The King of Herbs: His Majesty the Basil
It's no mystery that with its heady scent it can take you in a Ligurian trattoria in a flash. Let's find out properties, benefits and uses of the royal herb par excellence, Basil.
Indice degli argomenti:
- What is basil?
- Where does basil come from?
- Is basil good for you?
- How is basil used?
- Curiosities about basil
What is basil?
A member of the Labiate or Lamiaceae family, the Ocimum Basilicum genus, known simply as Basil, includes at least 65 species, although some sources speak of over 150. The varieties have similar properties, but differ in appearance and aroma.
In all its variants, basil is an annual herbaceous plant up to 50 cm tall and, needless to say, extremely aromatic. The leaves are smooth and shiny, diagonally two by two. The flowers are white or pink corolla and have five petals.
Where does basil come from?
Basil is one of the most cultivated plants in the world. It is native to the warmest regions of Asia (India, Pakistan, Iran, Thailand… ) where it sometimes still grows spontaneously. For centuries, however, it has also acclimatized in Europe, after arriving through the Middle East, where it has always been used for medicinal, gastronomic and religious purposes. In Italy it was introduced by the Romans as a cultivated species, sometimes sub-spontaneous. Due to its great popularity, this plant is often called the king of herbs and in fact it is also known as the royal herb.
Is basil good for you?
The fragrant flowers and leaves of basil are used in traditional medicines in various parts of the world for its tonic and vermifuge properties, but also for the treatment of nausea, dysentery, aerophagia, colonic spasms, stomach cramps and headaches. The infusion of the flowering plant is digestive and antibacterial.
The wine prepared with its leaves is a tonic and – some say – an aphrodisiac. The essential oil, when inhaled, stimulates the sense of smell and refreshes the mind.
In recent years, several studies have reported evidence of some beneficial effects of the plant that had already been guessed in traditional Asian and European medicines. In particular, there seems to be a direct beneficial effect on the central nervous system, in terms of reducing stress, treating headaches, and stimulating brain activity. The liver protective, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties of basil have also been confirmed.
On the gastrointestinal level, an infusion based on fresh leaves contributes greatly to well-being, relieving nausea and heaviness.
If you too thought of basil only as the main ingredient of pesto… it’s time to reconsider!
How is basil used?
In the kitchen, in the medicine cabinet, in the pantry, even in the bathroom… could it be precisely for its multiple uses that it has been nicknamed royal herb?
Typical of Mediterranean cuisine, for food purposes it is used fresh and raw to flavor vegetables, salads, pasta, meats, sauces, fish, legumes, wines, grappas… have we forgotten something? Its essence has been used in the liquor industry for the preparation, among others, of La Chartreuse, a herbal liqueur of monastic origin. Fresh flowers are also edible and can make your summer salads highly instagrammable.
In the cosmetic sector, its oil can be used for massages to relieve tired muscles; while basil juice packs are useful against skin affections. Basil, a truly regal herb, is also a popular ingredient in lotions, shampoos, perfumes and soaps.
If you want to fully enjoy the medicinal properties of this miraculous plant, you can consume its leaves in an infusion; this is why we at Wilden.herbals have chosen to include it in our Remedium n.5 – Focus, an herbal tea made to think and to clear your head.
If, on the other hand, you want to amaze your guests, you must try our recipe for the Boost Infusion cocktail, based on gin, bergamot, lemon and … basil, of course!
Curiosities about basil
- Il nome del genere (Ocimum), deriva dal greco òzein, “odorare”, a ricordo dell’intenso aroma della pianta; il nome comune proviene invece dal latino basilicum, derivato a sua volta dal greco basileus, “re”, col significato di “erba reale”;
- Non solo i Romani, ma anche gli Egizi e i Greci ritenevano che il basilico fosse di buon auspicio per l’aldilà.
- Secondo una leggenda dell’antica Roma, il basilico era l’unico antidoto per il morso letale del Basilisco, creatura mitica in grado di uccidere con lo sguardo.
- Un profumo tanto amato dall’uomo quanto odiato dalle zanzare… Da provare!
- Aldo Fabrizi, attore, regista, sceneggiatore, produttore, comico e poeta italiano riassume in un sonetto in romanesco le proprietà del basilico:
“A parte che er basilico c’incanta
perché profuma mejo de le rose,
c’ha certe doti medicamentose
che in tanti mali so’ ’na mano santa.
Abbasta ’na tisana de ’sta pianta
che mar de testa, coliche ventose,
gastriti, digestioni faticose
e malattie de petto le strapianta.
Pe’ via de ’sti miracoli che ho detto,
io c’ho ’na farmacia sur terrazzino,
aperta giorno e notte in un vasetto.
Dentro c’è ’no speziale sempre all’opera,
che nun pretenne modulo e bollino
e nun c’è mai pericolo che sciopera.”
- Bulgarelli, Gilberto, and Sergio Flamigni. Guida Pratica Alle Piante Officinali. Hoepli, 2011.
- Olga Makri & Spiridon Kintzios (2008) Ocimum sp. (Basil): Botany, Cultivation, Pharmaceutical Properties, and Biotechnology, Journal of Herbs, Spices & Medicinal Plants, 13:3, 123-150, DOI: 10.1300/J044v13n03_10