Basil is a member of the mint family with its own distinct taste that blends sweet and savory. This fragrant leafy green herb adds a bright flavor to many different recipes. It is particularly popular in Italian cuisine. This herb comes in a number of varieties and has multiple benefits for health.
Sweet basil is the most commonly used variety. If you look at the spice aisle at your local grocer, you will find it in every brand available. Sweet basil is the type you usually find in traditional Italian pesto, caprese salad, pasta and marinades. It has large green cup-shaped leaves and a sweeter flavor than other varieties. The eugenol in basil can block calcium channels, which may help to lower blood pressure. Basil also contains magnesium, improving blood flow by allowing muscles and blood vessels to relax.
Holy basil is also known as tulsi. It looks similar to sweet basil but can be identified by its smaller leaves and fuzzy stem. It has been used in holistic medicine practices for centuries. It has a sweet taste with a slight spice to it and is highly aromatic. It can be bitter if eaten raw and is usually used in cooked dishes and teas. Holy basil goes well in curries and other South Asian recipes. Holy basil is well known for its stress reducing properties. As a tea, it is used by many people to lower anxiety.
Thai basil has pointed green leaves and a dark purple stem. It is very flavorful, containing some spice and licorice notes. It maintains its flavor well during cooking— even when cooked at very high temperatures. This variety is often used in Thai dishes and other Asian cuisine.
Purple basil has large cup-shaped leaves in a deep purple or burgundy color. This basil is not as sweet as other varieties. It has a slight clove flavor, making it highly aromatic and a great addition to salad dressings, marinades and infused vinegars. It also makes a good garnish for any dish that could use a bit of color.
Health benefits of basil
Basil contains plant compounds associated with anti- inflammatory and antioxidant properties. These compounds are also what gives basil its distinctive taste and aroma.
For those struggling with blood sugar issues, initial research shows basil can help to regulate blood sugar in patients with diabetes.
Research also suggests increased consumption of basil improves general stress levels and helps improve mental wellbeing. Controlling stress response in the body reduces risks for development of several chronic diseases.
Basil is generally safe to consume, but it is high in vitamin K, which can interfere with blood-thinning medications such as warfarin if you are taking it as a supplement. Eating basil in small to moderate amounts has not shown issues with blood-thinning drugs. If you are on a blood thinner, speak to your health care provider before increasing your intake of this herb.
Dr. Dianna Richardson has been serving Jefferson City and the surrounding communities for more than 22 years. Richardson holds a doctorate in naturopathy, along with degrees in nutrition and a master’s degree in public health education. She may be found at the Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center, LLC on Dix Road in Jefferson City.
TOMATO SALAD WITH WARM BASIL DRESSING
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced into rings
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 oil-packed anchovy fillets, chopped (optional)
1 cup basil leaves (purple or green)
1 1/2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, some sliced, some cut into wedges
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Cook oil, shallot, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until shallots and garlic begin to turn golden, 7-9 minutes. Remove from heat and mix in anchovies, if using (they’ll dissolve in the oil quickly), and basil.
Toss tomatoes with vinegar and a pinch of kosher salt in a medium bowl. Transfer to a platter and pour warm dressing over. Finely grate lemon zest on top and sprinkle with sea salt.
NOTE: Not just for salad: Drizzle this savory infused oil over grilled vegetables, steak, or roast chicken