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Basil: The ‘royal’ amongst herbs

Basilby Pauline James

The basil plant (Ocimum basilicum), a member of the peppermint family and native to Asia and Africa, is now grown worldwide and is prominently featured in Italian, Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian cuisines.  The word ‘basil’ is derived from basilikohn which in Greek means ‘royal’ – showing just how revered this herb was.
 
Parrots enjoy sweet aromas
Although there are more than 60 varieties of basil, the highly fragrant and pungent leaves of sweet basil, is the form we are most familiar with.

But, basil not only smells good, it tastes good, and this ‘royal’ amongst herbs, does us and our birds the power of good too!  Basil contains very high levels of vitamin K, which is fat-soluble and stored in the body, and essential for coagulating the blood.  This herb also provides good levels of vitamins, A, B6 and C, iron, calcium, manganese, tryptophan, magnesium, potassium and fibre.

A high concentration of carotenoids, such as beta-carotene and a precursor to vitamin A, is also present and is a more powerful anti-oxidant in this form.  Beta-carotene helps protect epithelial cells, which form the lining of numerous body structures, from free radical damage, helping to prevent respiratory disease and cholesterol oxidising in the blood stream and building up inside blood vessels.  Magnesium serves to relax muscles and increase blood flow – supporting the fight against cardiovascular disease.

But, there is more…
Basil is most revered in the medical world for its unique flavonoids and volatile oils which provide exceptional health benefits.  Its unique array of active flavonoids, provide protection at cellular level.  In studies on human white blood cells, Orientin and vicenin, two water-soluble flavonoids, have been found to protect cell structures as well as chromosomes from radiation and oxygen-based damage.

The volatile oils found in basil containing, estragole, linalool, cineole, eugenol, sabinene, myrcene, and limonene have been found to inhibit the growth of numerous bacteria, including: Listerial monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Yersinia enterocolitica and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.  These volatile oils are a natural food preservative and kill infection bacteria such as Shigella, which trigger diarrhoea, and can accumulate on uncooked foods such as salad ingredients.

Basil has even shown the ability to inhibit several pathogenic bacteria from the genera Staphylococcus, Enterococcus and Pseudomonas which are now widespread and have developed a high level of resistance to commonly used antibiotics.  Eugenol is a potent anti-inflammatory agent and can block the enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX) – aspirin and ibuprofen work to inhibit the same enzyme.

Fresh basil is superior to dried, and is best bought as a growing plant.  Freshly cut and chopped basil can be covered in water and frozen in ice cube trays.

Turmeric: a powerful healing spice

Turmericby Pauline James

Turmeric, a member of the ginger family and native to Indonesia and southern India, where it has been harvested for over 5,000 years, comes from the dried root or rhizome of the Curcuma Longa plant.  This Asian spice has a peppery, warm and bitter flavour and a mild fragrance slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger.  Throughout history it has been used as a food colouring, an ingredient of curry powder, a bright orangey-yellow textile dye – used for over 2,500 years to colour Hindu priests’ robes – and as a powerful healing remedy.
 
The Chinese have long used this spice as an antidepressant, while the Indians relied on its powerful anti-inflammatory properties, adding it to bandages or applying it as a paste to wounds to prevent infection.  But, more recently this spice is becoming known in the West for its potent health benefits, and is proving to be a promising weapon against Alzheimer’s, cystic fibrosis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, haemorrhaging, heart disease, childhood leukaemia and prostate, breast, colon, skin and pancreatic cancers.
 
The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin which is not commonly allergenic and as well as containing anti-inflammatory properties, is also a natural painkiller and inhibitor of the DOX-2 enzyme responsible for inflammation and pain – helping arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, tendinitis and gout, and with no side effects.  It is also an antioxidant, reducing free radicals in the body, antibacterial and antiviral, a natural liver detoxifier, and a natural antiseptic – useful for disinfecting cuts and burns, speeds up wound healing and assists in the regeneration of damaged skin.  It also halts the growth of new blood vessels in tumours, serves to boost the effects of chemotherapy drug Paclitaxel and reduces its harsh side effects.
 
All these health benefits apply to parrots too and a cockatiel keeper once explained how turmeric saved one of his birds when it developed a cancerous tumour.  It was very old and the vet was afraid to use traditional vigorous treatments, so after removing as much of the tumour as he dare, (as part of it lay close to the spine), he prescribed curcumin powder, to be applied to the bird’s back.  After a few months, the bird had completely recovered with no trace of the cancer or the tumour!
 
Put in foods such as homemade birdy bread, turmeric acts as a natural preservative, but is an anti-coagulant too, so as a precautionary measure should be avoided when a bird is moulting or has a problem with a broken blood feather.  It also helps prevent roundworm, boosts the immune system, is anti-fungal, helps alleviate nausea, aids digestion and can be a great aid to particularly young chicks suffering crop problems.  Sprinkle on softfood or mix a little with live yoghurt to feed.
 
Turmeric root is an excellent source of iron, manganese, vitamin B6, potassium and dietary fibre and has five times more antioxidant power than vitamin E.  Along with curcumin it contains many other phytochemicals, helping to regenerate liver cells, cleanse the liver of toxins, increase the production and levels of bile and two liver-supporting enzymes, glutathione-s-transferase (GST) and UDP glucuronyl transferase (UDPGT) and aids in fat metabolism.

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