an herb with benefits
Posted by Andrea Nakayama
this month’s featured ingredient: basil
my not so green thumb…
When I think back on my love affair with food, cooking, nutrition and healing, it all started with a few good authors.
I’d scour the shelves at the bookstore to find the writers who could speak both eloquently and practically about what I like to call curative cuisine.
These authors were writing about what you and I know well…
And while I stand by my philosophy that no one size fits all—that there’s no one food or one diet that will feel good to all systems and do the trick to invite remedy for all ailments (though it sure would make life easier!)—there are some key classical culinary legends we can all learn from.
One of the cookbook legends from those early days that I return to again and again for some insightful lessons is The Good Herb by the food and health author Judith Benn Hurley. At this point it’s an oldie, but a goodie. A real goodie! The pages of my book are worn, smeared and dog-eared.
And one of the herbs that Hurley touts as being good for your mood, your breath, your skin and your hair is…. you guessed it, basil!
The herb that may be growing in your garden like a weed right about now.
Bring on the Basil!
When I first picked up The Good Herb I was living with my late husband (then boyfriend) in a San Francisco flat deep in the Mission District. We didn’t have a garden. But we did have a back deck that looked over our landlord’s lush yet small yard.
When spring rolled over the hills of the city, I decided to turn that deck into an urban herbal landscape.
I bought window boxes to line the perimeter and stocked up on baby herbal seedlings. No such luck with my intentions!
You may not have seen my thumbs lately, but they’re not so green. At least not in the classical sense. (My son now tells me I’m not allowed to buy plants because he thinks it’s cruel that I make them suffer.) Instead, you can find me in my kitchen, with chopped, blended, shredded, diced, steamed, sauteed and ribboned greens.
And that most definitely includes basil any time I can get my hands on it.
You may have the green thumb that I don’t (I hope you do). But whether growing herbs is your thing or not, go get yourself some basil and get your late summer happiness on!
basil fun facts for you!
- Basil leaves contains oils and flavonoids that protect the body from illness and infection. Very small concentrations can kill harmful bacteria and even help to prevent atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and stroke. (Pesto anyone?)
- There are over 60 varieties of basil, all differing somewhat in appearance and taste. The taste of sweet basil is bright and pungent while other varieties offer unique and unexpected tastes. Lemon basil, anise basil and cinnamon basil all have flavors that subtly reflect their name.
- The name “basil” is derived from the old Greek word basilikohn, which means “royal,” reflecting that ancient culture’s attitudes towards an herb they considered to be very noble and sacred. The tradition of reverence of basil has continued in other cultures. In India, basil was cherished as an icon of hospitality, while in Italy, it was a symbol of love.
If I could, I’d hand you a sweet bouquet of basil as a token of my love, affection, and my committed desire for your optimal health.
basil pesto the autoimmune paleo way
Pesto is a staple in my house. In fact it was one of the first foods that my son Gilbert could make on his own. It was like mix and match fun in the food processor—pick a green, pick a nut, add some garlic and oil and go.
Some people may choose to put cheese in their pesto, but that was never an option for us (as we’re dairy-free). In place of the cheese, we typically added a bit of miso for the pungent, “umami” taste. And while nuts are a typical ingredient in pesto, not all of our clients can eat those either!
Don’t let your nut-free needs (whether they be due to an allergy or an autoimmune protocol) keep you from the ease and flavor of whipping up some pesto with that basil in your garden or at your grocer. Give this sauce a whirl atop some salmon, salad or noodles, like we talked about last week.
- 2 cups tightly-packed fresh basil leaves
- zest and juice of 1 large lemon
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 tspn Himalayan salt
Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Add more olive oil or water if you want a thinner sauce or dressing.
Makes about 1/2 cup
Bonus Tip: Pesto freezes perfectly so make a big batch and freeze it in small mason jars or ice cube trays for the fresh taste of summer all winter long.
herby tips from the garden
Preserve basil by combining 1 cup olive oil and 1 cup of finely chopped basil leaves. Mix well and pour into ice cube trays and freeze. When we’re no longer in basil season you can pull out the cubes to add to soups and stews (get a great burst of basil in January!)
Create a basil infusion by combining 2 cups of olive oil with 1/2 cup chopped basil in a small saucepan and heat on medium low for 10 minutes. Strain the leaves from the oil and enjoy basil infused oil for salad dressings and dips.
Infuse water by combining fresh basil, freshly squeezed lemon and filtered or sparkling water to make lemon basil water. It tastes refreshing and can help relieve headaches.
- rich in flavonoids, including orientin and vicenin, that protect cell structures and chromosomes from radiation and oxygen-based damage
- good source of vitamin A (through its concentration of carotenoids including beta-carotene) which protects the epithelial cells from free radical damage and helps prevent cholesterol in blood from oxidizing, helping to prevent atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and stroke
- high in vitamin K, essential for blood clotting
- the volatile oils in basil (estragole, linalool, cineole, eugenol, sabinene, myrcene, and limonene) provide anti-bacterial properties that help protect against unwanted bacterial growth
- the volatile oils are also anti-inflammatory and block the activity of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX) making it a natural version of anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen (combine with olive oil to double the benefits!)
- good source of magnesium which promotes cardiovascular health by prompting muscles and blood vessels to relax, eases constipation and promotes sleep
- also provides a nutritional boost of manganese, copper, vitamin C, calcium, iron, folate and omega-3 fatty acids
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