Basil is an amazing herb. It is best known as a culinary herb prominent in Italian cuisine. Basil is commonly known as tulsi in India, basilica in French, basilikum or basilienkraut in German, basilica in Italian and albahaca in Spanish. Basil is categorized under the mint family. It is known for its rich and spicy, mildly peppery flavor with a trace of mint and clove. The wonderful fragrance of basil makes it useful as a seasoning herb in different types of food. Basil has round leaves that are pointed most of the times. They are generally green in color, although some species feature hints of purple or red. Basil has medicinal properties which makes it a very sought after herb in India. The botanical name of basil is Ocimum basilicum L and belongs to the Lamiaceae (Labiatae) family. The name "basil" is derived from the old Greek word "basilikohn", meaning "royal". In ancient culture, basil was held to be very noble and sacred. Basil is cultivated as a culinary herb, as a condiment or spice in the dried/frozen leaf form, as a source of aromatic essential oil, and as a potted herb or bedding plant.
Basil is native to India. However, it was known to the Greeks and the Romans. Nowadays, it is most widely cultivated in the countries like France, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Morocco, and the United States (Arizona, California, New Mexico, and North Carolina), Greece, India and Israel. There are over 40 different varieties of basil. However, Ocimum basilicum or sweet basil is grown widely. Basil generally grows anywhere and is, 30 to 130 cm tall with light green silky leaves. The flowers are generally small and white in color and are arranged in a terminal spike. Basil is very sensitive to cold. The plant thrives well in hot climates. Although basil grows best when outdoors, it can be easily grown indoors in a container or pot. It should be kept in bright sunlight. Wilted leaves occur due to lack of water. They will recover if watered thoroughly and placed in a sunny location.
Research studies on basil have shown unique health-protecting effects. Basil leaves have many essential oils such as eugenol, citronellol, linalool, citral, limonene and terpineol. These compounds are known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Besides, this herb is very low in calories and contains no cholesterol. However, it is very rich source in many essential nutrients, minerals and vitamins that are essential for optimum health. Basil herb contains exceptionally high levels of vitamin A, beta-carotene, lutein, cryptoxanthin, and zeaxanthin. These compounds protect the epithelial cells from free radical damage. They help to prevent cardiovascular diseases and premature aging. Basil is also a very good source of magnesium, which improves cardiovascular health by relaxing blood vessels, improving blood flow, and lessening the risk of irregular heart rhythms. Vitamin A present in basil is known to have antioxidant properties. It promotes healthy vision. Vitamin A helps to protect from lung and oral cavity cancers. Being rich in vitamin K, basil plays a vital role in bone strengthening and re-mineralization. Basil leaves are an excellent source of iron. 100 g of fresh leaves contain about 3.17 mg of iron. Regular intake improves circulation system and increase hemoglobin levels.
Eugenol is an ingredient of basil and its overdose can occur if too much is ingested. The recommended dose is two to five drops, three times a day. Symptoms of overdose of eugenol include shallow breathing, blood in the urine, mouth and throat burns, nausea, racing heartbeat, seizures, dizziness and coma. Holy basil can lower blood glucose, and hence it should be used carefully if a person is taking any diabetic medications. Basil has shown to decrease fertility in animals and more studies are needed to determine the effect on humans. Pregnant woman or breastfeeding mothers, are advised to avoid the use of basil.
Basil also known as “tulsi or tulasi” in Indian subcontinent is a sacred plant for Hindus. Tulsi is worshipped as a deity along with other Hindu gods. The leaves are used in temples and religious ceremonies. A Hindu household is considered incomplete if it doesn't have a basil plant in the courtyard. There are many other rituals and beliefs associated with basil. Jews consume it during fasting as it is believed to add strength. In Portugal, a small basil plant is traditionally presented to a sweetheart with a poem on the Saint John and Saint Anthony festivals. Holy basil has huge significance in the Greek Orthodox Church where it is used to prepare the holy water. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Romanian Orthodox Church also use basil to prepare holy water and pots of basil are often placed below church altars. Europeans place basil in the hands of the dead to ensure a safe journey. In India, people place basil in the mouth of the dying to ensure they reach God.