WHAT IS BASIL?
One of the most popular herbs in Western cuisine, basil is also subject to a lot of misunderstandings. Originally from Asian and Africa, it’s a member of the fragrant mint family. Popular basil varieties include Genovese (sweet), Thai, holy and lemon. However sweet is the type most often sold in stores today. When harvesting basil leaves, though, they must be plucked before the plant flowers. Otherwise the flavor changes and tends to become more bitter. The plant favors warmer climates, and is a popular addition in southern Mediterranean recipes. It is a staple served with many fat or protein rich foods like mozzarella, halibut or various cuts of beef.
WHY IS BASIL GOOD FOR YOU?
This herb didn’t get the nickname “Holy” because it’s bad for you! Famous for its medicinal properties, from Asia to Europe this plant can be found growing in backyards and kitchens around the world. They are naturally anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, help with digestion and to detox your body.
WHEN IS BASIL IN SEASON?
This is a summer plant that loves sunlight. It thrives June through August in the Northern hemisphere flowering in September (January through March in the southern). However basil cannot tolerate any frost, but can grow well indoors during the winter.
HOW SHOULD BASIL BE STORED?
When potted basil is stored alive indoors, keep it away from drafty areas, give it plenty of sunlight and make sure to cut off any potential flowers on a daily basis. When cut, treat them like flowers and place the stems loosely in a glass of water. While basil doesn’t hold up as well in your refrigerator, you can store it in a ziplock bag with a damp paper towel (leave the bag slightly open). Another option is to blanch your fresh basil, immediately cool in an ice bath, dry thoroughly, and freeze in a sealed zip lock bag for several months.
WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH BASIL AND SEVERED HEADS?
There are several historical references to this herb being used to head the decapitated remains of people. In Sicily it has inspired an entire art form of Sicilian ceramic heads. In this version a young Italian woman from Palermo cuts off the head of her lover and buries him in a basil plant whose fragrance hides his decomposition. This way they can be together forever! Whether in the case of John the Baptist or Keat’s poem “Isabella and the Pot of Basil“, this herb was a wanna-be mortician’s best friend!