Basil (Sweet Basil or St. Josephs Wort or Ocimum basilicum) herb is a native of India. The plant has a sweet aroma, and used in medicine and in cooking. Because of its seductive fragrance, the plant is called Kama Kasturi! Many people use basil leaves as is or include them in garlands either to decorate their hair or to worship Gods. A few years ago, most of the houses in the neighborhood had this plant. But now-a-days (or due to urbanization), the plant seems to have disappear from the neighborhood. I had to request a nursery to get one plant for me. People, please grow this plant at your gardens either in containers or on land.
The plant grows beautifully in bright and sunny environments. Maintaining this plant is easy. When flowers show, cut them to help the plant grow lush leaves; otherwise, the plant stops growing. Remember that these plants can grow up to 2 feet tall. Pruning the plants keep them healthy and lush.
In case, you need seeds, leave the flowers on one plant, and then collect the seeds from the dried flowers. If you leave the dried flowers on the plant for too long, the seeds spread out in the surrounding areas when the wind blows or when disturbed in other ways (birds or squirrels). Whenever the climate is suitable, the seeds sprout, and within weeks, you will see healthy plants.
You can grow this plant in a controlled environment especially during winter or at coolers regions. I sow the seeds in seed trays or paper pots (or any reusable containers). Cover the tray with peat soil, and in each hole, make a depression to sow the seeds. Cover the seed with soil, and then lightly spray water. If the weather is pretty, you can keep the trays outdoors. Otherwise, you may want to keep it on the windowsill (facing east or west) for more than 4 hours per day, or use a fluorescent light for more than 7 hours.
When the seedlings have true leaves, plant them in containers or on land with a distance of about 8-12 inches between the plants. Ensure to provide well-drained soil, sufficient water and manure to the plants. My plants have only suffered from powdery dew, and I use Neem Oil to keep them at bay.
Note: Holy Basil (Tulsi) and Basil (Kama Kasturi) are different herbs that are used in different sets of treatments.
What can you do with these leaves?
I prefer to use fresh leaves than the dried ones. You can:
- Use them in cooking either by chopping, tearing, or crushing them. Helps treat a few internal health issues such as worms.
- Add the leaves to boiling water, and when cool, you can drink it (with Green tea or with honey, perhaps). Helps relax digestive system and its related issues such as diarrhea and dysentery, and helps reduce menstrual cramps.
- Crush the leaves a little, and place them along with flowers inside a bowl with water. Helps reduce anxiety and relaxes the mind.
- Oil extracted from the leaves is used to treat a variety of health issues. Please consult a doctor before trying remedies using the oil extract.
- Crush the leaves and rub them on cuts or wounds. Helps control the inflammation or itch.
- Eat a few leaves in empty stomach. Helps increase appetite.
Wait, did you know that boiling water with the Basil seeds, and drink the water can reduce internal body heat? My elders suggest this remedy even for menstrual cramps.
What recipes do you have?
My favorite recipes with the Basil leaves are:
- Cool Drink - Boil either basil seeds or leaves in water. After the water cools, strain the water. To the water, add crushed cardamom seeds, a spoonful of honey (or a small piece of jaggery), and a few drops of lemon. Depending on your preference, you can add a pinch of salt. Pour the mix into a tall glass, add ice cubes, and garnish with pepper and mint leaves. Beautiful summer drink is ready!
- Simple Pasta – In a bowl, add boiled (and salted) pasta, drops of lemon juice, crushed pepper, crushed basil leaves, and drops of olive oil. Toss them nicely, and serve. Easy to prepare and easy on the stomach!
- Tomato-Basil Pasta – Boil either penne or spaghetti in salted water, drain and keep it aside. Puree tomatoes (either steamed or raw), garlic, and basil leaves in a blender. Add extra virgin olive oil in a pan. When hot, add chopped garlic and onion. After the onions turn pink, add the puree, and let it cook till it becomes deep red. Add boiled penne or spaghetti to the puree, sprinkle salt and pepper, and let it cook for a while. Serve hot, after garnishing with grated cheese and basil leaves. You can also cut a slice of lemon and place it in the plate. Lovely, isn’t it?
Warning: Boiling or cooking the leaves for a long time will result in a bitter taste!
Do let me know if you planted this herb at your garden. Also share recipes that use basil leaves; I'll be glad to try them.