Wow, it’s great to know that eating something as yummy as basil pesto can do so much for my health!
(From the NaturalNews newsletter by P. Simard) Basil is an aromatic plant that has been utilized for a very long time as a culinary herb in order to add a much appreciated fragrance to a wide variety of dishes. It has earned its credentials in many cuisines from the regular use of pesto, a mixture of basil, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.
Basil, scientifically called ocimum basilicim, originates from the warmer climates of Asia’s tropical regions. It’s an incredible source of anti-oxidants and filled with nutrients. Basil presents a wide array of health benefits. It is recognized for its exceptional anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and anti-aging properties, amongst many others. Basil also helps fight critical medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes by controlling blood sugar levels, or even cancer, thanks to the active phenolics present in the herb.
Phenolics are a group of organic compounds primarily found in fruits and vegetables. The main phenolics present in basil are the flavanoids, more specifically vicenin, orientin, eugenol and anthocyanins. These all play an important role because of their strong antioxidant properties. Although there is still an ongoing debate among them, most scientists do believe that antioxidants are vital in regards to an herb’s outstanding ability to prevent cancer.
Can basil help you retain your youth?
Basil has been utilized in Ayurvedic medicines for hundreds of years, if not more; therefore its healthy effects have also been studied a long time. It’s no surprise that a more recent research conducted at the Poona College of Pharmacy in Maharashtra, India, came to the conclusion that basil does protect the body from premature aging.
Researchers discovered, or rather validated, that basil was effective in protecting the body against free radicals. Basil’s flavanoids inhibited free radicals from causing significant damage to the body. Dr. Shinde stated the study clearly showed the herb promotes youth and it acts at a cellular level. She believes results validate its traditional use in the Ayurvedic system of medicine. She’s far from the only one, as many experts now also feel that basil is an anti-aging superfood.
The anti-bacterial properties of basil are also well referenced, but this time because of its volatile oils instead of its flavanoids. A study published in the July 2003 issue of the Journal of Microbiology Methods revealed that basil’s essential oils were able to stop in its tracks strains of bacteria known as Staphylococcus, Enterococcus and Pseudomonas. These pathogenic types of bacteria have not only become widespread, but also present a health risk from being resistant to treatment with the generally used antibiotic drugs.
Last but not least, a few studies published in the February 2004 journal of Food Microbiology presented evidence that washing food in a solution containing as low as 1 percent of basil in it, resulted in diminishing the number of Shigella cases, which is an infectious bacteria causing diarrhea, with the potential to cause more serious damage in the intestinal tract.
Now that you’re convinced you need to keep more basil on hand, here’s some helpful information from What’s Cooking America on the herb and how to store it…
The Greek name for basil means “king”, which shows how highly it has been regarded throughout the ages. Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a sun-loving annual with highly aromatic leaves that has a pleasant spicy odor and taste somewhat like anise or cloves.
Both the leaves and their essential oils are used as flavoring agents. There are many different types of sweet basil – large and dwarf forms, with green, purple, or variegated leaves. Many of these widely grown plants are ornamental, as well as edible.
Italian cooks love this easy-to-grow herb and use it generously in their sauces. In Italy this plant is a symbol of love; a sprig of it presented to your lover bespeaks fidelity. When a woman puts a pot of basil on the balcony outside her room, it means that she is ready to receive her suitor.
There is nothing like the smell of basil – one of the most recognized fragrances of summer. Basil has become one of the most popular herbs in the garden today. It is my favorite herb, especially in the summer and autumn when vine-ripen tomatoes are available. There are many types of basil, which vary in size, color, and flavor. All can be used for culinary purposes. If you’re not lucky enough to grow your own basil, it can be found in your supermarket. Look for evenly colored, bright green leaves with no sign of wilting or dark spots.
Storing Fresh Basil:
Store fresh basil leaves in the refrigerator, wrapped in barely damp paper towels and then in a plastic bag, for up to four days.
Store a bunch of basil, stems down, in a glass of water with a plastic bag over the leaves. Secure plastic bag to the glass with a rubber band. Refrigerate for up to a week, changing water every other day.
Preserving Fresh Basil:
To freeze, puree basil leaves with a little water and put into ice-cube trays. When frozen, the cubes can be stored in the freezer in plastic bag
To freeze, rinse herbs and let drain until dry. Lay in a single layer on baking sheets, keeping pieces slightly apart. Freeze on baking sheets just until herbs are rigid, about one hour. Place frozen herbs into small freezer plastic bags, press out air, seal, and return to freezer. To use, take out of the bag what you need, reseal, and immediately return to the freezer. Frozen herbs will retain flavor up to one year.
So now that you know more about the medicinal and culinary properties of this fabulous herb, how about a recipe for pesto that will please your palate and improve your health?!
Pesto alla Genovese
3 cups tightly-packed cups of fresh basil leaves (approx. 3 ounces)
2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 TBS pine nuts, toasted
1/2 tsp crystal salt (see previous posts on this wonderful health aid)
1/2 tsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup organic extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano, if possible)
Use younger and smaller basil leaves for best flavor; wash in cold water, discard stems and dry thoroughly (but don’t rub). Toast the pine nuts in toaster oven or small heavy frying pan over low heat, stirring frequently until golden, approximately 4 to 5 minutes (fyi, toasting brings out the flavor of the nuts, but also distroys some of the nutrients, so you may want to forego this step).
In a blender or food processor, add garlic, pine nuts and salt and process a few seconds. Add basil, lemon juice and olive oil and pulse until blended. Add in the cheese and then taste to see if you want to add more of any ingredient. Makes 2 cups of pesto.
FYI, pesto will taste best if you make it the day before, as this allows the flavors to meld and will also take the “edge” off the garlic flavor. However, I love the taste of pesto so much I usually can’t wait that long and often don’t even get around to using it in a pasta dish or something else. I end up eating spoonfuls just by itself. Ah, I can feel myself getting younger with each bite. 🙂
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