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Basil ( Ocimum basilicum L. )
Names in Other Languages:

English Basilie, Sweet Basil
French Basilic, Basilic commun, Herbe royale
German Basilikum, Basilienkraut, Königskraut
Spanish Alfábega, Albahaca, Albacar
Italian Basilico
Turkish Fesleğen, Reyhan
Japanese バジル Bajiru, メボウキ Mebōki
FAMILY: Lamiaceae

ORIGIN:   Genus Ocimum is widespread over Asia, Africa and Central and Southern America. Basil is cultivated in India, many Asian and Mediterranean countries; main exporters for the European market are France, Italy, Morocco and Egypt. There is also basil production in California.

GENERAL DESCRIPTION:

Basil is a highly fragrant plant whose leaves are used as a seasoning herb for many different types of foods.

Basil has round leaves that are oftentimes pointed. They are green in color, although some varieties feature hints of red or purple.


There are more than 60 varieties of basil, all of which differ somewhat in appearance and taste. While the taste of sweet basil is bright and pungent, other varieties also offer unique tastes: lemon basil, anise basil and cinnamon basil all have flavors that subtly reflect their name.

USEFUL PARTS:

Leaves; frequently, the entire herb is harvested and the best harvesting season is before flowering. Basil leaves should always be used fresh, as they lose most of their flavour within a few weeks after drying. The leaves can be used fresh or dried.

SENSORY QUALITY:

Fresh basil leaves have a strong and characteristic aroma. All basil varieties have in common that their dried leaves are much less aromatic than fresh ones.

MAIN CONSTITUENTS:

Basil is a very good source of iron, calcium, potassium and vitamin C. Chemical composition of basil varies as to the where the basil is grown.

The essential oil which is less than 1% is of complex and variable composition. Within the species, several different chemical races exist, and furthermore climate, soil and time of harvest influence not only the amount but also the composition of the essential oil. The most important aroma components are 1,8 cineol, linalool, citral, methyl chavicol (estragole), eugenol and methyl cinnamate, although not necessarily in this order; in fact, hardly any basil contains all of these compounds in significant amounts. African species often contain camphor.

Further monoterpenes (ocimene, geraniol, camphor), sesquiterpenes (bisabolene, caryophyllene) and phenylpropanoids (methyl eugenol) can be present in varying amounts and strongly influence the flavour. There is considerable infraspecific variation, opening favourable perspectives for future plant breeding by selection.

Basil has a remarkably variable secondary metabolism, as is often found in the mint family: Perilla and mints show a similar genetic diversity. The dark red foliage of some basil varieties is caused by pigments of anthocyanin type, which are commonly found in reddish leaves. Some basil varieties contain up to 200 ppm anthocyanins in their leaves

MAIN USES IN FOOD PROCESSING:

Basil leaves and flowers can be used raw or cooked also basil is used as a flavouring or as a spinach.
They are used especially with tomato dishes, pasta sauces, beans, peppers and aubergines.The leaves are normally used fresh but can also be dried for winter use, deep-freezing the herb is the best method of preservation.

Fresh basil is used in salads, soups, pastas, vinegar's, jellies. It is prefered to use fresh basil than dried. Its highly fragrant leaves are used as a seasoning herb for a variety of foods.It is the main ingredient in pesto, the mixture of basil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese.

A very pleasant addition to salads the leaves have a delightful scent of cloves. It is better to use the leaves sparingly in cooking because the heat concentrates the flavour. A refreshing tea can be made from the leaves.

MEDICINAL PROPERTIES:

Antibacterial; Antispasmodic; Aromatherapy; Aromatic; Carminative; Digestive; Galactogogue; Ophthalmic; Stomachic; Tonic.

Sweet basil acts principally on the digestive and nervous systems, easing flatulence, stomach cramps, colic and indigestion.

The leaves and flowering tops are antispasmodic, aromatic, carminative, digestive, galactogogue, stomachic and tonic.They are taken internally in the treatment of feverish illnesses especially colds and influenza, poor digestion, nausea, abdominal cramps, gastro-enteritis, migraine, insomnia, depression and exhaustion. Externally, they are used to treat acne, loss of smell, insect stings, snake bites and skin infections.

The mucilaginous seed is given in infusion in the treatment of gonorrhoea, dysentery and chronic diarrhoea. It is said to remove film and opacity from the eyes.

The root is used in the treatment of bowel complaints in children Extracts from the plant are bactericidal and are also effective against internal parasites

The essential oil is used in aromatherapy.

Health Benefits

Research studies on basil have shown unique health-protecting effects in two basic areas: basil's flavonoids and volatile oils.

DNA Protection and Anti-Bacterial Properties

In basil the active constituents called flavonoids provide protection at the cellular level. Orientin and vicenin are two water-soluble flavonoids that have been of particular interest in basil, and in studies on human white blood cells; these components of basil protect cell structures as well as chromosomes from radiation and oxygen-based damage.

Basil has been shown to provide protection against unwanted bacterial growth. These "anti-bacterial" properties of basil are not associated with its unique flavonoids, but instead with its volatile oils, which contain estragole, linalool, cineole, eugenol, sabinene, myrcene, and limonene. Lab studies show the effectiveness of basil in restricting growth of numerous bacteria, including : Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Yersinia enterocolitica, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Essential oil of basil, obtained from its leaves, has demonstrated the ability to inhibit several species of pathogenic bacteria that have become resistant to commonly used antibiotic drugs.

Studies published in the February 2004 issue of Food Microbiology, have shown that washing produce in solution containing either basil or thyme essential oil at the very low concentration of just 1% resulted in dropping the number of Shigella, an infectious bacteria that triggers diarrhea and may cause significant intestinal damage, below the point at which it could be detected. [1]

Anti-Inflammatory Effects

The eugenol component of basil's volatile oils has been the subject of extensive study, since this substance can block the activity of an enzyme in the body called cyclooxygenase (COX). Many non-steriodal over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, including aspirin and ibuprofen, as well as the commonly used medicine acetaminophen, work by inhibiting this same enzyme. This enzyme-inhibiting effect of the eugenol in basil qualifies basil as an "anti-inflammatory" food that can provide important healing benefits along with symptomatic relief for individuals with inflammatory health problems like rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel conditions. [1]

Nutrients Essential for Cardiovascular Health

Basil is a very good source of vitamin A through its concentration of carotenoids such as beta-carotene. It is called "pro-vitamin A," since it can be converted into vitamin A, beta-carotene is a more powerful anti-oxidant than vitamin A and not only protects epithelial cells (the cells that form the lining of numerous body structures including the blood vessels) from free radical damage, but also helps prevent free radicals from oxidizing cholesterol in the blood stream. Only after it has been oxidized does cholesterol build up in blood vessel walls, initiating the development of atherosclerosis, whose end result can be a heart attack or stroke.

Free radical damage is a contributing factor in many other conditions as well, including asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. The beta-carotene found in basil may help to lessen the progression of these conditions while protecting cells from further damage. Basil is also a good source of magnesium, which promotes cardiovascular health by prompting muscles and blood vessels to relax, thus improving blood flow and lessening the risk of irregular heart rhythms or a spasming of the heart muscle or a blood vessel. [1]

Safety

Basil is not a commonly allergenic food, is not known to contain measurable amounts of goitrogens, oxalates, or purines.
REFERENCES and SOURCES:
http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Ocim_bas.html
http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1990/V1-484.html
http://www.plantcultures.org/plants/holy_basil_landing.html
http://www.apinchof.com/basil1003.html
[1]http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=85
• Bagamboula CF, Uyttendaeleand M, Debevere J. Inhibitory effect of thyme and basil essential oils, carvacrol, thymol, estragol, linalool and p-cymene towards Shigella sonnei and S. flexneri. Food Microbio 2004 Feb;21 (1):33-42. 2004.
• Calucci L, Pinzino C, Zandomeneghi M et al. Effects of gamma-irradiation on the free radical and antioxidant contents in nine aromatic herbs and spices. J Agric Food Chem 2003 Feb 12; 51(4):927-34 2003.
• Elgayyar M, Draughon FA, Golden DA, Mount JR. Antimicrobial activity of essential oils from plants against selected pathogenic and saprophytic microorganisms. J Food Prot 2001 Jul;64(7):1019-24 2001. PMID:12650.
• Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986 1986. PMID:15210.
• Fortin, Francois, Editorial Director. The Visual Foods Encyclopedia. Macmillan, New York 1996.
• Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Dover Publications, New York 1971.
• Opalchenova G, Obreshkova D. Comparative studies on the activity of basil--an essential oil from Ocimum basilicum L.--against multidrug resistant clinical isolates of the genera Staphylococcus, Enterococcus and Pseudomonas by usi. J Microbiol Methods. Jul;54(1):105-10 2003.
• Orafidiya LO, Oyedele AO, Shittu AO, Elujoba AA. The formulation of an effective topical antibacterial product containing Ocimum gratissimum leaf essential oil. Int J Pharm 2001 Aug 14;224(1-2):177-83 2001. PMID:12640.
• Singh A, Singh SP, Bamezai R. Modulatory potential of clocimum oil on mouse skin papillomagenesis and the xenobiotic detoxication system. Food Chem Toxicol 1999 Jun;37(6):663-70 1999. PMID:12670.
• Uma Devi P. Radioprotective, anticarcinogenic and antioxidant properties of the Indian holy basil, Ocimum sanctum (Tulasi). Indian J Exp Biol 2001 Mar;39(3):185-90 2001. PMID:12630.
• Vrinda B, Uma Devi P. Radiation protection of human lymphocyte chromosomes in vitro by orientin and vicenin. Mutat Res 2001 Nov 15;498(1-2):39-46 2001. PMID:12620.
• Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988 1988. PMID:15220.