The big heat of Summer is here, the time that Basil begins growing with beautiful bounty! We’ve just started delivering bunches to the co-op and I’m happily munching as much as I can.
I’m a pretty serious Basil hound, using fresh leaves like lettuce and smearing pesto on anything I can. Good old sweet ‘Genovese’ Basil is my standard, but it’s fun having the different flavors of different varieties so we also grow ‘Lemon’ (makes an incredible sun tea), ‘Dark Opal’ (a purple-colored variety of Italian Sweet Basil), ‘Thai’ (a spicier Asian cousin that holds its flavor better when cooked with heat) and ‘Sacred’ (native to India, also called ‘Holy’ Basil or ‘Tulsi’).
Basil has been traditionally used as herbal medicine, and is good food being rich in vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, potassium, and calcium.
So delicious! And it’s good for you! Enjoy some new recipes this Summer- you might get addicted like me but it’s kindof hard to see a downside to that 😉
Somebody has been chewing the Genovese basil, but not the Dark Opal. That somebody is missing out!
Dark Opal basil is totally delicious. It’s said to have a stronger anisey taste, but I don’t notice a difference. Of course, I pile basil leaves on sandwiches like other people do lettuce so maybe an overwhelmingly-strong basil flavor is my kind of thing.
You can substitute Dark Opal basil in any recipe that calls for green sweet basil. Try pesto for fun– it turns your mouth purple.
When I say “basil”, do you think “pesto”? Pesto made with sweet basil just happens to be one of my most long-standing addictions, but with over 50 different varieties (possibly as many as 150!) distributed around the world, basil is about much, much more….
Since ancient times, basil has found its way into our food, medicine and cosmetics. It’s antibacterial and antiviral, and a good source of vitamin A, vitamin K, iron, and calcium.
Basil has been used medicinally to ease headaches, sore throats, coughs, nausea, and to ease nervous tension. It’s also reputed to strengthen dry or brittle hair, restoring hair’s natural luster and shine.
One of my favorite hair rinses is a strong tea made of Basil leaves and Lavender flowers. You can pour it over your head and catch the runoff in a bowl to keep repeating, or do it lazy-style like me and just dunk your head in a bowl.
A twist on my recipe: substitute Holy Basil (Tulsi) for the Sweet Basil. For Brunettes: try a Basil and Rosemary blend. For Blondes & Redheads: try a Basil and Chamomile blend.
To make this aromatic, strengthening hair rinse, use 2 Tbsp of herb per cup of water and steep for at least 15 minutes.
You might be tempted to beeline into the Wellness Department when looking for a remedy, but some of the best herbal medicine can actually be found hiding out in the Produce Department (or maybe in your own garden!).
Culinary herbs not only offer us nutrition (they’re loaded with vitamins and minerals) and help with the important job of digesting and assimilating our food, they also make good medicine.
Basil, Chives, Cilantro, Dill, Garlic, Ginger, Marjoram, Mint, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, and Turmeric – herbs you already know and use – have many medicinal properties.
But don’t wait until you’re already sick! Adding more herbs to your diet is preventative medicine, and is as easy as using a slightly heavier hand in your favorite recipe. Taking my cue from herbalist Susun Weed, I add herbs by the handful instead of teaspoonful.
My cooking sure has gotten alot more interesting! Nice to know, too, that it’s got an antibacterial, antioxidant, and antiviral punch.
Of course, you might want to experiment slowly with this. But don’t be afraid to experiment! Using different combinations of herbs, as well as more quantity, has turned my everyday eating into gastronomic adventure 🙂
(When using fresh herbs, use about twice as much as you would dried.)
Another trick I learned from herbalist Kami McBride. She recommends keeping herb blends and single herbs in a shaker right on the table with the salt and pepper. When they’re close at hand, she reasons, you’ll use them more often. Worked for me!
When it comes to herbal condiments though, my favorite is pesto. I like Basil pesto best, but only when it’s made from fresh Basil. Not always an option outside of summertime here in Massachusetts.
So during the “off-season”, I raid the Produce Department for their fresh leafy greens like Arugula, Lettuce, Chard and Kale, and blend those up with whatever fresh herbs are available.
Cilantro and Parsley work really well. You could try Rosemary and Sage too. And don’t forget to add some garlic!
For even more gourmet flair, infuse your herbs into olive or coconut oil. Herbal oils make great jumping off points for lots of recipes.
Oil infusions are perfect for salad dressings, marinades and sautéing. They can also be used for massage or bath oils, and are the base for ointments, salves, and creams.
Made with dried herbs, your infused oil should have a shelf-life of about one year. (Oils made with fresh plants have a much shorter time before they spoil. You might even want to keep these refrigerated for the longest shelf-life possible.)
Basic Oil Infusion Recipe, Simpler’s Method
1 part dried herb
2 parts oil
(a “part” is whatever unit of measure you’re using- if it’s a cup, then the recipe is 1 cup dried herb to 2 cups oil, if it’s a teaspoon, it’s 1 tsp. dried herb in 2 tsp. oil)
Solar-Infused: Put herb in glass Mason jar and add oil. Cover and leave in a warm, dry place for 2 weeks (this can be in the sun, but doesn’t have to be). Shake daily. Strain herbs from oil using cheesecloth or muslin. Then add another batch of herbs to oil and let sit for another 2 weeks. Strain out herbs and bottle oil.
Double Boiler: Put herbs and oil in double boiler and bring to a gentle simmer. Keep on low heat for 1-2 hours. *Keep an eye on it to make sure oil doesn’t overheat and scorch. Strain through cheesecloth or muslin and bottle.
(I add the spent herbs to my compost pile.)
Try 2 parts Rosemary with 1 part each Basil & Thyme for your herb blend. This oil would be perfect for:
– Dipping bread
Hot Oil Treatment for hair & scalp
Massage Oil for aching muscles & sore joints
So jazz your taste buds and herb up your food! More than just adding flavor, it contributes to overall health and vitality, boosts immunity, and can heal illness should it happen to come down the pike.
(Written for my local food co-op, River Valley Market – Originally published in their Spring 2012 Newsletter)