Basil, A Popular Herb with Health Benefits
Basil is a very popular herb in Italian and Mediterranean cooking. It's more than just a fragrant and flavorful herb; basil has had medicinal qualities attributed to it as well. In antiquity spices were used mainly to preserve and flavor foods. Some spices were credited with special healing properties and thus became sacred. In ancient India, as well as Egypt, a mixture of basil and myrrh was ritually burned as an offering and used as a purifying agent in religious ceremonies. It is a popular belief that basil was used to treat conditions, diseases and infections in antiquity but only recently has modern science begun to verify the truth of some of its uses in medicine.
Basil is native to India; archeological evidence suggests that basil has been cultivated there since 3000 BC. Known as Tulsi or Holy Basil (ocimum sanctum). Ancient Aurevedic healers use it to treat a variety of illnesses. Some of these treatments do in fact include fevers, colds, sore throats, kidney stones, insect bites, depression, stress, and headaches*. A tea was prepared, from the tincture, for relief of cold and fever symptoms and as an aid to digestion.
Basil has been used as an aphrodisiac in old European countries. In Italy, where Sweet Basil (ocimum basilicum) is called "kiss me Nicholas," (bacia-nicola) basil symbolizes love. In Medieval times Italian suitors signaled their love by courting with a sprig of basil in their hair. In Romania and Moldavia, a young woman who wants the love of a young man will be successful if she gets him to take a sprig of basil from her. In some Greek Orthodox churches it is used to prepare holy water. Basil was said to be found growing around Christ's tomb after the Resurrection. Basil is an herb used and venerated by our ancestors through the millennia.
"Scientific research offers impressive evidence that Tulsi (basil) reduces stress, enhances stamina, relieves inflammation, lowers cholesterol, eliminates toxins, protects against radiation, prevents gastric ulcers, lowers fevers, improves digestion and provides a rich supply of antioxidants and other nutrients. Tulsi is especially effective in supporting the heart, blood vessels, liver and lungs and also regulates blood pressure and blood sugar." Dr. Ralph Miller, former Director of Research for the Canadian Dept. of Health and Welfare.
Research at Purdue University has shown that Basil has an array of flavonoids. Flavonoids help to protect cells and chromosomes from damage. Studies have shown that two of these flavonoids in particular, orientin and vicenin, are useful in protecting cell structures and chromosomes from damage by radiation and oxygen.
Basil is a very good source of beta-carotene. Beta-carotine helps to prevent damage to the cells by free radicals. Magnesium is also present in basil. This essential mineral helps the heart and blood vessels to relax, improving blood flow. Other nutrients found in basil include iron, calcium, potassium, and vitamin C.
The eugenol, thymol, carvacrol, and 4-allylphenol components of basil have been researched. These substances can block the activity of an enzyme in the body called cyclooxygenase (COX 2). Aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen work by inhibiting COX-2 as they are anti inflammatory compounds. This enzyme-inhibiting effect of the eugenol in basil qualifies basil as an anti-inflammatory. Lab research indicates the effectiveness of basil in restricting growth of numerous bacteria also.
Basil is used as a remedy, an aphrodisiac, religious component, and a flavor enhancer. What's not to love about this herb? A fresh basil leaf is featured in many of Pastene canned tomatoes. It's a small detail and paying attention to the details is what makes Pastene products the best domestic and imported Italian foods available on the market. Recipes that include this wonderful herb can be found in our "Recipes" section of this web site.