The word basil comes from the Greek, meaning "king". Basil is also known as "Holy basil" or "king of herbs". Possibly native to India, basil has been cultivated there for more than 5,000 years. It is highly revered in Hinduism, as it is believed to have been found growing on the original cross of Christ when it was discovered by the Empress Helena, and hence has religious significance in the Greek Orthodox Church, where it is used to sprinkle holy water.
The half-hardy annual plant is best known as a culinary herb, prominently featured in Italian cuisine, and Southeast Asian cuisines of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Taiwan. Depending on the species and cultivar, leaves may taste somewhat like anise, with a strong, pungent, often sweet smell.
There are many varieties of basil, as well as several related species or hybrids also called basil. The type used in Italian food is typically called sweet basil, as opposed to Thai basil, lemon basil and holy basil, which are used in Asia. While most common varieties of basil are treated as annuals, some are perennial in warm, tropical climates, including holy basil and 'African Blue'.
The various basils have such different scents because the herb has a number of different essential oils that come together in different proportions for various breeds. The strong clove scent of sweet basil is derived from eugenol, the same compound as actual cloves. The citrus scent of lemon basil and lime basil reflects their higher portion of citral, which causes this effect in several plants including lemon mint, and of limonene, which gives actual lemon peel its scent. African blue basil has a strong camphor smell because it contains camphor and camphene in higher proportions. Licorice basil contains anethole, the same compound that makes anise smell like licorice, and in fact is sometimes called anise basil.
Basil is used for its medicinal properties in Ayurveda, the traditional medicinal system of India. It is also used in drinks in Southeast Asia. It is traditionally used for supplementary treatment of stress, asthma and diabetes mellitus in India. Studies have established that compounds in basil oil have potent antioxidant, and antiviral properties, with potential for use in treating cancer. The antifungal properties of the extracts are very toxic to mosquitos, and therefore useful as an insect-repellant. It was noted by herbalist, John Gerard, that those stung by scorpions would feel no pain if they ate of basil.
Avoid using if you have epilepsy or during pregnancy (use in cooking is fine). Test for skin sensitivity prior to use.
Basil is found to have an antioxidant effect on chronic bronchitis when mixed with rosemary and eucalyptus essential oils. Basil is also found to have anti-depressive, energizing and restorative properties, therefore helpful in dealing with feelings of anxiety, fear, or nervousness. It is calming, making it perfect for stress and fatigue, and even assist a person in overcoming addiction.
Addiction/Anxiety - Use basil essential oil in a diffuser or nebulizer, or inhale from the bottle, or cupped hands as desired, to clear negative thought patterns, reduce cravings, and address negative symptoms that come from an addiction.
Bronchitis - Diffuse the oil throughout the room or home, adding 1 to 2 drops of basil, rosemary and eucalyptus essential oils to a steam tent. vaporizer or bath, or massage directly on the chest.
Canker Sores - Add a drop to water and rinse mouth 1-3 times a day as indicated. You may also add a drop of lemon essential oil.
Cramps (Abdominal) - Can be taken internally via capsules or massaged into the inflicted area.
Cuts - Use to prevent infection by diluting basil oil and applying to the area.
Ear Ache - Dilute 1 drop of basil essential oil with 3 drops of carrier oil and massage behind, over and around the ear, or add a couple drops on a cotton ball and place just over the ear.
Fatigue - Use one drop of basil essential oil with three drops of coconut oil topically on the feet and toes or by diffusing aromatically.
Insect Bites/Stings - Dilute the basil essential oils with three drops of carrier oil and massage into the bite/sting as needed.
Joint/Muscle Pain – Dilute 1 drop of basil oil with 3 drops of coconut oil into a carrier oil and apply to the affected area. For carpal tunnel syndrome, massage toward the shoulder, putting moderate pressure along the tendons and.
Labor - Massage into the lower back and into the reflex points of the feet during labor (may add to a carrier oil for larger application area).
Lactation (Increasing) - With a drop or two of basil oil, massage breasts (towards lymphs under the arms). Fennel oil is also good for this.
Migraines/Headaches - Diffuse aromatically to relieve pain or massage into the temples, and/or base of neck.
Oily Hair - Add a drop to your regular shampoo, or mix with baking soda, water, and apple cider vinegar to make a rinse, and shampoo as normal.
Basil commonly used fresh in cooked recipes, is generally added at the last moment, as cooking quickly destroys the flavor. The fresh herb can be kept for a short time in plastic bags in the refrigerator, or for a longer period in the freezer, after being blanched quickly in boiling water. The dried herb also loses most of its flavor, and what little flavor remains tastes very different, with a weak coumarin flavor, like hay. Basil is one of the main ingredients in pesto—a green Italian oil-and-herb sauce.
The most commonly used Mediterranean basil cultivars are "Genovese", "Purple Ruffles", "Mammoth", "Cinnamon", "Lemon", "Globe", and "African Blue". The Chinese also use fresh or dried basils in soups and other foods. In Taiwan, people add fresh basil leaves to thick soups. They also eat fried chicken with deep-fried basil leaves. When soaked in water, the seeds of several basil varieties become gelatinous, and are used in Asian drinks and desserts. Most commonly in Thai, basil is steeped in cream or milk to create an interesting flavor in ice cream or chocolates (such as truffles). The leaves are not the only part of basil used in culinary applications, the flower buds have a more subtle flavor and they are edible.