Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

When I think of summer, I think of all the varieties of basil and the way they add complexity to just about any recipe. Basil is the perfect complement to those vine ripe tomatoes from the garden and fresh mozzarella, which I combine to make delicious Caprese salads throughout the season.

Did you know there are over 60 varieties of basil? Well, the number varies depending on what you read, but this estimate appears to be a good average. The first written record of basil dates back to Egypt, but it is believed to have come from India, which seems strange to me. I think of basil more as a Mediterranean herb. However, holy basil, also known as Tulsi is an Indian herb used medicinally as a tea. You can easily find it in health food stores these days. Thai basil is used extensively in Thai and Vietnamese food.  There are basils with hints of everything from lemon to jasmine to cinnamon.

Basil is not only delicious but beneficial to plants and people! Basil is believed to be a great companion plant to tomatoes, asparagus, peppers, oregano, beets, and more. Basil attracts beneficial insects and repels the bad bugs.

Basil has high amounts of vitamins K, A, and C, as well as minerals and a host of phytonutrients that provide antioxidant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. All this for only 6 calories per cup!

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology discovered  that an anti-inflammatory compound, (E)-beta-caryophyllene (BCP) is abundant in basil.  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.

So, be generous with basil in your summer dishes and enjoy pesto throughout the year!

Copyright © by Bobbi Mullins, originally published December 6, 2012

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