Cultivation and Medicinal Benefits of Basil
If you love Italian food, you’ll be very familiar with the taste and scent of basil, but there’s much more to this pungent herb than pasta sauces and pesto.
In medieval times, basil was considered quite a dangerous herb to handle, being related to scorpions and the legendary basilisk; one herbalist of the time reported that “being laid to rot in horse dung, it will breed venomous beasts,” while the famous botanist Nicholas Culpepper glossed over its qualities in his herbal works and concluded “I dare write no more of it.”
Today, we appreciate basil for its anti-inflammatory properties, its poison combating abilities and its antibiotic qualities.
Cultivation of Basil
Basil is usually grown from seed, which requires some patience as it’s a slow growing herb, but the resulting plants are well worth the effort whether you want to use basil in your cooking or for your health.
- Sow in pots indoors all year round, or in a greenhouse in the summer.
- When you have several seedlings in the same pot, transfer them together to a warm, sunny spot outside, in well-drained soil.
- Water sparingly.
- When flower buds appear at the tips of the shoot, nip them off in order to encourage further leaf growth – basil flowers are generally bitter tasting and do not have as many uses as the green leaves.
Tips on Growing Basil
- Basil prefers humus rich soil, and is harmed by over-watering.
- Pick little and often as soon as the leaves are big enough to use.
- Sow new plants every month or two to maintain a healthy supply of basil.
- The most commonly grown variety is “Genovese”, but you can also try “Bush Basil”, “Ararat”, “Kemangie” (also known as lemon basil) and “Purple Ruffles”, which as the name suggests has ruffled, purple leaves.
Medicinal Uses of Basil
In common with many herbs, basil has a wide variety of medicinal and healing uses as well as its obvious and well known culinary uses.
Clear your mind – Tests have shown that inhaling basil essential oil increases the brain’s production of beta waves, which are the brainwaves produced when you are thinking clearly, analyzing or solving a problem. It seems that basil can help bring clarity of thought when you need it most.
Get rid of that wart – Basil contains compounds which can help with healing many skin conditions. Try putting a fresh basil leaf over a wart and holding it in place with waterproof tape. Over the course of a week or so you should notice a significant improvement (and you’ll smell “interesting” too)!
Anti-venom magic – Crushed basil leaves can help relieve the pain and swelling caused by bee stings, wasp stings, insect bites and minor snake bites, helping to draw the venom out of the wound.
Stay calm under pressure – Chewing fresh basil leaves seems to help to relieve stress and induce a state of calm – simply chew 8-10 leaves up to twice a day to see basil’s stress reducing properties in action.
Soothe indigestion and stomach ache – Sipping water in which basil leaves have been boiled can help soothe many minor stomach complaints, including indigestion; as an added bonus, this will also relieve a sore throat and help to bring down a fever in colds or flu.
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