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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.

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