An extensive and fascinating group of herbs belonging to the mint family, Labiatae.

It is native to India, but has been in use in the Middle East and parts of the Mediterranean for thousands of years. It was not until the sixteenth century however, that the herb was introduced into continental Europe. There are over 40 varieties of basil, of which a half dozen or so are of culinary interest.

  • Ocimum basilicum or sweet basil. This is the most common variety and the one you are most likely to encounter at the greengrocer. It has large bright green leaves and a pungent aroma, with small white flowers. Reject any bearing these flowers as they diminish the basil flavour of the leaves.

  • O. minimum or bush basil. As the scientific name suggests, this is smaller variety, which is very similar to sweet basil, but has a milder flavour and aroma. This variety originated in South America.

  • O. basilicum var. purpurascens or red basil, has strikingly vivid red to purple foliage and deep pink flowers. It has a pronounced aroma, but only a mild basil flavour, so it tends to be treated more as an ornamental plant and as a garnish. Some hybrids have serrated leaves.

  • O. tenuiflorum var. sanctum, better known as holy basil or Thai basil, is an ancient herb that originated in India and has strong religious associations in that country as well as Thailand. It has compact dark green leaves and purple flowers. The entire plant has a strong aniseed aroma and flavour. This variety of basil is the one exception to the "no flowers" rule as the presence of flowers actually increases the herb's flavour.

  • O. basilicum var. cinnamon or cinnamon basil, has deep green to brown leaves with pink flowers. It has a pungent cinnamon aroma when cut or rubbed. This variety comes originally from Mexico.

  • O. basilicum var. citriodorum or lemon basil has small, pale green, serrated leaves, with a distinctive point to their end. It originated in Indonesia and as one would expect, has a lemony taste and aroma.

    There are two points of view as to the origin of the word basil. The Greek basilikon means royal or kingly, indicating the high esteem with which the herb was regarded. Alternatively, the Latin basiliscus refers to the basilisk, a fire-breathing dragon, perhaps a reference to the herb's pungency.

    All varieties of basil are easy to grow from seed and will thrive in a climate lacking in extremes. All they require is a large supply of direct sunlight (I have found full afternoon sun to be particularly successful) and a regular watering. Sweet basil and tomatoes have a long-standing culinary association, but a lesser known fact is that the two are often used in companion planting as basil repels the pests that can drive the tomato grower mad.

    In the kitchen the herb has a myriad of uses. The tomato and basil pairing is reinforced by the famous insalta Caprese, a simple and delicious combination of basil, tomatoes and bocconcini cheese. Basil does not freeze well and dried basil is a pointless exercise, so if you must preserve the freshness of the herb, try making a pesto instead, or blend basil leaves with olive oil, sea salt and wine vinegar to make basil oil, which is delicious tossed through hot pasta. Most recipes insist that you tear basil rather than cut it, as a knife bruises the delicate leaves. While this is true, I have found this bruising has no impact on flavour, so if presentation is not important (such as in pasta sauce), then chop away.

  • "You think too much like the others."

    Mal was the vision of glorified human imperfection. Those who listened to him casually sometimes saw a troublemaker and at other times perceived a goofball. Those who really paid attention knew that he was one of life's teachers, an older man who had experienced much in life and had a message to impart. You had to listen with your ears tuned in and your mind on full alert. It also didn't hurt to listen between the lines.

    Hey baby
    You're a little high strung
    Stay a while
    Just a little while
    Stop fighting everything in sight
    Stop trying to convince everyone else
    Try convincing yourself

    "People try too hard to be original.
    That makes them all the same."

    Rushing to judgment is a lot of fun. Nothing beats a brief wispy cloud of a superiority complex to pass the time. Is that all you need to make life palatable? Isn't there kind of a bad taste in your mouth that rolls around behind the tongue after you've mocked an associate for their less than critically sound taste in music, movies or fishing lures? Mal had a simple answer. Basil.

    People are on the go today
    Not much time for cooking with class
    Food in a box is quick and easy
    Drive-thru windows are calling your name
    Stop, look and listen
    Do you hear that sound?
    Sounds like basil, sweet basil
    And it is calling your name

    "Do you realize what bland food is doing to people?" Mal would ask as he walked through the break room and watched one of our co-workers heating up canned ravioli in the microwave. Mal was fully aware that this co-worker was about to treat himself to a terrible day. He would eat his bland ravioli and spend the afternoon remembering how good the food his mother cooked when he was a young boy really was. He would wistfully remember meals he paid top dollar for in expensive Italian restaurants. Mal had an answer. He could not let this man head into the rest of his day with that kind of burden. Mal pulled back his jacket to reveal a holster on his belt. I paused for a moment, thinking that perhaps he had a gun. After all, we were working at the post office in those days and we'd heard all of the stories. My concern would not last long. Mal drew forth a plastic tube containing dried flakes of basil. As he tossed it to our co-worker I watched in amazement. The jar spinning in mid-air was like a revelation. As our co-worker caught the jar, his dour expression turned to glee. This basil was just the thing to add excitement and flavor to his canned, flavorless ravioli.

    Telling Mal that I, myself, had little experience with basil caused his brow to furrow. He patted me on the back and told me to wait for him before leaving work for the day. Nervously, I agreed, and at quitting time I followed him in my car to the grocery store. There he opened my eyes. We found basil in the spice aisle as well as amongst the fresh herbs. He filled my basket with a wide assortment of both, reminding me that I would need to learn when to use basil in its different forms. Once outside, he took me aside and spoke to me in hushed tones as he handed me a small, green notebook. "These are my secret basil recipes. Not only that, but intimate knowledge of the other powers of basil. The world will be yours now. I am passing along the secret, for you are my chosen messenger."

    A mere six months later, Mal died. The heavy doses of morphine the doctors were injecting into his bloodstream had little to do with the self-satisfied smile on his face. A life filled with basil, and knowing he could trust me with this incredible knowledge about its powers, had lead him to die peacefully and without regret. His dignity and grace I will always remember. Especially when I reach for the basil.

    Life not going your way? Add basil.

    Ocimum basilicum - symbol of love, aromatic culinary herb

    In Italy, it is a symbol of love; in Hindu India, it is sacred to Krishna and Vishnu; according to herbalist Nicholas Culpeper, if "...applied to the place bitten by venomous beasts, or stung by a wasp or hornet, it speedily draws the poison to it". (Culpepper's Herbal).

    The name originates with the Greek basileús (meaning 'king'), and it is certainly a royal treat - in every kitchen it is a source of fragrant joy. A member of the family Lamiaceae, sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is related to the herb mint. The plant is native to India and the Middle East, where it has been used both as a culinary spice and a medicine for centuries. An annual plant, it is tender, preferring a mild climate and an open, moist soil. This is not a herb for exposed, windy gardens, but requires shelter and protection from the cold to be at its best.

    The plant itself is nondescript - with clusters of spear-shaped leaves, it grows up to about two feet (60 cm) high, and produces spires of white flowers in mid-summer. The root system is shallow and thin, hence the plant will only thrive if the soil is rich in humus and does not dry out. It is grown commercially in much of Mediterranean Europe, California, Iran and its native India.

    As a companion planting, it has an affinity with tomatoes and capsicum. Plant them between 8 and 12 inches (20 - 30 cm) apart - this way, they will grow closely enough to keep a moist microclimate around the roots, without becoming too crowded. Sweet basil is a rewarding herb to grow, a small amount of seed producing vast quantities of leaf, which can be used fresh, frozen or dried. In the right conditions, it grows strongly enough that you can harvest on a 'cut-and-come-again' basis, taking younger stems and leaves in the same way you would with mint.

    To dry basil, simply take young stems and tie them loosely in bundles before hanging them in a cool, dark and dry place. The leaves may then be stripped off and stored, either in jars or (as my neighbour did, with fragrant results) in brown paper bags in a kitchen drawer. In either case, use them quickly - no dried herb is ever at its best, and the longer they are left, the poorer they will be.

    Culinary Use

    Sweet basil is certainly well-named - having a warm aroma and being less pungent than other basil species, it is used in many dishes, especially to enhance tomatoes, fish and meats. It is frequently used in Italian and Thai dishes, and is always a constituent of my home-made tomato-based sauces. Fresh basil is a major component of pesto sauce, and fresh leaves are a welcome addition in many salads. The dried herb is still sweet, if carefully prepared and stored, although like all dried herbs, its shelf life is not very long.

    Medical Use

    Herbal infusions have been used throughout the ages as a mild stimulant. The fresh, clean smell lifts the spirits, and it was often used with other herbs (especially rosemary and lavender) as a prophylactic against disease. Nowadays, it is frequently used as an essential oils, its primary active components being phenols, methyl chavicol and d-linalool.

    It may be used in oil burners to relieve headache, especially those caused by stress. It helps to alleviate fatigue and the symptoms of colds, nasal and bronchial congestion. Topically, diluted with a suitable carrier oil, it can help muscle pain, and is reputed to help with menstrual cramps, too. It blends well with orange, neroli, rosemary and geranium oils in all cases, and in any case, is a great room fragrancer. I have often used it with clary sage, to create an atmosphere that both raises the spirits and relaxes the body.

    Caution: This oil should not be used if skin is sensitive or broken, and care should be taken if you are subject to epilepsy.

    There have been some concerns that the high methyl chavicol content creates a higher cancer risk, and although this is far from proven, anyone receiving or recovering from, cancer treatment may be advised to take further advice before accepting treatment with this oil.

    Aromatherapy is not a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you have a health condition, consult your physician. If you are pregnant or breast-feeding, consult your doctor before using any aromatherapy products. Do not take essential oils internally. Keep essential oils and all aromatherapy products out of the reach of children. -
    Encyclopædia Britannica

    There are two approaches to growing sweet basil: as a culinary herb or an ornamental plant. Basil is very attractive as it develops large, puffy leaves and tiny white flowers. But if you are cultivating basil for cooking, it's best to fool Mother Nature a bit. The best-tasting leaves are fairly small, and picked before the plant flowers. I think it's best to grow basil in containers because you can bring in the plants if the temperature drops below 50°F.

    Basil seedlings just need water and full sun until they reach a height of about seven inches. If the plant is healthy — and not newly transplanted — grab your clippers and cut back the main stem about an inch. Pinch off the largest few leaves, then let the plant recover for a couple of days. Then start pinching off new growth tips forming in any clusters with six or more leaves. This will encourage growth of new side shoots for a nice, full plant. As the summer progresses, watch for flower buds - you'll want to pinch them off immediately. If you allow the plant to flower, the leaves will become bitter and the stems turn woody. At some point it will be difficult to keep up with the flower buds; if you have a long growing season, consider a drastic pruning of all stems down to about three inches. You'll be rewarded with a new crop of leaves in a two to three weeks.

    If all this seems like too much trouble, basil plants do just fine without much manipulation. You can do staggered plantings to ensure a good supply of tender leaves. Just keep an eye out for the first frost, as that event will kill your basil overnight.

    BQ12 -293

    Bas"il (?), n. [Cf. F. basile and E. Bezel.]

    The slope or angle to which the cutting edge of a tool, as a plane, is ground.



    © Webster 1913.

    Bas"il, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Basiled (); p. pr. & vb. n. Basiling.]

    To grind or form the edge of to an angle.



    © Webster 1913.

    Bas"il, n. [F. basilic, fr. L. badilicus royal, Gr., fr. king.] Bot.

    The name given to several aromatic herbs of the Mint family, but chiefly to the common or sweet basil (Ocymum basilicum), and the bush basil, or lesser basil (O. minimum), the leaves of which are used in cookery. The name is also given to several kinds of mountain mint (Pycnanthemum).

    Basil thyme, a name given to the fragrant herbs Calamintha Acinos and C. Nepeta. -- Wild basil, a plant (Calamintha clinopodium) of the Mint family.


    © Webster 1913.

    Bas"il (?), n. [Corrupt. from E. basan, F. basane, LL. basanium, bazana, fr. Ar. bithana, prop., lining.]

    The skin of a sheep tanned with bark.


    © Webster 1913.

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