Basil: It's Not Just for Tomato Sauce Anymore

Basil: It's Not Just for Tomato Sauce Anymore

Basil isn't just for tomato sauce anymore. Sip a cup of basil tea to boost immunity, add the herb to fresh vegetable juice to protect your heart, or keep a plant around for aromatherapy when your mind is frazzled.

The two primary types of basil are closely related: Ocimum basilicum (sweet basil) is a staple of Italian cooking, while Ocimum sanctum (holy basil) got its spiritual moniker because it was purportedly found growing near Christ's tomb after the resurrection. Both forms are native to India and Southeast Asia, though they are grown around the world.

In India, holy basil is known as tulsi, which translates as "incomparable one." The plant, which is considered sacred, is used extensively in religious ceremonies and is believed to protect any home where it's grown. According to ayurvedic tradition, tulsi is one of the best herbs to prepare the heart and mind for spiritual practices, help resolve colds and flu when the lungs are under attack, and reduce fever.

Most modern research on tulsi comes from India, and the results point to two general conclusions:
(1) the herb contains powerful antioxidants that are particularly effective in protecting the cardiovascular system from free radical damage due to high cholesterol;
(2) it promotes the healthy functioning of the liver to reduce physical damage after exposure to radiation or environmental pollution, such as pesticides. Also, preliminary studies are being done using tulsi to treat ulcers and to stabilize blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics. Topically, the juice is sometimes applied to insect bites and stings and to canker sores. There are no contraindications--it's basil, after all.

Tulsi Tea Times
Combine holy basil with herbs used more traditionally for tea as a quick way to boost the benefits of your brew. Or buy tulsi tea formulas at specialty markets or at omorganics.com.
In the morning: Tulsi's slightly clovelike flavor enhances the bitter and astringent notes from black and green breakfast teas, or mix it with ginger to help clear sinuses and boost immune function.
Midday: Tulsi with lemon and a little raw honey is a wonderful digestive tea. If you find yourself feeling cold or weak, add ginger. Sipping a mint-and-tulsi sun tea is a perfect way to cool off on warm afternoons.
After work: De-stress by adding raw honey to tea made with tulsi and gotu kola; this is also a great transition smoother before or after yoga practice.
Before bed: A duet of tulsi and chamomile makes a tea that can help sing you to sleep.
When you're sick: Increase the strength of your tulsi tea accordingly. Try using three to five tea bags in a cup for cooling a fever.