Description : Basil or sweet basil is a popular culinary herb botanically known as Ocimum basilicum of the family Lamiaceae (mint). Basil is an annual plant, which is originally from Asia before spreading to other parts of the world. Basil is a Greek word (basileus), which literally means king.
Basil, which is highly rich in phyto-nutrients is a popular culinary flavor that gives distinguished taste to food. Basil is greenish in color with a pointed round leaves in appearance. Sometimes referred to as Saint Joseph’s Wort, basil has a varying taste ranging from sweet, pungent or strong. This leaf is sought out by many people due to its numerous benefits to human health.
There are several species of Ocimum basilicum such as; Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), Rubin basil (Ocimum basilicum), Lettuce leaf basil (Ocimum basilicum), Lemon basil (Ocimum americanum), African blue basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum), Cinnamon basil (Ocimum basilicum), Spice basil (Ocimum americanum) and Anise basil or Persian basil (Licorice basil).
African blue basil is characterised by a strong camphor smell, which is as a result of camphor and camphene scent in it. Sweet basil has a unique clove scent, which comes from eugenol while the lemon basil has a stong citrus scent that comes from limonene and aldehyde citral.
Ocimum basilicum is an aromatic, annual herb, 0.3-0.5 metres tall, but some cultivars can reach up to 1 m. The plant is almost hairless. Some cultivars, such as the ‘Dark Opal’, have leaves and stems deep purple in colour. The leaves are ovate, often puckered, flowers white or pink, and fruits have four small nutlets, which are mucilaginous when wet.
Ocimum basilicum is closely related to and frequently confused with Ocimum africanum and Ocimum americanum, but they can be identified on the basis of indumentum (hair distribution) and flower size. Lemon-scented cultivars are usually the result of crosses between O. basilicum and O. africanum.
Uses : Basil is used to flavour soups and sauces and is the main ingredient of pesto sauce. The leaves can be eaten as a salad. Basil is also used in perfumery, soap-making, and to flavour liqueurs. The seeds are edible, and when soaked in water become mucilaginous. In parts of the Mediterranean they are made into a refreshing drink known as cherbet tokhum.
Basil is widely used in systems of traditional medicine, including Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine. It is used for treating digestive system disorders, such as stomach ache and diarrhoea, kidney complaints, and infections. In Africa, for example, it is used for treating whooping cough and various types of fever. The leaves are pulped in water to make ear- and eye-drops in parts of west Africa, and a leaf decoction is used for treating coughs.
The leaves are used to make an insecticide that can protect stored crops from beetle damage
Health benefits :
1. Researchers reveal that basil contains varieties of essential oils that are rich in polyphenolic and phenolic compounds such as flavonoids and anthocyanins.
2. Basil leaves possess strong antiviral, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties in them due to the presence of compounds such as ethanol, vicenin and orientin in them.
3. Basil is used for treating stomach disorders such as intestinal gas, stomach spasms and loss of appetite.
4. Basil Ocimum sanctum is used in ayurvedic medicine as a remedy for headaches, cough and common colds.
5. Basil is anti-bacterial in nature thus acts as an insect repellents.
6. Basil is anti-inflammatory in nature due to the presence of eugenol, limonene and citronellol in the leaf.
7. When raw basil is squeezed and applied on the body part bitten by venomous animals, the chemical content of the leaf is capable of extracting the poisonous venom from the body.
8. Basil seeds can be used to control blood sugar level sugar hence thay are a great remedy for diabetes.
9. Regular intake of basil drink is helpful in cutting down excess weight.
10. Decoction of basil seeds can be used for treating urinary infections.
11. Researchers reveal that using basil before and after childbirth by women helps the breast milk to flow as well as promotes blood circulation.
12. When used as a mouth wash or gargle, basil water is capable of killing harmful bacterias in the mouth.
13. The presence of key chemical compounds in basil helps to get rid of intestinal worms.
14. Basil is an excellent source of calcium,magnesium, iron, Vitamin A, magnesium,copper, beta-carotene, potassium and manganese.
15. The presence of beta-caryophyllene in basil makes them ideal for treating inflammatory bowel diseases and arthritis.
16. Basil leaf contains anti-aging properties that is capable of preventing aging harmful effects.