Ocimum basilicum - symbol of love, aromatic culinary herb
In Italy, it is a symbol of love; in Hindu India, it is sacred to Krishna and Vishnu; according to herbalist Nicholas Culpeper, if "...applied to the place bitten by venomous beasts, or stung by a wasp or hornet, it speedily draws the poison to it". (Culpepper's Herbal).
The name originates with the Greek basileús (meaning 'king'), and it is certainly a royal treat - in every kitchen it is a source of fragrant joy. A member of the family Lamiaceae, sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is related to the herb mint. The plant is native to India and the Middle East, where it has been used both as a culinary spice and a medicine for centuries. An annual plant, it is tender, preferring a mild climate and an open, moist soil. This is not a herb for exposed, windy gardens, but requires shelter and protection from the cold to be at its best.
The plant itself is nondescript - with clusters of spear-shaped leaves, it grows up to about two feet (60 cm) high, and produces spires of white flowers in mid-summer. The root system is shallow and thin, hence the plant will only thrive if the soil is rich in humus and does not dry out. It is grown commercially in much of Mediterranean Europe, California, Iran and its native India.
As a companion planting, it has an affinity with tomatoes and capsicum. Plant them between 8 and 12 inches (20 - 30 cm) apart - this way, they will grow closely enough to keep a moist microclimate around the roots, without becoming too crowded. Sweet basil is a rewarding herb to grow, a small amount of seed producing vast quantities of leaf, which can be used fresh, frozen or dried. In the right conditions, it grows strongly enough that you can harvest on a 'cut-and-come-again' basis, taking younger stems and leaves in the same way you would with mint.
To dry basil, simply take young stems and tie them loosely in bundles before hanging them in a cool, dark and dry place. The leaves may then be stripped off and stored, either in jars or (as my neighbour did, with fragrant results) in brown paper bags in a kitchen drawer. In either case, use them quickly - no dried herb is ever at its best, and the longer they are left, the poorer they will be.
Sweet basil is certainly well-named - having a warm aroma and being less pungent than other basil species, it is used in many dishes, especially to enhance tomatoes, fish and meats. It is frequently used in Italian and Thai dishes, and is always a constituent of my home-made tomato-based sauces. Fresh basil is a major component of pesto sauce, and fresh leaves are a welcome addition in many salads. The dried herb is still sweet, if carefully prepared and stored, although like all dried herbs, its shelf life is not very long.
Herbal infusions have been used throughout the ages as a mild stimulant. The fresh, clean smell lifts the spirits, and it was often used with other herbs (especially rosemary and lavender) as a prophylactic against disease. Nowadays, it is frequently used as an essential oils, its primary active components being phenols, methyl chavicol and d-linalool.
It may be used in oil burners to relieve headache, especially those caused by stress. It helps to alleviate fatigue and the symptoms of colds, nasal and bronchial congestion. Topically, diluted with a suitable carrier oil, it can help muscle pain, and is reputed to help with menstrual cramps, too. It blends well with orange, neroli, rosemary and geranium oils in all cases, and in any case, is a great room fragrancer. I have often used it with clary sage, to create an atmosphere that both raises the spirits and relaxes the body.
Caution: This oil should not be used if skin is sensitive or broken, and care should be taken if you are subject to epilepsy.
There have been some concerns that the high methyl chavicol content creates a higher cancer risk, and although this is far from proven, anyone receiving or recovering from, cancer treatment may be advised to take further advice before accepting treatment with this oil.
Aromatherapy is not a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you have a health condition, consult your physician. If you are pregnant or breast-feeding, consult your doctor before using any aromatherapy products. Do not take essential oils internally. Keep essential oils and all aromatherapy products out of the reach of children. - http://www.celestialtouch.com