With more than 60 varieties of basil, this one herb can take you on a culinary adventure that will benefit your health, while it entertains your taste buds. This highly fragrant plant has traditionally been used in cuisines around the globe from Italian to Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian. Packed with vitamins A, C and K, manganese, copper, calcium, iron, folate and omega-3 fatty acids, it is no wonder that basil carries with it a tradition of reverence, from being a symbol of hospitality in India to one of love in Italy. Research has shown that basil provides protection at the cellular level and has anti-bacterial properties. In fact, studies have shown that the essential oil obtained from basil leaves can protect against several species of antibiotic resistant bacteria strains. Washing your produce in a 1% basil concentration can nearly eliminate Shigella, a diarrhea inducing bacteria that can cause significant intestinal damage. Overall, basil helps protect against heart attack, stroke, asthma, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and promotes cardiovascular health.

Whenever possible, choose fresh basil over the dried variety, as fresh basil provides the best flavor. Fresh basil leaves should be a vibrant, deep green color without spots or yellowing. Store fresh basil in the refrigerator wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel, or preserve it for use in fall and winter soups by freezing. When cooking with basil, remember the adage "save the best for last" and add the herb near the end of the cooking process. Basil's oils are volatile and should not be cooked for long. An easy way to incorporate more basil into your diet is to pair it with uncooked foods, like salads. Incorporating fresh basil in a vinaigrette will ensure that your uncooked greens are safe to eat. You may also want to try adding fresh chopped basil with garlic and olive oil to yield a pesto fit for a variety of dishes including pasta and fish. Or if you're feeling a bit more adventurous, add basil to a healthy mix of eggplant, cabbage, chili peppers, tofu and cashew nuts to create a health benefiting Thai dish.


Photo Credit.

Basil. Worlds Healthiest Foods.

Marz, Russell B. 1999. Medical nutrition from Marz: (a textbook in clinical nutrition). Portland, Or: Omni-Press.

Gaby, Alan. 2011. Nutritional medicine. Concord, N.H: Fritz Perlberg Publishing. 

Image Attribution: kragmel/