If a kitchen has only a few herbs in its possession, basil will likely be one of them. Its fragrant essence combines well with rosemary and thyme in meat dishes, fish, vegetables, cheese, soup and eggs, and is one of the main ingredients in pesto, along with pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.
Although more than 60 varieties of basil have been identified, they all fall into three main types: sweet, purple, and bush. Each offers a subtle difference in taste; varieties such as lemon, anise, and cinnamon basil give you an idea of how one might modify and enhance a recipe. It only takes a few leaves to transform a simple dish – even a sandwich.
The ancient Greek word “basilikohn,” meaning royal, is the derivative of what we now call basil. It reflected an attitude of nobility and a desire to extend hospitality, friendship, and honor whenever it was served.
Basil also is considered one of the healthiest herbs. It’s best when fresh, exuding a sweet, earthy aroma that indicates not only the promise of pleasantly pungent flavor, but an impressive list of nutrients. Vitamin K, essential for blood clotting, is one of them. Just two tablespoons of basil provides 29 percent of the daily recommended value.
Basil also provides vitamin A, which contains beta-carotenes, powerful antioxidants that protect the cells lining a number of numerous body structures, including the blood vessels, from free radical damage. This helps prevent cholesterol in blood from oxidizing, helping to prevent atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and stroke.
Other vitamins and minerals in basil include iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, vitamin C and potassium. Not surprisingly, basil also has antibacterial properties and contains DNA-protecting flavonoids.