Botanical name: Ocimum basilicum
Basil is an aromatic plant native to India. Its scientific name is "Ocimum basilicum" and derives from the Greek basilikon, meaning "royal plant". The cultivation of basil is very simple. It is sufficient to choose a fertile soil and do not over-watering.
The propitious period to bury the seeds is between March and April, while if the cultivation takes place in the garden it is preferable to wait for the month of May, when there are no more night frosts that can compromise the germination, which usually occurs within 15 days. The plant prefers temperatures between 21° and 26° degrees, but it adapts easily even in colder climates, as long as it is exposed in full sun. Flowering occurs from June to September. To obtain a more luxuriant and prolonged growth, it is necessary to trim the higher leaves and remove the flowers. In fact, being an annual plant, once the flowers bear fruit, that is, produce the seeds, it ends its life cycle.
The frequency of watering depends on the climate, the important thing is not to let the water stagnate without letting the soil become too dry.
Origins and history
There are some theories on the etymology of the name. Some think it derives from its use in the production of perfumes for the king; according to others it would be a name linked to its multiple properties. In fact, already in ancient times it was appreciated both for its aroma and for its beneficial virtues.
It is an annual herbaceous plant belonging to the Lamiaceae family that can reach 60 cm in height. Its leaves, rich in essential oils, have an oval shape whose dimensions vary according to the species. The color can be green or purplish, as in some South American varieties. There are numerous types, many of which are obtained by crossing between species.
The most popular are the giant basil, bullous lettuce leaf, the frizzy leaf variety and the small, compact leaf variety.
Nutritional and beneficial properties
It has many minerals, vitamins and omega-3 fats, which are precious to counteract the activity of free radicals. Many therapeutic properties have been recognized to basil since the earliest times. In ancient Ayurveda medicine it was considered a real elixir of life, and in fact the ailments it can cure are many. For example, thanks to magnesium which promotes the relaxation of muscles and blood vessels, it is an excellent ally of the heart. Eugenol, the substance that gives it its characteristic aroma, acts as a natural anti-inflammatory, promoting digestion, fighting intestinal infections and halitosis. It can be used against flu, gastric spasms and nausea.
Relieves headaches by breathing in the vapors after pouring a couple of tablespoons of dried leaves into boiling water. From its distillation, essential oils with high antibacterial capacity are extracted, particularly effective for treating ear and throat infections.
Use of basil in the kitchen
Basil is used in all cuisines of the world, but curiously in its country of origin it is grown mainly as an ornamental plant, as it is considered the representation of the goddess Lakshmi, wife of Vishnù.
In Italy it is an ingredient present in many recipes, with which sauces and sauces are prepared. Among these the most famous is the Genoese pesto obtained by shredding the fresh leaves combined with garlic, pine nuts, cheese and olive oil. One of its variations is the Sicilian pesto, to whose classic ingredients are added celery leaves, parsley, pepper and cherry tomatoes.
Basil should be used preferably fresh and added to dishes only after cooking. The leaves can be preserved in various ways: dried, in a jar in oil, or frozen in a hermetically sealed container.
The legends born around basil can generally be traced back to its therapeutic virtues.
In the classical world it was believed to be able to favor conception, which is why it was also attributed aphrodisiac properties. It was also considered the antidote to the basilisk bite, probably due to the similarity of the names. In some oriental cultures it is thought that the flowering branches bring peace and family harmony and for this reason they are placed in vases inside the rooms. The only exception is that on the island of Crete it is used as a symbol of mourning.