The “Holy” Herb
By Chelsea Fisher
Basil garners accolades for great taste, but it also provides a number of vitamins, minerals, cancer fighting antioxidants, and even anti-inflammatory compounds. Adding basil to meals provides vitamins A, C, K, folate, potassium, and other minerals. And, according to American Institute For Cancer Research, recent studies have found that essential oils found in basil may have strong antioxidant, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties. Better, yet, it’s been found to be toxic to mosquitos. More pesto please!
There are over 60 different varieties of basil, but sweet basil, Thai basil, lemon basil, and holy basil are among the most popular. Sweet basil, that pervading herb in Italian fare is delicious atop fresh summer meals. And, along with pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil, sweet basil is a main ingredient in classic pesto. Thai and holy basil are commonly used in Taiwanese and Southeast Asian cuisines. Their leaves are less tender and fragile than sweet basil and are often cooked and steeped in thick coconut milk.
When choosing basil, make sure that the leaves are crisp and healthy looking. Basil won’t last more than about 5 days in the refrigerator unless it’s extremely fresh, so don’t pick up any that’s wilted looking or that has dark spots on the leaves. To prolong its freshness, store the stems in a little water upright in the fridge. Even better, if you have a sunny windowsill buy a small pot of basil. When you need some to cook with, pinch out the leaves from the top. It will make your plants grow bushier and give you fresh leaves all summer long.
Basil is the herb of summer. We love it with sliced tomatoes or torn into small pieces for a fresh garnish. Use it in our Quick Summer Pasta, Grandma’s Minestrone Soup, and our Pasta E Fagioli. Don’t forget to try making our Classic Basil Pesto just a little bit will liven up pasta and vegetables. Pesto will keep indefinitely in the freezer to bring you a taste of summer year round. If you use dried basil, only use it for cooked sauces, and use about 1/3 of what you would use fresh. It’s much more potent.