Uses for Basil

Learn about historic uses for basil and how you can incorporate basil varieties into different recipes today.

| April/May 2012

  • Today, aromatherapists use basil for massage and scented baths. It is also an antidepressant, antispasmodic, tonic, stimulant, nervine and carminative.
    Photo by yukibockle
  • Lemon basil’s sweet citrus flavor is great for potpourri as well as culinary uses with fish and fruits.
    Photo by H. Zell
  • This familiar garden basil is great for pesto and preserving. Numerous cultivars are available, each with a different flavor.
    Photo by Lasse Kristensen
  • More than 150 basil varities are grown worldwide, such as this Thai basil variety. The plant is thought to be native to India and is very popular in Mediterranean cooking.
    Photo by jayjayoo7_com/iStockphoto

I admit it. I’m prejudiced. You could even say I’m a fanatic. I’m in the business of growing herbs, and basil is by far my favorite. It touches my most basic instincts: eating pesto stimulates my most visceral needs; smelling basil makes me euphoric. Touching its sleek leaves makes me wish I could write poetry. The magic of those simple plant cells all linked together humbles me—the art of it all, so understated and still so quietly absorbing. And I’m not alone.

Basil is one of the most popular and sought-after herbs today, in the herb garden as well as in the kitchen. It’s easy to grow when it gets what it needs—plenty of sunlight, warmth, regular food and water, and pruning to keep it productive.

Recipes with Basil

Roasted Garlic and Tomato Bruschetta
Vegan Basil Pesto
Strawberry Basil Ice Cream 

Learn More About Uses for Basil

Herb Basics: An Introduction to Basil
What's Wrong with My Herbs: Growing Basil Tips 

Uses for Basil Through the Ages

Human use of basil dates back at least to the famous gardens of ancient Babylon. It has been used in wedding rites and lovers’ bowers as well as on the funeral pyre.

In the days before modern medicine, cure-alls frequently contained basil. Basil was used to relieve mental fatigue as well as the romantic Victorian “vapors”; it was recommended for mosquito, scorpion and snake bites. As recently as the early 20th century, camphor basil was grown in volume and distilled for camphorated oil, an important medicinal during both world wars.

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