ‘king of herbs’ by ancient herbal, basil is, to this day, one of the most commonly used and most versatile of herbs. While commonly associated with Mediterranean cuisine, basil has long been employed in both Asiatic and Indian cuisine, with its origins having been attributed by some to be Asiatic more than European. The popularity of basil in Western culinary practices may have stemmed from trade between Asia and Europe, although conflicting evidence also suggests that Europe’s own species of basil have also been employed for culinary and medicinal use in about the same time as, or a little further than, the Asian strains.

Basil is a relatively hardy plant, which is why it grows in a vast range of climates, although it does prefer slightly sunny to relatively sunny areas, with loamy to clayish well-drained soil. Basil can be easily propagated by stem cuttings, provided that it is not exposed to extremes of temperature, or otherwise planted in unsuitable soil.

The basil plant is characterized by its verdant deep-green to jade-green leaves, although some cultivars may sport pale-green, yellow-green, and even purple leaves. The leaves’ texture can best described as silky, bordering on the slightly textured in some cultivars, measuring a trifle at three to eleven centimeters long in some species. Growing from a semi-woody stalk, the plant can grow to a maximum height of 130cms, making it a perfect potted plant to be had near your kitchen. The plant is further characterized by terminally arranged white flowers that often grow in a screw-like protrusion from the topmost parts of the branches. [1] The delicate flowers are notable for its visible stamens and for the delicate, slightly ‘frayed’ ends of its petals. As with the majority of culinary herbs, basil’s every constituent part can be employed for either culinary or medicinal purposes, although nowadays, it is the leaves that garner most of the attention. Surprisingly, while most culinary herbs are typically employed in its dry state, basil is best used in its fresh state as it is said to give off more flavor. When employed medicinally however, basil may be employed in either its fresh or dried form unless otherwise stated.

Basil - Herbal Uses

Basil is most commonly employed as a culinary herb, and is employed to flavor a wide assortment of dishes, usually European (specifically Mediterranean) in origin. It is used as a seasoning for soups, stews, meat-based, and vegetable-based dishes especially when dry, and is made into sauces or integrated into salads in its fresh form. Because many culinary experts attest that basil is best used in its fresh form, most cooks typically keep a fresh supply by planting a small shrub of basil and keeping it as an indoor plant. Perhaps the most popular use of basil is as a prime ingredient in the creation of the Mediterranean sauce pesto, of which it is the primary ingredient. [2] The flowers of the plant, while no longer typically used as a culinary herb, were also at one time employed in cooking, chiefly due to its subtler flavor. The use of the flowers as a culinary spice remains commonplace in some areas of the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe, although its employment everywhere else for either culinary seasoning or as a garnish in edible salads is thought of to be exotic, if not downright strange.

More often than not, dried basil is more popular than fresh basil, typically because it is handier and more easily acquirable than fresh basil. It also makes for the perfect seasoning due to the fact that dried basil is a tad more mellow in terms of aroma and flavor than fresh basil, making it an excellent addition to breads, pasta-based dishes, and even (in some instances) seafood.

When employed medicinally, dried basil is far more popular an option than fresh basil, simply because it is far more convenient than the fresh leaves, and is far more stable when it comes to long-term storage. Because flavor is not really an issue medicinally, dried basil can be employed almost universally in all herbal remedies that call for the plant, as it is just as potent (if not more potent) than its fresh counterpart. Employed medicinally, basil is typically made into decoctions (in either it’s fresh or dried form), infusions (chiefly in its dry form), tinctures, salves, ointments, and even creams.

A decoction or infusion of basil can be employed for pain-relief, and it works best when drunk before bedtime and after waking to help manage the discomforts brought about by arthritis and rheumatism. Stronger decoctions of dried basil leaves may also be employed as a natural mouthwash and antiseptic for minor cuts and moderately severe wounds, as it possesses potent and time-tested antibacterial properties that help to stave off infection. [3] Used in this manner, it can be employed as a topical rinse (ensuring that the decocted liquor is cool enough to the touch to avoid incurring tissue damage), or as a medicating liquor for use in bandages. When drunk as a tisane, it can be used as a digestif and a carminative. It may also help to encourage digestion, prevent bloating and dyspepsia and help to improve the body’s ability to assimilate the nutrients acquired from food. [4] Moderately strong decoctions of basil can be drunk to relieve the symptoms of fever, while very strong decoctions of either fresh or dried leaves can be drunk as an emmenagogue to help regulate the menstrual cycle and encourage the menstrual flow. When employed as a hair-rinse it helps to keep dandruff at bay while encouraging hair re-growth, thickening, and hair darkening. [5] Employed as a facial rinse, it helps to keep acne at bay and encourage the enlivening of one’s skin-tone. Very strong decoctions may even be used as an astringent. Allowed to steep in vinegar, it can be employed as an extremely potent astringent, or as a far more effective after-shampoo hair-rinse (if diluted with water).

Moderate consumption of basil tea or fresh basil may also help to improve cardiovascular health due to its relatively high Beta-carotene (Vitamin A) content, which helps to protect the vascular muscle from the ravages of cholesterol. While it is not really a cure for heart-disease, a cup of basil tea a day, or pesto every three days or so can help to markedly improve one’s heart health along with lowering one’s risk of arrhythmia, lessening the occurrence of cardiovascular spasms, and helping to prevent or moderate the occurrence of angina attacks. [6] Some medicinal studies have even suggested a degree of anti-carcinogenic properties to be found in a number of volatile compounds in basil leaf, although the veracity and efficiency of its anti-carcinogenic effects is still largely debated.

When made into a poultice (with, or without the addition of oil), it can be placed directly unto moderately severe wounds to stave off infection, or it can be applied on bruises to prevent swelling. Placing a poultice of basil unto one’s forehead may also help to promote relaxation in the same manner as a moderately strong decoction or infusion of basil tea, as it is known to possess notable sedative properties that are especially helpful for relieving stress, anxiety, and even mild depression. [7]

The dried leaves, when allowed to macerate in a base oil (of one’s choosing) can be used as a disinfectant salve for cuts and other minor injuries, a soothing oil employed for the treatment of arthritis and rheumatism, or a hair oil that helps to prevent all topical disorders and encourage hair growth. When thrown into a pot of boiling water, the ensuing vapours may be employed as an inhalant to encourage decongestion and help manage mild to moderate asthma attacks without the need for a nebulizer. This inhalant may also be helpful for curing stuffy noses, and for alleviating headaches.

The essential oil of basil (derived from steam distillation) may be added to a base oil in the creation of hair oils, healing salves, or ointments. The essential oil of basil, when diluted with a base oil makes for a perfect mosquito repellant when applied topically, while it makes for an equally effective mosquito repellant for the home when employed undiluted and diffused via a diffuser. When creating creams or waxes, incorporating basil essential oil is better than macerating whole dried leaves in one’s choice of wax or ester, as its properties are more potent. When creating inhalants or employing the plant for aromatherapeutic purposes, the essential oil is also a better and more accessible option.

The whole dried leaves may be added to one’s choice of high-proof alcohol to create a tincture, diluting small amounts of the tincture in water or some other liquid base prior to consumption. The tincture may also be employed topically, either in its diluted form, or otherwise integrated into oils to make liniments for antihistaminic, antipyretic or analgesic purposes. The whole leaves may also be pulverized, encapsulated, and taken as in moderate doses as a food supplement.

Basil - Esoteric Uses and Lore

Basil has long been thought of as an herb of blessings and protection, as it is considered sacred by a number of different cultures. In Indian mythology, basil is an herb sacred to both Visnu and the avatar Krsna, and is typically planted in households and temples to bring protection and ward off evil. This idea was later adopted or perhaps was integrated into Western magick and folklore, as fresh basil sprigs were hung in doorways to stave off evil and sickness, while dried basil was sprinkled on floorboards to exorcise negativity and illness. In the Orthodox Christian tradition, it is said that basil was the plant that sprang up from the foot of the Cross during the Crucifixion, and is therefore considered a highly sacred herb. In many Eastern Orthodox Churches, fresh basil leaves were allowed to macerate in water, the ensuing ‘liquor’ then employed for use as holy water in founts and fore general use. In magickal practice, this infused water is commonly sprinkled on doorways or floors to help attract luck, health, and wealth into a household. [8]

Some cultures believe in the magickal ability to basil to bring about luck or wealth, and this is commonly done through the creation of medicine pouches or juju bags stuffed with basil and carried on one’s person. Furthermore, said medicine pouches may be stored in places where money is kept, and is said to attract more money along with protecting what is already present from loss or theft. In African shamanism, crushed basil is said to keep scorpions at bay, although European lore stated - astonishingly - that the very aroma of basil could cause scorpions to breed in one’s brain. [9]

Dried basil may be employed as an incense, typically of a warding nature, or otherwise smoked (either by itself or mixed with other smokable herbs) for grounding, cleansing, or centering. Oils infused with basil or incorporated with its essential oil can be employed as a cleansing and warding oil, and can be useful in the blessing talismans and amulets. Its protective properties extend to the mythological, as it is among the few plants that was said to be able to cure the lethal look of a basilisk (from which basil itself is named after). [10] Due to this extremely powerful nature, it has also been associated with evil in some cultures, as in ancient Rome and Greece, where basil was once considered a demonic plant and a symbol of undying hatred. Despite this contradictory nature, basil’s role in modern magick seems to be relegated solely to the protective fields, although it can (as is still employed albeit rarely) for hexes.

Names of Basil, Past and Present

Chinese: luole
Japanese: shiso (questionable nomenclature)
Filipino: balanoy
Hindi: tulasi / vanatulasi / visva tulsi / munjariki
French: basilic / basilic commun / basilica aux sauces (other nomenclatures exist)
Italian: basilici herba
Spanish: albahaca
English: basil / sweet basil (usually erroneously thought of as a different type of basil) / garden basil / Josephwort
Greek: basileus (lit. ‘king’)
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Ocimum basilicum


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Infographic Image Sources:
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Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt, scientific studies report by Dan Ablir.

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