Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

A leafy herb from the mint family with a licorice-clove flavor. Basil is usually green, though there are purple varieties. Lemon basil, anise basil, clove basil and cinnamon basil all have flavors similar to their names. It originated in Asia, but now has become heavily used around the world. Basil is frequently used in soups, either diced or as whole leaves. While it can be used as a dried spice, it best used when fresh for cooking. The leaves are the part of the plant that is used for flavoring. Its flowers are white and grow fairly large. The basil herb is usually associated with Italian and Mediterranean cooking despite its Asian origins. As a main flavoring agent in sauces, eaten fresh or made into an olive oil and garlic sauce called pesto, the basil herb has found its way into many traditional European dishes. It is also a common ingredient in Thai food, including curry recipes and stir-fries. The diversity and mellow flavor of the basil herb have also led it to be included as a common ingredient in salads, salad dressings, pasta dishes and even sandwiches. Basil is a culinary herb, but its essential oil is also used in aromatherapy. It is believed to have a number of medicinal properties beneficial to a variety of health problems. Basil was used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat coughs, colds, bronchitis and asthma while the Chinese used basil to treat stomach complaints. Basil essential oil is extracted by steam distillation of the leaves and flowers of the small, annual herb. The essential oil is pale yellow in color, although the oil can sometimes be colorless too. Use basil essential oil in aromatherapy to treat bronchitis, sinusitis, insect bites, colds, flu, anxiety, depression, insomnia and migraine. Basil is antiseptic, anti-depressant, digestive and restorative in its actions. Basil is also a source of essential oils that are used in foods, flavourings , and fragrances (perfumes, soaps and shampoos) as well as confectionery products and the liqueur chartreuse. The various scents and flavours have been described as spicy, lemon, rose, camphor, licorice, woody, and fruity. The rich spicy pungent aroma of sweet basil is due to the presence the aroma compounds linalool, methylchavicol and cineole.