The Basil Breakdown – Nicole Marsh

As a part  of an Italian family, we would a have large  home-cooked meal  on every Sunday where, unless  you were  dying from the  plague, the  entire family’ presence was required. My mom  is a fantastic cook and even  better baker so I grew  up in a house  that smelled amazing, and when  I was old enough I began  to help  my mom with some  of the  cooking responsibilities. Obviously, some  of the  ingredients that would end up in a majority of these  Italian home-cooked meals  were  garlic and onions, but another ingredient that we used a lot was basil.  We would use it frequently, whether it was to garnish a dish or to make  a sauce,  so it only  made sense that come  spring time we would be growing our own basil.

Basil’s  scientific name  is Ocimum basilicum (L.) which is a part  of the Lamiaceae or mint family and is native to India where it has been  cultivated for more  than 5,000 years [1]. Basil is a tender, aromatic plant that has a spicy  odor  and flavor that grows  12-18 inches  tall. The foliage of the basil  plant depends on the  type of basil  it is, but  it can range from large  lettuce-like leaves to very  small  leaves. Basil is easily grown from seed or from tip  cuttings of overwintered plants and grows  best  when  the  temperature is at least  70 degrees. The basil  seeds will  germinate in about 5-7 days  and it prefers a sunny location as well  as fertile soil [2].

Although Basil is believed to be native to India  and has been  cultivated for over 5,000 years, there are some  indications that this  might necessarily not be true. There  are some  reports that basil  may  be native to China and used in the  Hunan region at around 807 A.D due to ancient records [3].  Historical uses of basil  vary  from its uses today. Ancient Egypt  used basil  as an embalming and preserving herb  and this  is known because basil  is found in tombs and mummies. Ancient Greece  used basil  as a symbol of mourning. Jewish Folklore believes that basil  adds strength while fasting. Ancient Portugal uses basil  to make  up park  of a gift to a sweetheart or significant other on a religious holiday. The uses of basil  today include as a culinary herb that can be added  at the  last moment, to make  pesto, perfumery, incense, and herbal holistic remedies. According to recent research, scientists have  also established that basil  contains compounds in the  essential oil that possess  potent antioxidant, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties [3].

As mentioned before there are many different popular varieties of basil  that all fall under the  O. basilicum classification and they include sweet basil  group, Genovese group, purple group, and other basils.  The sweet basil group is the  familiar sweet scented types of basil  and they include the  Napoletano (standard lettuce-leaved), Medinette(compact, large  leaf),  and Romanesco (large leaf  with strong aroma). The Genovese group is a classic  large  leaf  from the  genoa area  of Italy  (which is the  pesto  capital of the world) and this  group includes the Genovese (classic basil), Emily  (compact variety), and Dolly  (heavy produce of large leaves  which is more  cold  tolerant). The bush group is a smaller, rounder form of basil often with a small, finer  textured foliage and this  groups includes Spice Globe (uniform and dense), Green  Globe (which isdense,  tight globe  form) and Bush (standard bush  variety). The purple group is a group of basils  with dark  purple to bronze foliage which are often decorative and this  group includes the  Dark  Opal (which is a pure  dark purple foliage excellent for vinegars), Emerald Wine which  is a compact wine  red leaf  veins  surrounded by a green border), and Rubin  (which is a purple bronze foliage). The last group of basils  is the other basils  group which is a selection of basils  that have  distinctive flavors and aromas. These basils  include cinnamon (which has a distinctive cinnamon taste and aroma), Lemon  (which has an intense lemon fragrance), Clove (which has clove  scented leaves), and Thai (which has a licorice-like aroma) [4].

References [1] Almanac, Old Farmer’s. “Basil.” Old Farmer’s Almanac, www.almanac.com/plant/basil. [2] “Basil (Ocimum basilicum L.).” Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages, 30 Sept.  2012, www.gernot-katzers-spice-pages.com/engl/Ocim_bas.html. [3] Filippone, Peggy Trowbridge. “The  History of Basil.” The Spruce,  3 Oct. 2017, www.thespruce.com/the-history-of-basil-1807566. [4] “Sweet Basil.” University of Illinois Extension, 2017, www.extension.illinois.edu/herbs/basil.cfm
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