Vege Profile: Basil

Basil: Boom boom!  

Classic catchphrase from a cheeky red fox that shares a name with the holiest of herbs. If you know who I’m talking about, we’re in the same boat. No ones asking us for ID at the bar anymore. 

Where’s it from? Your guess is probably as wrong as mine. It originates from across South-East Asia. Not Italy. Even though they have nailed basil to their culinary identity. It is from the mint family. Again, it would have taken me 3 guesses to get that right. Any other surprises from the one of the best?  

Well, I was not surprised to find it is revered as a symbol of eternal life, faithfulness, and love. In traditional Hindu culture it is brewed as a medicinal tea. Holy basil tea is a part of Ayurveda traditional medicine. Basil contains bioactive compounds like eugenol, camphene, and camphor that have positive effects on the airways. These compounds have antimicrobial and antiviral activities that may help with common cold and flu symptoms.  

The name comes from the Greek Basilus, meaning royal or kingly. This is why the French called it ‘I’herbe royale’; all hail! The basilisk, a fearsome dragon who could kill with a single glance got its name from the same origin. Basil the dragon doesn’t strike the same tone… 

The royal anointing of basil was due to its association with early Christianity, with basil growing at revered sites and is used in certain denominations holy water. The ancient Egyptians also used it in their embalming process.  

Life, death and everything in between. Basil was associated with courting in Italy. Girls wore basil on their waist to signal their availability and in Portugal dwarf bush basil is presented in a pot, with a poem and a paper carnation on the religious holiday of John the Baptist. In the Victorian language of flowers it could mean both best wishes or hate, if you gave sweet or regular basil. Don’t mix up the basils!  

Basil is rich in nutrients and antioxidants. It has potent antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Its antioxidants help eliminate free radicals from the body. It contains a range of healthy nutrients including vitamins A, C, and K, manganese, iron, calcium, manganese, folate, and potassium.  


To store: Basil is sensitive to cold. Do not refrigerate fresh basil; it will turn black. Strip the lower leaves off the stems and place stems in a glass of water like a flower.   

To prep: Mince well. Add to butter, cream cheese, or your favourite pasta sauce. Make a batch of pesto with pine nuts, Parmesan, olive oil, salt, and garlic. Add late to cooking, as heat ruins basils flavour.  


Traditional recipes  

Gevovese pesto  

Arabiata sauce. Italian for ‘angry sauce’! 

Pad krapow gai – Thai  

Bruschetta Caprese – Basil, mozzarella, tomato on crunchy bread. Say no more.   

Falooda – Mughlai Indian dish with soaked basil seeds, rose syrup and vermicelli with ice cream. 

Barbri beole sharbat – A basil seed sweet drink often used to break the Ramadan fast.   

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