Asian Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
I nursed a nagging cold one wet winter day in Australia. My nose was congested and I felt ill. Finding refuge over a hot bowl of Pho in a Vietnamese restaurant I drank the delicious broth. The heady vapours of the basil infused soup made me sweat. By the end of the last spoonful, my head began to clear.
The Vietnamese proprietor shared with me his family’s natural remedy for colds: Hot soup with loads of fresh basil leaves!
I have used fresh Asian Basil leaves for more reasons than a nagging cold. Eating raw basil leaves works as a good digestive, reducing the acidity of cooked foods and facilitates effective digestion.
I would also call Basil the ‘ good mood herb’. The herb is capable of addressing body and mind stress because it has plant chemicals that are termed nervine and adaptogenic.
Nervine, meaning there are components that work on the nervous system that allows the muscles of the body to unravel and relax. In this way, it works to release tension in the body and ease pain and cramps.
An adaptogen generally helps the body to adapt to stress, simply put.
Just inhaling the aroma of a crushed leaf immediately calms me down in the midst of a stressful day.
There are many varieties of basil, at least 60 varieties. Each type offers a subtle difference in taste: lemon, anise or cinnamon.
The Asian Basil or Thai Sweet Basil has an anise seed taste, while the lemon scented basil has a citrus scent and flavour. Holy Basil or Tulsi has a spicy taste. European Sweet Basil is the variety that is favoured in Italian cuisine, has an aroma that is a combination of mint, anise and cinnamon.
In Malay cuisine, Asian basil is refered to as Daun Selasih and lemon scented basil as Kemangi. Both herbs are popular plants in side salad dishes called ‘ ulam’. These salads are eaten raw dipped in a spicy chilli and shrimp paste. They are usually appetizers to a main rice meal.
Here are my observations and experience with the Asian Basil:
The plant is a tender herb with soft lilac coloured flowers. Easy to grow from a cutting, providing the propogating soil is not too heavy with compost and loam. Cuttings prefer a lighter sandier soil. Most plant sales centres and nurseries can supply you with your horticultural needs.
Sense and Taste:
Tear a leaf and breathe in the warm sweet scent that is anise and mint. The raw taste is camphor and spice. Refreshing to the palette and nose.
I use the herb liberally in raw dishes like vegetable and fruit salads, juices, smoothies and teas. I also use bunches of fresh basil in a vase to scent and purify the atmostphere.
1. COLD AND FLU RELIEF
Here is a 2-Step remedy for that pesky cold, flu or even when one is feeling fatigued with ‘foggy mind’.
1 cup fresh Thai basil leaves
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
Place all ingredients in a ceramic bowl.
Pour boiling water over the ingredients
Allow the water to be infused with the ingredients for about 10 minutes.
Place bowl on a tablle and bend your head over the bowl.
Cover your head with a towel to trap the vapours.
Breathe in the vapours for 2-3 minutes or longer.
Use as often as you can.
( asthmatics are advised not to follow this practice )
2. Basil and Ginger Tea
1 cup of fresh Asian basil leaves
½ tbsp grated old ginger
½ tsp clove seeds
1 tsp raw honey
Place basil leaves, cloves and ginger in a teapot.
Pour hot water and infuse for 10 minutes.
Add honey ( optional )
Therapy: Use both recipes at least 2 times a day until you feel better. Even without any illness, clearing up the nasal passages regularly is good practice.
Asian Basil seeds
One of my childhood memories of food is the sight of seeds in my rose flavoured drink, that resembled frog eggs. While it may seem unappetising, I loved the crunch of basil seeds in my mouth.
Basil seeds were normal additions to sweets and drinks when I was growing up in Singapore in the fifties and early sixties. Most Asian cultures in SE Asia used basil seeds as food.
Basil seed expands rapidly when soaked in water, a mucilaginous layer surrounding the seed.
There are no definite records about their medicinal properties. However, I read in a Thai medical journal once that eating them can reduce the gastrointestinal tract of worms and parasites. It certainly will not hurt to throw some into your cold juices just like how Chia seeds are used.
A Thai medicine man I met in Chiangmai suggested that the seeds be eaten as a weight loss aid. This makes sense, as the swelling seeds will result in a feeling of satiety or feeling full. Also, the seeds act like a sponge, soaking up excesses in the intestinal tract.
I am sure that there are many ways that basil can be used as both medicine and food. The one aspect of basil that I like is one I share with Hindu sages:
“Basil opens the heart and brings harmony to the mind”.