It’s that time of year when I walk through the produce aisles and lanes of my local farmer’s market and catch the lovely aromatic fragrance of one of my favorite herbs, basil! Fun fact: That fragrant smell used to draw courting men to women’s homes from pots on their balconies; or a suitor could offer a sprig to his lady to make her fall in love. While its days as a flower of love may be long gone, it can still bring its intoxicating aroma into your home as a potted plant and in the various dishes it can be used in.
Technically, Ocimum Basilicum, basil is generally available from spring to fall, depending on where you live. Because it is native to India, Africa and Asia, it enjoys warmer climates, so if you live in a nice sunny spot, you can enjoy this delectable little plant for months. It enjoys full sun, so be sure to place it either outside or in the sunniest window of your home.
There are more than 60 varieties, ranging from the common Sweet Basil to Thai Basil to Cinnamon Basil. While it is in season, make a trip to your local farmer’s market and try a few to see which one suites your taste buds. Personally, I’m quite old fashioned and stick with the Italian Basil, because of its potent, oily, typical “basil” smell; however the Purple Basil is quite glorious and absolutely beautiful in a dish. It’s really a personal preference.
Not only does it smell divine and taste delicious, but it is also packed full of health promoting vitamins and nutrients. Basil is excellent at protecting against free radical damage due to its availability of vitamin A, which can be converted to beta-carotene. This can be especially helpful during those summer months when you may be spending a bit too much time in the sun. Basil is also a good source of magnesium. Magnesium is important for cardiovascular health, but also for regular sleep, can help those with headaches and migraines and can also facilitate insulin sensitivity. Along with being high in vitamin A and magnesium, basil is also a fantastic source of vitamin K and manganese, a good source of copper, vitamin C, calcium, iron, folate and omega 3 fatty acids.
Basil’s real health mentioning powerhouses come in the form of flavonoids and volatile oils. Basil contains two flavonoids, Orientin and Vicenin that provide DNA protection. In studies on human white blood cells, these two flavonoids were shown to protect cells against radiation and oxidation damage. Along with flavonoids, basil also contains numerous volatile oils (estragole, linalool, cineole, eugenol, sabinene, myrcene, and limone) that act as antibacterial agents against various harmful bacteria, such as listeria, staphylococcus and e. coli, amongst others. Eugenol, one volatile oil, has also been shown to block the activity of the COX (cyclooxygenase) enzyme, providing relief for systems of inflammation and pain.
So, grab your spring hat, your reusable bags or your wicker basket and take a stroll to your local farmer’s market. Chat with the farmer’s about what varieties of basil they are carrying this season; perhaps even buy a plant (especially if you are basil lover like me). Experiment, branch out and try the different kinds. Include it on your avocado toast (one of my morning favorites!) or in your salads or in your rice dishes. You will love the flavor, the smell and the extra added health benefits it will be providing for you during these spring and summer months.
What’s your favorite way to eat basil? Any varieties you love?
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Photo: Ali Weber