I love, love, love herbs, of all kinds. They add zest and flavor. And they’re often good for you. If I don’t grow an herb, I’ll buy it from the farmer’s market, everything from anise to thyme. In the unlikely scenario that I had to give up all but one, without much trouble, I would choose basil.
The name basil comes from the Greek word for royal. In India, holy basil is known as the ‘Queen of Herbs.’ This is truly a special herb. Native to southeast Asia and parts of Africa, basil comes in many varieties and has a unique flavor. It has made its way into many cuisines around the world and is especially well known in Thai and Italian foods.
In my part of the world, basil grows well as an annual. It can be perennial in warmer clients or a year-round house plant. It’s easy to grow, likes heat and sunlight, and prefers moist soil that drains well.
Basil in the Kitchen
While basil is easy to grow, what I really love about it is how it smells and tastes. In the garden, it gives off such a lovely aroma. In the kitchen, it flavors all kinds of dishes, from simple to complex.
One of my favorite things to make with basil is pesto. It’s so easy too. With a handheld blender, I mix up fresh basil, garlic, toasted pine nuts, parmesan, and olive oil. I like to change up the pine nuts sometimes and use walnuts instead for a different flavor.
Of course, I also love basil with tomatoes. My favorite summer dish for its taste and simplicity is caprese: slices of ripe, red tomatoes and fresh mozzarella drizzled with a good olive oil and sprinkled liberally with fresh basil.
Another reason to love fresh basil is for its nutritional value. The leaves are rich in vitamin K, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds. It has long been used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine for things like digestive disorders, insomnia, and respiratory conditions.
Unique Types of Basil to Try
Over many years, people have grown different varieties of this tasty herb. Sweet basil is what you’ll encounter most often in gardens and the grocery store, but there are so many other types to try:
- Thai basil. If you have ever had a green curry, you know this tasty variety of basil. It has a spicier flavor with elements of licorice.
- Lemon basil. This aromatic basil has the essence of lemon. There is also a lime basil.
- Cinnamon basil. As the name suggests, this variety has a hint of cinnamon along with a mild basil flavor.
- Greek basil. This is a small variety with a nice taste. Grow it in tight spaces and containers.
- Spicy globe basil. This variety has a strong flavor but also a unique growth habit. It grows in tight clumps that almost resemble boxwood.
- Holy basil. Sacred in Hinduism, this basil is bitter when eaten raw but delicious in cooked dishes.