If we had to play a game and I said “Quick! Name the first herb that pops into your head,” there’s a pretty good chance you’d say “Basil!” It’s surely one of the most commonly used herbs and one that many individuals first learn how to cook with. But why?
Basil has been prominent throughout history, and not just for cooking. It is thought to have originated in India, and is part of the mint family (along with sage, lavender, rosemary, oregano, marjoram…). It was used in embalming and preserving in ancient Egypt, has been known to be used medicinally, to provide strength during fasting, and has symbolic meaning, prompting its inclusion as a gift to a sweetheart come particular holidays. Or, if you’re looking back at ancient Greece, it’s a symbol of hatred. For me though, I like the story of the romantic gestures more, so I’m going to stick with that.
In addition to being used widely throughout history, we have to consider why we still use it today. I mean, just think, there are lots of things that we no longer use thanks to the great innovation of generations, so why do we still cook using basil?
One reason is how versatile it is when cooking, canning and used fresh in salads. You’ve probably seen sweet basil, lemon basil, or Thai basil. It is one herb that can really pull its weight in the kitchen from sweeter Italian dishes to more savory Mediterranean dishes. Sweet basil, for example, is kind of sweet and peppery with hints of mint, while Thai is more licorice-like and spicy. I personally use basil quite a bit, and really enjoy my recipe for Basil Diced Tomatoes that I use in my alfresco pasta. Light, summer meals are quick, however sometimes in winter you just feel heavy and the food is all heavy. When I’m feeling that way, I love that this pasta sauce is light and summer, even in the cold.
Basil is also good for you, as it’s a great source of vitamin K which helps your bone metabolism and blood calcium levels. It’s also easy to cultivate yourself, which is ideal in order to consume the amount of fresh basil you need to obtain those nutrients! But wait– If you’re now thinking “Yah, you’re crazy, I have no idea how to do that,” don’t worry! In Raised Bed Gardening, Tammy Wylie teaches you with lots of information and tips on how to create raised beds, when to grow, what basil likes to grow near to help both plants flourish, etc. You can do this!
Diane, The Canning Diva®