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Basil (Ocimum Basilicum)

A medicinal herb as well as a sweet, pungent culinary seasoning, basil is native to India, but is now grown in temperate regions all over the world. Basil is one of the most familiar herbs because it is widely used in Italian cuisine, particularly in tomato based dishes. But it also complements many other foods, including meat, poultry, salads and soups. This is fortunate because not only does basil enhance the flavour of foods, it also aids digestion. Indeed, this popular herb has a long history of medicinal use. In past centuries, the plant was accorded wide respect for its healing potential and was used to purify the mind, open the heart and even cure malaria. Today, herbalists recommend basil as an antispasmodic. It is therefore often used to treat intestinal problems, motion sickness, flatulence and nausea. It also relaxes bronchial spasms and is thus helpful for treating various respiratory illnesses.

A Refreshing Basil Drink
A cooling beverage that does double duty as an appetite stimulant can be made from basil seeds. Use organic seeds or those that come from plants you've grown, because the seeds that are sold commercially may be chemically treated. To obtain basil seeds, let a few plants flower, once the blossoms fall off, you'll easily be able to gather them. To make the drink mix 1 tbsp. of seeds with 1 cup of nonsparkling mineral water or another beverage. Let the seeds soak in the liquid for a few minutes before drinking.

Therapeutic effect
Thanks to its antispasmodic properties, basil is used for treating flatulence and stomach upset. It also helps ease tension and induce sleep. Its pungent taste triggers the production of saliva, enabling the body to digest food more effectively. It further aids digestion by increasing appetite and the flow of bile. Basil, can also stimulate the cilia in the nose, helping to clear the nasal passages of mucus and disease causing bacteria.

The therapeutic action of the herb is due to its essential oils, primarily methyl chavicol. Fresh basil also contains carotenoids and folic acid. In its dried form, basil is a good source of calcium, potassium and iron.

Basil snuff
Basil provides relief from respiratory diseases. Crush the dried herb to a fine powder and sniff it deep into the nose. Drying the leaves increases their essential oil content, thereby strengthening their antibacterial benefits.

Extra Tip : Basil is easy to grow, and indeed a container of its should be a fixture in every kitchen. Not only does the sweet herb help purify the air, it also protects against troublesome flies and mosquitoes, which shun its scent.

Italian Pesto

  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • 1 oz. fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 6-8 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/3 cup grated romano
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  1. In an ungreased skillet, toast the pine nuts over medium heat until golden; cool
  2. Wash the basil; shake dry and chop it.
  3. Place the cooled pine nuts, chopped basil, garlic and olive oil in a food processor (or blender) and puree until creamy
  4. Stir in the cheeses. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve over pasta

To improve digestion
Basil wine is a digestive aid. Steep a small bunch of fresh basil in a bottle of white wine for 24 hrs. then strain the wine and refrigerate. Drink a 4 oz. glass after meals

For the bladder or kidneys
Basil tea can soothe an irritated and inflamed bladder or kidneys. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 tsp. each of fresh basil and birch leaves; let it steep for about 10 min. Drink 1 cup 3 times a day between meals until the symptoms disappear.

Kitchen hints

  • Try different types of basil. Interesting varieties include lemon, red, anise and cinnamon basil. Dwarf basil (O. minimum) has small leaves and is especially prized by chefs for its pleasant aroma and fine taste.
  • To store fresh leaves, wrap them in paper towels and place them in plastic bags in the refrigerator. For longer storage, put the leaves in a container, cover them with olive oil and refrigerate for 10-14 days
  • To freeze the leaves, puree them in a blender or food processor. Place the basil puree in an ice cube tray and add a little water to cover.
  • Store dried basil in a tightly closed container in a dark place at room temperature. This prevents any flavour loss. Use within a year.
  • Add fresh basil to foods just before serving. Basil complements pasta, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, zucchini, rice beans, meat, fish and poultry.
  • Use basil to season foods if you are sensitive to strong spices, such as pepper, paprika or garlic. It has a mildly spicy flavour.
  • Buy small plants at the nursery or supermarket, it is easier than starting plants from seed. Then, transplant to a bigger pot to have an ample supply for recipes.