Used with permission from Superfoods: The Healthiest Foods on the Planet by Tonia Reinhard, $24.95 paperback, Firefly Books, 2010. The following excerpt can be found on Page 158.
• Ocimum americanum Spice Basil
• Ocimum basilicum Sweet Basil
• Ocimum citriodorum Lemon Basil
• Ocimum sanctum Sacred Basil, Holy Basil
In a Nutshell
ORIGIN: Old World tropics
SEASON: Year-round in warm climates
WHY IT'S SUPER: High in vitamins A and K; good source of vitamin C and manganese; contains antioxidant essential oils and carotenoids
GROWING AT HOME: Easy to grow
What’s in a Serving of Fresh Basil(1 cup/24 grams)
CALORIES: 6 (23 kJ)
PROTEIN: 0.8 grams
TOTAL FAT: 0.2 grams
SATURATED FAT: 0 grams
CARBOHYDRATES: 0.6 grams
FIBER: 0.4 grams
Basil or sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a popular culinary herb strongly associated with tomato sauces and pesto. Sacred basil, also called holy basil and tulsi, is native to Malaysia and India; in Asia, it is not only used as a flavoring but also as a medicine and for religious purposes—it plays an important role in the rituals of some Hindu sects. Spice basil, also known as hoary basil, hairy basil, and American basil, is an annual whose flavor has hints of camphor, cinnamon, citrus, and lavender. Lemon basil is a more recently created hybrid of basil and spice basil; it contains a chemical, citrol, that gives it a lemony smell and taste. The color of basil varies from pale green to dark purple.
Basil is an excellent source of vitamins A and K, and a good source of vitamin C and manganese. Its essential oils contain antioxidant compounds and carotenoids.
The Healthy Evidence
A 2006 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry analyzed the phytochemicals in basil. They found that basil contains essential oils, which function as antioxidants and antimicrobial agents, and that these inhibited specific bacteria and fungi.
In 2008, researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology published a report on a compound in basil, (E)-beta-caryophyllene (BCP). They suggested that this powerful anti-inflammatory agent could be effective in treating diseases in which inflammation plays a key role, such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Making the Most of Basil
Many people add only small amounts of basil to dishes, but to maximize your intake of nutrients and antioxidants try using larger quantities of the fresh leaves—for example, 3 cups (72 g) in a standard recipe for spaghetti sauce (ten servings). Even larger amounts can be sautéed with onions and olive oil and used as a base for any vegetable dish.
Click here for the main article, 4 Super Herbs and Spices.