Procure the Blessings of Basil

Dig up expert advice on growing heirloom basil, the praiseworthy plant that inspires a world of flavor, healing, protection, and spiritual elevation.

Photo by Terry Wild Stock

From pizza to pesto, basil graces the pans and palates of foodies worldwide. But, are you aware that various cultivars of this attractive, versatile herb possess unique flavors and medicinal qualities? Believed to have been originally cultivated in ancient Greece, basil was one of the valuable commodities sought by European imperialists in 16th century India. Beyond Western culinary desires, India still regards holy basil (Ocimum sanctum), or tulsi, as sacred to the Hindu religion, and for good reason: The health benefits of this herbal adaptogen are seemingly endless. Depending on the cultivar, basil, at its best, repels mosquitoes, reduces inflammation, and may prevent certain cancers with its rich antioxidants. Whatever cultivar you choose to grow, if you provide your basil with the optimum conditions for growing, and watch for the most common diseases, you’ll reap a heavenly harvest to punctuate some delightful recipes.

Basil cultivars to try

Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum): This common, smooth-leafed cultivar, sometimes called “bush basil” or “Genovese basil,” lends itself to pesto and other culinary delights, from salads to pizza. As a close mint relative, sweet basil eases digestion. In addition, like all basil cultivars, it’s antibacterial and antifungal, and its oil both repels insects and soothes insect bites. Aromatherapy characterizes the scent as energizing and effective in reducing headaches. The Greek Orthodox Church holds it sacred, and uses basil-infused holy water.

Sweet basil is most popularly used for cooking and pesto making.
Photo by Terry Wild Stock

Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum): Sacred to Hinduism, “the queen of herbs” is considered the spiritual manifestation of the goddess, Tulsi. This powerful antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory cultivar grows purple-tinged green leaves, most commonly ingested as tea. It’s used in Ayurvedic and medicinal practices to treat afflictions, ranging from depression to wound-healing, and generally protects the body from toxins, including the possible prevention of some cancers. It’s also an adaptogen, which means it supports the body’s ability to deal with different types of stress, helping existing body systems to function optimally.

Holy Basil is most often consumed as tea a variety of maladies, and offers a peppery flavor.
Photo by Getty Images/Manoranjan Mishra

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