Herb Profile: Holy Basil

This basil packs more of a peppery punch than its relative herbs, but it can also function as a stress-relieving tea or a powerful antioxidant.

| July 2016

  • “Herb & Spice Companion: The Complete Guide to Over 100 Herbs & Spices” by Lindsay Herman
    Photo courtesy of Wellfleet Press
  • While spicy enough to be used in curries, this plant also truly is “holy”, known to be used in the daily practices of devout Hindus.
    Photo by Fotolia/sirikornt

When it comes to cooking, the sheer variety of herbs and spices can be overwhelming. With all the powders, jars, and plants available, how do you know what to buy and when to use it? When is fresh better than dry? Should you eat the stems, the leaves, the roots? In Herb & Spice Companion (Wellfleet Press, 2015), Lindsay Herman has created an accessible guide to seasonings, with over one hundred profiles of the most-used herbs and spices across the globe. As exampled here with holy basil, Herman provides a comprehensive look at each plant’s history, how to prep and serve and store the seasoning, and how to grow your own herbs from seed to harvest. That’s not even mentioning her instructions on various techniques for drying, freezing, frying, mixing, crushing, and chopping that are both brilliant and simple. A book for everyone, from cooks just starting out to old pros adding excitement to their dishes, Herb & Spice Companion is a must for any kitchen.

Holy Basil

Ocimum sanctum or Ocimum tenuiflorum
Other common names: Bai Gaprow or Tulasi
Flavors: spicy and peppery, with cloves, peppermint, and licorice

Called bai gaprow in Thai and tulasi in Sanskrit, holy basil is a spicy variant of the sweet basil plant. In India, the plant is indeed “holy”: Devout Hindus use it in their daily worship practices and many homes have a tulasi plant on their property.

With a pungent, hot flavor, holy basil is a top choice for hearty, meaty curries. Raw leaves are not recommended for eating, as the flavor really comes out through cooking. And that flavor is intense: Use in smaller quantities than you would with Thai basil.

Health Benefits

Holy basil is a prominent herb in Ayurveda, revered for millennia as a stress reliever and immune booster. Often sipped as a tea, it’s believed to help the body manage physical and emotional stress. Holy basil has been used widely for its antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties, as treatment for colds, bronchitis, asthma, fever, stomach upset, arthritis, and headaches.

In the Garden

Holy basil is a tropical perennial that grows healthily indoors in a pot or container; place in a sun-filled window.

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