Power Plants: Basil

via Bryce Wylde

Biohacks, Diet & Nutrition

Power Plants

BASIL (Ocimum basilicum)
Basil is not only one of the tastiest herbs to use in the kitchen, but also one of the healthiest. Part of the mint family (Lamiaceae), basil likely originated in India, but today it is most commonly associated with Italian and Thai cuisine, and it grows in gardens all over the world. It is still used as medicinal herb in India and elsewhere.
Basil leaves have traditionally been used to provide relief from indigestion and as a remedy for irritation of the skin and digestive tract. In Thai herbalism, the plant is also used for coughs. It has a long list of other uses, including treatment for stomach spasms, kidney conditions, and insect bites. The plant has antiviral, antibacterial, and antiproliferative (inhibiting the growth of malignant cells) effects. It even has some insecticidal properties, possibly because it contains methyl cinnamate.
Basil has been used orally as an appetite stimulant, antiflatulent, diuretic, lactation stimulant, gargle and mouth astringent. It’s a rich source of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron.
The herb contains strong-smelling oils that are composed primarily of compounds called terpenoids, which give it its unmistakable aroma. Essential oils such as these are used in in perfume and aromatherapy. They are also the reason basil is such a health-promoting herb: some of these terpenoids—particularly eugenol, thymol, and estragole—play a role in the plant’s antibacterial properties, for example. Thymol (which is found in even higher concentrations in thyme) is also a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Difficulty: Medium
Zone: Annual
Time to Plant: Spring, after threat of killing frost has passed; can be sown indoors 6 to 8 weeks before last frost date
Time to Harvest: Early summer through early fall
Location: Full sun
Soil Type: Well-drained
Basil is one of the most popular and beloved of all herbs. Plucked fresh from the garden, it adds flavour to a simple Caprese salad, pesto sauce, and countless other dishes in many cultures. Unfortunately, basil isn’t the easiest plant to grow. Its delicate foliage can be fussy. High winds, hail and frequent heavy rainfalls can all contribute to its demise.
Common Varieties: Traditional sweet basil has many cultivars. My favorites include Genovese Gigante, Spicy Globe, Purple Ruffles, Thai basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora) and Greek Columnar basil (O. × citriodorum ‘Lesbos’).
Basil is cold-sensitive: if planted too early, when temperatures are cool and the threat of frost looms, it’s doomed. So don’t plant it outdoors until mid- to late spring, when both soil and air temperatures warm to approximately 20°C. Basil should be located in full sun and protected from high winds. Plant in well-drained soil and keep it evenly moist. Space the plants 25 to 50 cm (10 to 20 inches apart), since most basils grow 45 to 60 cm (18 to 24 inches) tall and form a bushy appearance. If you plant it in containers, use a potting soil.
Basil will struggle with two things: lack of water and high humidity. During the growing season, water frequently and evenly, being careful to avoid watering the foliage. Basil doesn’t enjoy overhead watering, and will benefit from mulching or use of a soaker hose. With the proper location and watering, basil can grow up to 2.5 cm (1 inch) per day. If it’s planted in the ground and the soil is rich in organic matter, it will not require fertilizer. However, if you plant it in containers, it will benefit from an all-purpose fertilizer such as 20-20-20.
Diseases that attack basil include Pythium, verticillium wilt, stem canker, tomato spotted wilt virus, stem die backs, leafspot diseases and damping off. To keep your plants disease-free, use quality seed and seedlings, use disease-free soil, wash your hands and sterilize your tools after handling infected plants, and don’t plant basil in the same spot two years in a row. If a basil plant becomes badly diseased, remove it to minimize the threat to others.
Basil benefits from frequent cutting and should be harvested often to maintain health, even if you don’t require any. It can be harvested immediately after it has rooted, or approximately two months after grown from seeds. Pick the leaves before the plant sets flower, and select leaves above the bottom 2 to 4 sets. Wash before using or storing.
Basil can be dried and then stored fresh or frozen. Dry basil by hanging it in dark, dry space. Store the fresh herb by rolling it into a damp paper towel and storing it in a tightly sealed plastic bag in the fridge. You can freeze basil by laying washed leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet, freezing, then transferring them to a tightly sealed plastic bag. You can also purée it and pour it into an ice cube tray. (Basil purée can be used in sauces, soups, marinades or any recipe calling for the herb.) To garnish summer drinks, place a single basil leaf in each compartment of an ice cube tray, cover with water and freeze.
Stomach upset? Sip basil tea!
If you’re suffering from a stomachache, basil tea is a natural way to ease the digestive system. It can calm your body, and the micronutrients (including potassium) can help rid feelings of nausea and cramping in the stomach. Chop 20 fresh leaves and place into a mug. Fill it with hot water, cover with a saucer and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Strain before drinking if desired.
Acne breakout? Make a blemish mask!
If you have acne, a basil blemish mask is your solution. Place ¼ cup of yogurt in a blender and add 25 fresh basil leaves. Blend. Apply evenly to your face and leave on for up to 30 minutes. Rinse with cool water.
Aging skin? Tighten it with a basil toner!
Poor hygiene, oil, makeup, dead skin cells and cumulative exposure to sunlight all contribute to enlarging your pores: the surrounding skin loses its firmness and the pore may appear larger because of the lack of support. Excessively clogged pores can lead to blackheads. Fortunately, basil can help.
Blend 30 leaves with ½ cup of boiling water. Allow to sit for 15 minutes in the blender to cool down, then strain the leaves. Use a cotton swab to apply the toner to your face in the morning and evening. You can store the toner in a glass container and refrigerate for 5 to 7 days.
Love your pasta? Healthify it with basil!
Basil is a strong anti-inflammatory. But what’s causing inflammation in the first place is eating too many refined carbohydrates: cakes, cookies, breads, crackers and—you’ve got it—pasta. There are a few things you can do to make your pasta more healthy and taste better, too.
First, cook pasta al dente, which means do not overboil. Mushy pasta makes it too easy for your digestive system to use the available carbohydrates. This means the energy extracted from the pasta enters the blood stream too quickly, causing a spike in blood sugar and a biological cascade that contributes to inflammation.
Second, make your pasta dish with a basil pesto instead of cream sauces. You’ll save a ton of calories and you’ll garner the anti-inflammatory effects of the basil. You’ll need the following ingredients:
3 cups                               fresh basil leaves
½ cup                                 Parmesan cheese, grated
½ cup                                 pine nuts
½ cup                                 extra-virgin olive oil
2                                           garlic cloves, finely chopped
pinch                                 salt and pepper
In a food processor or blender, finely chop basil, Parmesan, pine nuts, salt and pepper. Then add the oil, and finally the garlic and blend again.
Fast forward to the health food store to purchase Simply Organic Basil Herb or equivalent. Follow the instructions on the label.
People with serious kidney or liver damage should not use basil essential oil internally, as they may have trouble eliminating it.
Grieve M. A Modern Herbal vol 1. New York: Hafner, 1967:86.
Nadkarni AK, Nadkarni KM. Indian Materia Medica vol 1. Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1976:861–7.
Farnsworth NR, Bunyapraphatsara N (eds). Thai Medicinal Plants. Bangkok: Medicinal Plant Information Center, 1992:180–2.
Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. 2nd ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1998.

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