A Scented Herb From Our Gardens: Basil (Ocimum basilicum L.)
Updated: Jun 27, 2021
by Emirhan Turan, June 20, 2021.
Ocimum basilicum L. known as basil is an annual culinary herb, native to Africa and tropical Asian parts. For centuries, several species and cultivars of basil are cultivated globally. According to these cultivars, the leaves may taste spicy, strong, and sweet, or even like anise.
Basil has been used for over 4,000 years in ancient civilizations to modern life. Throughout history, basil was believed to have almost magical powers and it was used as an antidote for snake bites and was believed to give strength during religious fasting. In medieval times, some doctors thought basil was poisonous while others believed that basil was good for “cheering the spirit” and “clearing the brain”.
‘’Basil is frequently referred to as the ‘King of Herbs’. It was also once known as the herb of poverty because it was believed to protect the poor.’’
Types of basil
Basil has many cultivars due to hybridization. The most common basils that are consumed by people are:
Thai basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora): With a strong clove scent when fresh, gets its scent of licorice from estragole.
Lemon basil (O. × citriodorum): It has a citrus odor, with a distinct Lemon-balm-like flavour.
Holy basil (O. tenuiflorum): It is widely used as a herbal tea, and commonly used in Ayurveda treatment.
Spicy globe basil (O. minimum (alt. O. basilicum var. minimum)): Forms around globe, tiny leaves, and a delicious scent. The variety probably originated in Chile. Can be found commonly in the Mediterranean region.
Depending on the variety and cultivar basils can grow from 30 to 150 cm, and the leaf sizes range from 3 to 11 cm. Experiences on growing basil showed direct sowing on the field is more efficient and economical than raising the basils in nurseries and transplanting them to the field.
Seeds mostly germinate within 10 to 15 days and after 20 – 25 days the seedlings can grow up to 15-20 cm. To grow the basil for its therapeutic properties or table, inorganic fertilizer should be avoided as they are decreasing the quality of the basil. As bio-based insecticides, a tobacco extract, turmeric extract, garlic extract, garlic–neem extract, neem seed oil emulsion, and neem seed kernel extract can be used.
Chemical composition of Basil
Basils have different scents because the volatile aromatic compounds vary with cultivars, and due to that the chemical composition is different in each cultivar. Linalool is mainly the highest bioactive compound in basil, however, geraniol, eugenol, methyl chavicol (estragole), camphor can be found as high percentages in different basil cultivars.
According to Pushpangadan et al., O. basilicum L. var. minima Benth. contained geraniol (45 %) and eugenol (25 %) as the major compounds; O. basilicum L. var. glabratum Benth., chemotype No. 1 contained methyl chavicol (38 %) and linalool (35 %); O. basilicum L. var. glabratum Benth., chemotype No. 2 contained linalool (47 %) and eugenol (20 %) as the major components; O. basilicum L. var. glabratum Benth., chemotype No. 3 contained Basil linalool (40 %), eugenol (20 %) and camphor (20 %); O. basilicum L. var purpurascence Benth. contained methyl cinnamate (20 %) and linalool (60 %); O. basilicum L. var tryrsifl ora Benth. contained methyl cinnamate (35 %) and linalool (60 %); O. basilicum L. var crispum Benth. contained methyl chavicol (50 %) and linalool (28 %); and O. basilicum L. var darkapal contained geraniol (35 %), linalool (35 %) and eugenol (25 %).
Basil is used for years for different purposes such as essential oil, spicy, traditional medicine, and insect repellent. Basil is used in soups, meat pies, fish dishes, cheeses, salads, cooked peas, string beans as well as kinds of vinegar and oils. Chopped basil may be used over lamb chops before cooking. Basil is used also in tomato paste products in Italy and is often used with or without oregano in pizza toppings, spaghetti sauces, cheese bakes. In Mediterranean cuisine, basil is used in meatballs, oils, steaks, chickens, ice cream, liquors, etc. to give an aromatic taste.
Basil is used to producing essential oil as it has the potential to enhance mood, reduce muscle aches, improve digestion and regulate anxiety. Additionally, it is used in traditional medicine to heal headaches, earache, cough, cold, inflammation, snake bite, bronchitis, flu, colds, coughs, and sinusitis.
Basil is an insect repellent as well, due to the essential oil content it is used to repel mosquitos and flies. Also, it can be used for insect bites and can be applied directly to the skin as a cure for acne. Due to the pleasant smell of basil, it is used in soaps, washing liquids, perfumes etc.
‘’It was found in mummies in Egypt because the ancient Egyptians used this herb for embalming.’’
Gang, D. R., Wang, J., Dudareva, N., Nam, K. H., Simon, J. E., Lewinsohn, E., & Pichersky, E. (2001). An investigation of the storage and biosynthesis of phenylpropenes in sweet basil. Plant Physiology, 125(2), 539-555.
Juliani, H. R., & Simon, J. E. (2002). Antioxidant activity of basil. Trends in new crops and new uses. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA, 575(9).
Oxenham, S. K., Svoboda, K. P., & Walters, D. R. (2005). Antifungal activity of the essential oil of basil (Ocimum basilicum). Journal of phytopathology, 153(3), 174-180.
Phippen, W. B., & Simon, J. E. (1998). Anthocyanins in basil (Ocimum basilicum L.). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 46(5), 1734-1738.
Pushpangadan, P., & George, V. (2012). Basil. In Handbook of Herbs and Spices (pp. 55-72). Woodhead Publishing.
Simon, J. E., Quinn, J., & Murray, R. G. (1990). Basil: a source of essential oils. Advances in new crops, 484-489.
Suppakul, P., Miltz, J., Sonneveld, K., & Bigger, S. W. (2003). Antimicrobial properties of basil and its possible application in food packaging. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 51(11), 3197-3207.
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