Herbs & Spices
Season for Basil June - September
Basil, it's the stuff that pesto is made of. This herbaceous plant related to peppermint is inexplicably entrancing with its unique aroma - especially as it wafts from Italian fare (though its name comes from the Greek word for "royal"). From over 60 varieties with green hues sometimes peppered with purple and red - like Holy Basil in it's total purple brilliance - the basil brothers and sisters vary in taste, appearance and smell. Lemon, anise and cinnamon basil emit the fragrance and flavor their names allude to. The taste of sweet basil is the one we are most accustomed to, though it may be time to take a foray into those 59 or so other varieties...
How to Buy and Store Basil
Dried basil is barely even reminiscent of its fresh counterpart and offers incomparable taste. So, whenever possible, choose fresh, for it's not only superior in taste but in its health-giving properties too. Choose your fresh basil for vibrant, deeply-colored leaves that show no signs of slime, dark spots or yellowing. You can store your fresh basil in the refrigerator wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel where it will stay good for up to four days. To extend its life a few more days, you can place the basil stem-side down in a glass of water and place it in the fridge that way, changing the water every now and again. Another option is to buy a basil plant and chop the leaves off as you need them.
How to Cook Basil
One rule of thumb rules when cooking with basil: Since its oils are highly volatile - and they contain much of what makes basil healthy - add your basil near the end of the cooking process. This will ensure your basil imparts its highest level of flavor and nutrients. Of course, you don't have to cook basil at all, adding it to raw salads or even over the top of cooked dishes as a garnish that can be mixed in. Hardly a dish showcases this herb better than the beloved Italian appetizer, bruschetta. Simply chop basil, tomatoes, onions and garlic and mix them with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a spread to be reckoned with. But basil is versatile and can even pair wonderfully in desserts. Basil ice cream anyone?
Health Benefits of Basil
Basil contains flavonoids and volatile oils that can be of great use to the health of our bodies. Surprisingly, basil contains a lot of beta-carotene, a strong antioxidant that converts into vitamin A in the body, running around protecting our cells from free radical damage. Eugenol found in basil's oil provides an anti-inflammatory effect, working much like Aspirin and Ibuprofen do, so basil can provide relief from things like rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel conditions.
Why Buy Natural and Organic Basil
If you are purchasing dried basil, select organically grown basil so that you will know the herb has not undergone the process of irradiation, which can have many harmful health benefits not the least of which is killing all the nutrients. Better still, purchase organic fresh basil. The farmers market and specialty stores are likely to provide you with a greater variety of which to exercise your culinary prowess. Choosing organic not only ensures that pesticide residues aren't clinging to your basil leaves, but sends the message you are one consumer who supports sustainable practices.