Basil is, by far, my favorite fresh herb. It has a sweet taste and a wonderful aroma and pairs well with lots of meats and vegetables. It even works well with many desserts. Basil, or Ocimum basilicum, is a member of the mint family, or Lamiaceae. For over 5000 years it has been cultivated all over the planet. Ancient records indicate tht it was used as far back as 807 A.D. Sweet Basil was used in the Hunan region of China. Basil was also used in ancient Egypt as an embalming and preserving herb and was found in the tombs of mummies.
Basil is a very symbolic plant in many different cultures. In Greece it is considered a symbol of mourning, and was known as Basilikon phuton, meaning magnificent, kingly, or royal herb.
In ancient Greece, basil symbolized hatred. In Jewish folklore, it is thought to add strength while fasting, while in Portugal, basil plants are used as a gift to a sweetheart or lover during religious holidays. This is just the beginning of the lasting cultural importance of basil.
At some point in history, basil plants were carried westward and were distributed all over the world. This was possible due to the fact that, not only did it grow continuously in warm climates, but it also thrived indoors during cooler months. I found evidence of 4 varieties of basil, Sweet basil, used in Italian dishes, Thai basil, Lemon basil, and Holy basil, mostly used in Asian cuisines.
Basil has many diverse uses in the modern kitchen and in science labs. In cooking it is used to brighten and sweeten fresh cooked recipes. The fresh leaves are added at the last minute or two of cooking so as not to destroy the distinct flavors. Basil is also used in perfumes, incense and herbal holistic remedies. Scientific studies have confirmed that certain compounds of essential oil of basil plants contain potent antioxidant, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties.
When you have an over abundance of basil, here are four ways that you can preserve your basil for later use. First, you can blanch it and freeze it. Second, chop it small and add olive oil, then ,freeze in cubes. When frozen, place the cubes into a freezer bag. Then, when needed just remove a cube and drop it into the pan. Third, you can hang in bunches upside down by the stems, until dry. Hanging upside down lets all the nutrients go into the leaves as they dry. And lastly, the fourth way to preserve basil is to infuse butter with chopped basil and wrap tightly in refrigerator or freezer. Next time you grill steaks, pull it out and melt a chunk on your steak. I make this and put a chunk of it in green beans, especially fresh grilled green beans. Basil is the perfect herb to brighten up a summer Bar-B-Que.
Homemade Pesto Sauce: Author: Alea, Prep: 5 mins., Total time: 5 mins., Serves 6
Ingreds: 2 C. packed basil (clean and dried)
¼ C. pine nuts or walnuts
¼ C Parmesan cheese, grated
¼ C olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 Tbsp. diced onion
1/16 tsp. Seasoned salt
Directions: 1. Add nuts, garlic, oil, grated cheese, onion and seasoned salt to a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth.
2. Add basil and blend until smooth.