Friday’s Flora & Fauna: Basil

MMmmmm…

My first introduction to pesto sauce was atop a slice of gourmet pizza. Instead of the usual tomato sauce, or the sometimes “white” sauce many pizzerias provide, this particular restaurant slathered a rich and spicy pesto sauce over that crust. Spinach, broccoli and, of course, lots of cheese rounded it out. That first bite felt like a slice of heaven on earth; I’ve been hooked ever since.

And, of course, the main ingredient of this culinary miracle is sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum).

Basil = pesto sauce in my book. But even a little bit of basil sauteed in some olive oil with some fresh garlic and a little onion, then tossed with some pasta, makes a delicious, healthy and easy-to-prepare meal. And, of course, basil is a popular spice for more traditional pasta sauces as well.

I love basil. Even if it wasn’t a culinary miracle, that aroma is divine. I can’t help but brush my hands over the leaves whenever I see it, just to catch a bigger whiff. Amazingly, many bugs do not like the smell and, thus, it is pretty effective in keeping some of them away. Just grab a few leaves and rub them over any exposed skin. You may smell like an Italian restaurant but it beats the acrid stench of chemical sprays–and it’s safer for you, and for the environment.

I grow basil primarily for its culinary uses. It is easy to grow and it’s also an attractive plant. I’ve grown it both outside in the garden, and inside the house in a pot on the window ledge. It does need regular pruning or else it may grow quite “leggy” but this legginess doesn’t seem to affect either the flavor or the scent. However, “leggy” means there’s more stem, less leaves. And it’s the leaves you want for either pasta or pesto sauces. With regular trimming, the plant will bush out beautifully, adding a pop of bright green color, a sweet aroma, and a handy spice to any kitchen.

Medicinally, it is not a usual “go-to” for me but it does have some medicinal properties. It is said to be good for alleviating bad breath, headaches, and basil contains at least 6 compounds that help to lower high blood pressure (Duke 312). It may also be used as an expectorant, helping to expel excess mucus from the lungs and throat. I even found one reference for using basil to treat warts (Duke 549-550). This actually makes sense as basil also contains many antiviral compounds and warts, which are benign skin tumors, are caused by a family of viruses called papillomavirus. I confess, I have never tried using basil for this purpose but I also don’t have any warts to experiment with at the moment.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is provided for educational purposes only; it is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.

Whenever I think of warts, I associate them with witches and, as we are heading into the Halloween/Samhain season, I decided to look this herb up in Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. This book brings a touch of romance and whimsy to the art of herbalism and I love reading it. But the first thing that caught my eye was that it is said to “keep goats away from your property” (Cunningham 48). I’m not sure I like that use for it, as my goats are my life. They don’t seem to mind it in the garden, nor do they flee from home whenever I plant it, so maybe this is for wild goats–like in the Rocky Mountains–rather than beloved pets. Primarily, Cunningham talks about its use in love divinations and for exorcisms, the latter needing only to have basil strewn upon the floor to protect one from evil (Fr. Karras could’ve used this with Linda Blair; somebody should have told him about basil on the floor…). But, while I jest, there is a variety known as “Holy Basil” (Ocimum tenuiflorum) so maybe there’s something to it after all. Either way, at least the rooms will smell nice as you walk through them.

May God bless you & keep you!

Works Cited

Cunningham, S. Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, 2nd Edition. Llewellyn Publications, Minnesota: 1985.

Duke, J. The Green Pharmacy. St. Martin’s Press, New York: 1997.

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