Posts Tagged ‘basil’
One suggestion I have for those that can’t commit to an herbal program just yet but want to get their feet wet is to begin by studying one herb each month to build a working knowledge of a handful of herbs. After doing this for a year or two, most people have saved enough to enter a formal program and learn about the science behind these herbs they’ve begun using. It’s a really great system because it enables the herb to be used practically right away!
To assist with that, I’m starting an herb of the month series on the blog – the tab has been on the side for a while now! We’ll focus on some of my favorite herbs and their medicinal / culinary uses. I strongly recommend beginning with the culinary use of herbs, especially if you’re new to an herb. It enables you to really learn the look, feel and taste of the herb, which is valuable info for when you begin studying the chemical composition later in a formal program.
For September, the herb of the month will be Basil – one of my absolute favorites! This one is a kitchen staple for many chefs, but its medicinal properties are equally impressive. The info is taken from an ebook I wrote several years ago called The Kitchen Herbal. Basil is also covered in the Handbook of Vintage Remedies and, in a more advanced format, through our study programs at the Vintage Remedies School of Natural Health.
Basil (Ocimum Basilicum)
This bushy plant has been cultivated for millennia, as a native to Asia’s tropical regions and the Mediterranean. It comes in many forms (over 60 varieties!) and is a close relative to peppermint, which explains the similarity in leaf shape. The name comes from a Greek word meaning “royal”, which reflects accurately the perception held of this herb. Tradition holds basil as a highly esteemed herb, and the Italians revered basil as a symbol of love and hospitality.
Nutritionally, basil is rich in vitamin K, with 2 t of dried herb offering a whopping 60% of the RDA. It also offers plenty of iron, calcium, vitamin A, fiber, and manganese. This impressive array of nutrients makes basil worth adding to the diet, but the benefits found in this tasty plant don’t end there.
Basil is also rich in a substance called flavonoids. These substances protect the cells of the body from damage by radiation and oxidation. The two flavonoids of most importance in basil are orietin and vicenin.
Medicinally, the plant is anti-inflammatory, which makes it beneficial for those with rheumatoid arthritis, depression, inflammatory bowel conditions, and even some headaches. The herb is also a digestive aid, helping to alleviate nausea and ease gastric upsets. Many of our culinary herbs are great at assisting with digestion, which probably is what led to their long tradition as a culinary herb.
Essential oils can also be extracted from basil, and these oils are valuable as well. Basil essential oil contains many substances, which are beneficial to the diet. Basil oil has been found in clinical trials to inhibit many species of pathogenic bacteria that have become resistant to conventional drugs. On this list is E coli, the cause of many common gastric problems, as well as types of listeria and staph.
Basil essential oil is also diffused throughout a room to create a general calm and uplifting feeling. The scent also promotes mental clarity and an overall sense of wellbeing. These benefits can be obtained by diffusing the oil, but also directly from a plant growing in a decorative pot inside the house. I prefer the fresh scent directly from the plant. Not only is it easier (no finding the oil and setting up the diffuser) it can be safer, as I don’t have to worry about the kids ingesting or spilling the oil on themselves.
While basil is often featured in the cuisine of the countries in its native region, Italian and Thai foods seem to top the list in uses for basil. Most chefs agree that fresh basil is preferred over the dried kind, and since it is so easy to grow in the kitchen, why not? The fresh herb is going to offer the most health benefits as well. When growing your own basil, keep in mind that it likes warm weather. We are prone to cold temperatures here during the winter, so I like to grow my basil in a pot. Since it requires good drainage, I line the pot first with gravel, then healthy fertile soil prior to planting. Then, I keep it near a window in my kitchen so it can get the 6-8 hours of sunlight it needs, but close enough to my stove for me to grab a few last minute clippings while I am cooking.
The seeds germinate in about a week, which is nice for impatient growers like myself. Once seedlings appear, the aroma begins to fill the kitchen through those healthy essential oils we discussed earlier. Then, as it grows, I can begin to pick off the leaves. Basil needs water about once a week, and it grows best when the flowers are plucked, to focus on the leaves. It also likes to have just a few leaves at a time plucked, rather than an all at once trimming, which is yet another reason to keep it on hand during food prep, grabbing those leaves just before consuming them.
Basil can be preserved by drying or freezing. Try finding mini ice cube trays, fill each spot up with chopped basil and cover with water or olive oil. Freeze and then dump into a freezer bag. To add basil to any recipe, just drop in a cube or two. To dry out basil, simply pluck a few fresh stems. Tie with a pretty ribbon and hang in a dry room in indirect sunlight. Other methods include spreading out the stems over a towel and plucking only the leaves to dry. Regardless of the method, the leaves and stems need to be fully dry prior to storage; otherwise there is a risk of mold. The pretty bundles will take longest to dry, and the flat leaves will dry the fastest. Once completely dry, store in an airtight container away from direct sunlight.
Basil blends perfectly with tomatoes, and this classic combination offers a variety of serving options. It is also a good match for garlic and other similarly strong flavors, as the intense essential (or volatile) oil can certainly hold its own.
Here are some of my favorite ways to add some basil to our day.
Basil Roasted Chicken with Basil Parmesan Butter
This is one of my favorite meals. The strong flavor of the basil coats the chicken while the smooth cheese mellows the taste. Use the extra butter for the diner bread or to top accompanying veggies. It can be prepared in advance and
stored in the fridge for up to a week.
4 free range chicken breasts
1 stick butter
1/3 cup fresh basil
3 T parmesan cheese
1 t each: salt and pepper
Chop the basil while allowing the butter to soften. In a medium bowl, mix together the butter, basil, salt and pepper. Take 4T of the mixture (1/4 cup) out to the grill with you. On the grill, over medium heat, begin to cook the chicken, coating each breast with 1T of the butter mixture while it cooks. Serve with warm parmesan risotto (recipe below), green salad and a crusty loaf of bread topped with the remaining butter.
Warm Parmesan Risotto
This dish only contains a hint of basil, making it the perfect accompaniment to the roasted chicken above. Risotto can be intimidating the first time it is tackled, but it is really simple once the procedure is mastered. It quickly
became one of my favorite comfort foods. Risotto is also a rice, meaning it is gluten free, which is important to the growing number of individuals with gluten intolerance or allergies.
1 cup Arborio rice
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated or shredded
3 cups chicken or veggie stock
1 t dried basil
1 t garlic powder
1 t onion powder
2 T olive oil
In a saucepan over low heat, combine the stock with 2 cups purified water. Warm but do not let come to a simmer or boil. In another pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and heat about a minute until flavors begin to mix. Add the rice. Stir about 3-5 minutes until the rice is transparent. Slowly add 1 cup of the stock mixture. Cook over medium to low heat until the liquid is almost all the way absorbed. Continue adding 1/2 to 1 cup liquid at a time, only adding more when the previous addition is absorbed until all the liquid has been used. (This will take about 20-30 minutes.) The resulting dish will be naturally creamy with its own sauce. To intensify the flavor, add the parmesan and basil to the sauce and serve right away.
This food holds a long history, dating back to at least the 15th century in central Italy. While tradition places it as a winter food, I love it in the summer piled high with fresh vine ripened tomatoes. There are many different versions of
the treat, so feel free to play around with this recipe, using whatever you have on hand as the topping.
2 pounds fresh Roma tomatoes
1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped
2-3T olive oil
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 loaf crusty wheat bread
2T minced garlic
Chop the tomatoes into small cubes. Place in a bowl with the basil, oil and 3T of the cheese. Set aside for the flavors to mellow. (This is a great time to toss it in the fridge overnight. It tastes better the next day, and saves you a step later.) Slice the bread into thick hearty slices. Spread with minced garlic and toast until firm but not browned. Scoop the tomato mixture over the top of the toasted slices. Arrange on a platter and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.
This is another classic Italian food. While the salad is simple to make, the way the flavors marry and blend into a rich intense treat always amazes me. Serve this alongside a light summery meal or before a big fall feast.
3 large ripe tomatoes
8-10 large fresh basil leaves
1 pound sliced fresh mozzarella
2T olive oil
dash salt and pepper
On a platter, arrange the tomatoes, cheese and basil in an alternating pattern until you have used all the ingredients. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle the salt and pepper over the top. This can sit in the fridge for a couple of hours prior to serving, or can be enjoyed right away.
What discussion of basil is complete without a mention of the popular dish pesto? Pesto rises and falls in popularity, but this light, easy to make dish is a staple in my home at all times. I make (or buy) a big batch, then I freeze it in ice cube trays to have little portions always available. Whenever we need some “fast food”, all I have to do is cook some pasta and the warmth thaws the pesto and we have a quick effortless meal. Here is a recipe to stock your freezer with.
4 cups fresh basil leaves
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup pine nuts
3 T minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste
In a blender or food processor, chop the nuts and basil. Add the garlic and blend. Open the top and slowly add the oil. Finish with the cheese and spices. This makes enough to use now and freeze half for later. Toss 1 cup with 1 pound cooked pasta, scoop it over grilled chicken or spread over cream cheese for a party dip. The uses are limitless!
Basil Mozzarella Panini
This sandwich is a staple in my home, especially on busy afternoons when we want something healthy, filling and FAST! If you don’t have a panini grill, try making this sandwich over a griddle or even a regular frying pan over the stove. The look may be different, but the taste will still be there.
2 slices sourdough whole wheat bread (or your favorite sandwich bread)
2 slices fresh mozzarella cheese (in a pinch, I have used shredded mozzarella)
3-4 whole basil leaves
1/2 T olive oil
salt and pepper
sun dried tomatoes (2-3 halves, packed in oil)
Heat the panini. Brush both sides of each slice of bread with the oil. Place one in the hot grill. Cover with cheese, then tomatoes and basil. Top with the final slice and close the grill to press the sandwich. (If using the stove, you will need to turn the sandwich halfway through) Cook until cheese is smooth and serve immediately with a pasta salad.
**Take from The Kitchen Herbal**