Basil was never an herb I loved to eat, even when I was living and studying in Florence, Italy, and eating fresh, flavorful basil all the time. I think I was scarred by years of eating dried basil in cooking, which, after I finish shivering at the thought, I can assure you is NOT remotely the same as fresh basil! I have learned to love basil, and I love growing basil in the warm months, but I want to learn how to set it up to grow it year round. It’s so easy to work fresh basil into easy summertime recipes for flavor and health benefits.
Health Benefits of Basil
Basil has many health benefits, including some cleansing properties outlined in this post, “Did You Know Basil is Your New BFF?” but it also helps tremendously with disease prevention.
Below are some key facts about Basil’s amazing health-improving properties thanks to Nutrition-and-You.com.
- Basil herb contains exceptionally high levels of beta-carotene, vitamin A, cryptoxanthin, lutein and zea-xanthin. These compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease process.
- Zeaxanthin, a yellow flavonoid carotenoid compound, is selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea where it found to filter harmful UV rays from reaching retina. Herbs, fruits, and vegetables that are rich in this compound help to protect from age related macular disease (AMRD), especially in the elderly.
- Vitamin A is known to have antioxidant properties and is essential for vision. It is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural foods rich in vitamin-A has been found to help body protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
- Vitamin K in basil is essential for many coagulant factors in the blood and plays vital role in the bone strengthening function by helping mineralization process in the bones.
- Basil herb contains good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, copper, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids, which helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
- Basil leaves are an excellent source of iron, contains 3.17 mg/100 g of fresh leaves (about 26% of RDA). Iron, being a component of hemoglobin inside the red blood cells, determines the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood.
Basil is an easy herb to start with since it likes a somewhat rich soil and doesn’t like to be kept dry. The seeds grow fairly quickly as long as you provide direct sunlight and warmth. One option is to cover with a plastic bag or the top of a soda container for a greenhouse effect. Once the plant gets past the seedling stage and needs to be repotted, you can think about using the leaves and harvesting. Make sure you pinch off the flowering parts (bolts) of the basil or it will begin to dwindle and dry up. Using the basil leaves regularly and pinching off yellowed or light green leaves will ensure a full plant.
My favorite Fresh Italian Pasta recipe from the old country…of course these quantities are approximations, so use each ingredient at your own discretion, but don’t be stingy!
Basil & Tomato Garlicky Buttery Pasta
1 cup diced tomatoes (1-2 medium)
2-3 cloves fresh garlic
3 tablespoons butter
Small handful of fresh basil leaves (about 20 leaves)
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Sprinkling of salt
Dash of ground black pepper
1/2 lb pasta of your choice (shells, rotini, etc.)
1. Wash and pat dry basil.
2. Melt butter in small saucepan over low heat.
3. Dice tomatoes and add to butter with garlic.
4. Add lemon juice to the melted butter and simmer for about 5 minutes over medium heat, just until the tomatoes start to break down a little.
5. Season with salt and pepper and add parmesan, if desired.
What are some of your favorite ways to eat basil? Cold tea, hot tea, appetizers, pasta, pesto, etc?