I love herbs and spices, if for no other reason than their wonderful scents. One of my favorite herbs is basil. It has a very aromatic and wonderfully fresh smell, and tastes great in recipes that run the range from sweet to savory.
Basil contains many phytonutrients that provide various health benefits. Some of the compounds in basil have been shown to have anti-stress effects as they help to normalize stress hormones and reduce blood sugar levels. Basil may help improve heart health through improved antioxidant activity as well as reduced blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Other conditions that basil may help prevent or reduce symptoms of include: acne, cancer, diabetes, gout and ulcers.
Basil comes either fresh, dried, or as a paste in oil. The fresh basil that is found in most grocery stores is sweet basil, but other varieties exist, such as Thai basil or purple basil.
I recently came across a Wall Street Journal article
(click the link) that discussed basil and provided a few fun and different recipes.
One of the more interesting parts of the article for me was the advice given on how to properly store fresh basil. Take your fresh bunch of basil and trim 1/2 an inch off the stems, then place the basil in a glass of water. Cover this with a plastic bag, ensuring that you leave plenty of air around the basil leaves. Tie the bag closed around the glass with twine or a rubber band, and then place this whole contraption in the refrigerator. If you change the water daily, your fresh basil should last up to 5 days this way.
An alternate way of storing fresh basil leaves is to wrap them in a damp paper towel, seal in a plastic bag, and then store in the refrigerator.
Dried basil is a wonderful source of the healthy volatile oils that give this herb its many health benefits. Dried basil is good for recipes that require a long cooking time. Unlike fresh basil, dried basil can last up to 6 months in an air-tight container when stored in a dark, dry place.
There are many ways of incorporating basil into different recipes, including:
- Add fresh basil leaves to grilled cheese sandwiches or quesadillas.
- Place fresh basil leaves into a bottle of white wine vinegar or other vinegar to use in olive oil/vinegar salad dressings.
- Add fresh basil leaves to stir fries in the very last moments of cooking–both sweet basil and Thai basil work really well for this.
- Make a chicken marinade by combining chopped fresh basil leaves with garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, some water and a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Include fresh basil leaves into your salad mix.
- Include dried basil in different sauces, stews and soups.
- For a refreshing desert, place fresh chopped basil on top of fresh strawberries and drizzle with a bit of balsamic vinegar reduction.
And there are many other ways to use basil in cooking. So the next time you are planning your meals or menus, try a recipe that includes this healthy and delicious herb.
Rachel Andrew MPH, RD, CD