Turmeric is from the root of the curcuma longa plant. It has a tough brown skin and a deep orange flesh. Turmeric, when dried, has a peppery, warm, and bitter flavor as well as a fragrance similar to orange and ginger. It is a popular ingredient used in making curry, and gives mustard its bright yellow color. India and Pakistan are significant producers of turmeric.
It has powerful anti-inflammatory properties used in both Indian medicines and Chinese medicines. It is also used to treat a variety of other conditions such as flatulence, jaundice, hemorrhage, toothache, bruises, chest pain, and colic to name a few.
When using fresh turmeric, you must exercise caution since its deep color can easily stain both clothing and your hands. Many chefs highly suggest wearing kitchen gloves when handling fresh turmeric.
It is an excellent source of manganese and iron.
One of the main healthful ingredients in turmeric is curcumin, which gives turmeric its yellow color. Curcumin can potentially benefit you by promoting your immune system against stress, helping you maintain your healthy digestive system, supporting your healthy bones, joints, and overall skeletal system, helping you maintain cholesterol levels that are already within the normal range, and promoting your healthy blood and liver functions.
We seldom hear about all the many health benefits to this spice. It is a natural antiseptic. When combined with cauliflower, it has shown to prevent prostate cancer and stop the growth of existing prostate cancer. It may prevent melanoma and cause existing melanoma cells to commit suicide. It may prevent and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by removing amyloyd plaque buildup in the brain. It may prevent metastases from occurring in many different forms of cancer. It may aid in fat metabolism and help in weight management. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it is a natural treatment for arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It speeds up wound healing and assists in remodeling of damaged skin.
You can add turmeric to an egg salad to give it an even brighter yellow color. Why not try mixing rice, raisins, cashews, and then season with turmeric, cumin, and coriander. Talk about a combination of spices to enhance your rice dish! The ways you can use turmeric are numerous. Be adventurous and try adding it to cauliflower or celery….even broccoli.
Okinawans drink copious quantities of turmeric tea. Some brew it fresh, but others simply buy cans or powdered instant versions of unsweetened tea from their local stores. If you would like to try it, here’s a recipe. Feel free to experiment with the ingredients and flavorings until you find a combination that suits your taste:
Bring four cups of water to a boil.
Add one teaspoon of ground turmeric and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.
Strain the tea through a fine sieve into a cup, add honey and/or lemon to taste.
THYME is the last spice mentioned in the Simon and Garfunkel song. It symbolizes courage. Back in the 16th century, knights wore images of thyme in their shields when going to combat. Their ladies also embroidered in them as a symbol of their courage.
As a member of the mint family, thyme is a perennial evergreen shrub, whose sometimes woody stems are covered with small, gray-green to green leaves. You can pronounce it either “time” or “thime.”
Greek philosophers, ancient Egyptians, and even French cooks seem to agree: trust thyme in matters of the heart.
The recorded use of thyme verifies as far back as 3000 BC when the Sumerians used it as an antiseptic. The early Egyptians also used thyme as one of the ingredients in their mummification process. Records show It was used to treat migraines and aid in removing nightmares. The oil of thyme, the essential oil of common thyme (Thymus vulgaris), contains thymol, which is an antiseptic. (Thymol is the main active ingredient in various mouthwashes such as Listerine). The Romans also associated thyme with courage and vigor, bathing in waters scented with thyme to prepare for battle. To the ancient Greeks, thyme came to denote elegance, and the phrase “to smell of thyme” became an expression of stylish praise. Later on, they used thyme as a symbol of marriage, and even wedding bouquets were originally made of thyme and other strong herbs, symbolizing strength and vigor for the new couple. Today’s bride may even have some herbs placed within her bouquet, such as rosemary, thyme, mint, and basil.
THYME is actually a herb but blends well with other spices. It is a great companion for chicken dishes, but not limited to only chicken, and blends well with other spices in meat dishes. When we fix a grilled chicken salad, we’ll cut up a boneless chicken breast sprinkled with thyme and sauté it in a little olive oil. It is slow to release its flavors, so you’ll want to add it early in the cooking process. Thyme definitely enhances plain chicken. You can add thyme to baked or BBQ chicken breasts or other meats, soups, stews and sauces. Thyme adds a rich flavor to your food dishes. Thyme, while flavorful, does not overpower so it blends well and easily with other herbs and spices. If you get deep into culinary cooking, you will know that thyme is a common component of bouquet garni, and of herbes de Provence.
Here’s some suggestions for using thyme:
- Add thyme leaves to a roasted chicken, just a little, about 20 minutes before it will be ready. Add a Mediterranean touch to your fish soup by adding some thyme.
- Mix ground thyme, salt, and pepper; rub this mixture onto veal or pork meat before roasting.
- Add chopped thyme leaves to melting butter. Use this sauce for boiled or steamed seafood.
- For a subtle aroma, add a sprig of thyme or basil to tomato juice. Chill. Retire before serving.
- Try using straight wooden stems of thyme as skewers when grilling or barbecuing. Soak them in water first if too dry and at risk of catching fire.
With over 100 different varieties including French (common) thyme, lemon thyme, orange thyme and silver thyme, this herb is sure to add some spice to your life.
We have a little restaurant named Tea Leaves and Thyme in our town. It’s a quaint place to have some tea and a scone as well as light luncheon faire.
If you’ve already chosen your main meat dish, how about serving chilled tomato juice with a sprig of thyme and basil. The choices are endless in how to use and cook with thyme.
ROSEMARY is the third herb mentioned in Simon and Garfunkel’s song. It is a perennial with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves, and is a member of the mint family. Many people find that its flavor is similar to lemon or pine, slightly sharp and tangy.
Rosemary is the symbol of remembrance throughout the world. In fact, the tradition of placing rosemary sprigs in tombs or on burial sites dates back to ancient Egypt. They even honored Shakespeare’s Juliet with rosemary at her burial.
During the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies. Brides would wear a headpiece of rosemary and the groom and guests would all wear sprigs of rosemary. Often, newlyweds would plant a branch of rosemary on their wedding day because traditionally it was a good omen for the union and new family. The herb also stands for sensibility and prudence, and even ancient Roman doctors recommended putting a small bag of rosemary leaves under the pillow of someone who had to perform a difficult mental task, such as an exam.
Native to the Mediterranean area, rosemary now grows widely in other parts of the world. It thrives in a warm and sunny climate. The plant takes its name from rosmarinus, a Latin term meaning “sea dew.” An upright evergreen shrub can grow to a height of six and half feet. The woody rootstock bears rigid branches with fissured bark. The long, needle-like leaves are dark green on top and pale beneath. Both the fresh and dried leaves are aromatic. The small flowers are pale blue. The leaves and parts of the flowers contain volatile oil.
Rosemary is widely used as a spice when cooking, especially in Mediterranean dishes. Manufacturers also use it for its fragrance in soaps and other cosmetics. It has little in the way of vitamins and minerals.
One of the more traditional uses for rosemary is as an accompaniment to lamb dishes. Simply blend rosemary leaves, garlic, lemon juice and seasoning, as the marinade before cooking and the taste will be delicious….if you like lamb. (We won’t try that one since I don’t like lamb). However, using the marinade for chicken or pork dishes also works well. Roast onions with rosemary and combine it into a sauce, or simply add a little rosemary to roast potatoes and surprise your family with a delicious side dish. Stretching your cooking abilities and adding a wider range of herbs will gain smiles and pleasure from those enjoying the foods.
Miss Anne Pratt (Flowers and their Associations) says:
‘But it was not among the herbalists and apothecaries merely that Rosemary had its reputation for peculiar virtues. The celebrated Doctor of Divinity, Roger Hacket, did not disdain to expatiate on its excellencies in the pulpit. In a sermon which he entitles “A Marriage Present,” which was published in 1607, he says: “Speaking of the powers of rosemary, it overtoppeth all the flowers in the garden, boasting man’s rule. It helpeth the brain, strengtheneth the memorie, and is very medicinable for the head. Another property of the rosemary is, it affects the heart. Let this rosmarinus, this flower of men ensigne of your wisdom, love and loyaltie, be carried not only in your hands, but in your hearts and heads.” ‘
SAGE is the next herb mentioned in the song Scarborough Faire sung by Simon and Garfunkel. and in many places is a symbol of strength for thousands of years. Perhaps strength and wisdom go together. Research published in 2003, (Pharmacological Biochemical Behavior) confirms what herbalists have long known: sage is an outstanding memory enhancer. If you need added wisdom (besides what you can gain through life and God’s Word), then increase sage in your diet. The volatile oils, flavonoids, and phenolic acids will help the memory.
The Romans, as well as the Greeks, treated sage as sacred, even to the point of creating a special ceremony for gathering (harvesting) sage. Even Arab physicians in the 10th century believe it aided in promoting immortality. The Chinese, as the story goes, traded three cases of tea leaves for one case of sage leaves. Sage symbolized not only wisdom, skill, and long life, but good health, esteem, domestic virtue, and the decrease of grief.
I have never thought much of sage. I guess the word invokes pictures of sagebrush blowing across the open ranges. That sagebrush is toxic. But sage, the herb, is good for you and provides flavor to your meals.
The word “sage” derives from the Latin “salvare”, which means to heal or to save. Medically speaking, sage aids in relaxing spasms, suppresses perspiration, improves liver function and digest, and is an anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant. Some have used the tonic herb with a camphor-like aroma as an antiseptic and astringent.
Sage is a very good source of Vitamin A, calcium, iron and potassium.
One area I came across is the art of burning sage. It is like incense. Burning sage is one of the oldest and purest methods of cleansing a person, group of people or space. While Native American sage burning is the most commonly recognized form of it today, it has nevertheless been a shared practice in other cultures too. I’m not much into the burning of herbs for giving wisdom, clarity and increasing spiritual awareness. I’d rather do something that works like the Word of God.
Sage is an aromatic herb and many say that it has a slightly bitter or “woody” taste. It will still keep its flavor if cooked longer than other herbs. Because of the strength of its flavor, you might want to start out with a little and gradually add more along the way. It is delicious with cheese and chopped leaves on macaroni and cheese, a cheese omelet or even a mozzarella tomato salad. With either ham or chicken, you can use the whole leaves. Try cooking navy beans with olive oil, sage, and garlic and serve on bruschetta. It is great sprinkled on top of pizza, also.
Sage is another amazing herb that God provided for us to use and enjoy.
Those of you who are older than 50 I’m sure will remember songs by Simon & Garfunkel. In their third album from 1966. They introduced various herbs/spices in the words of Scarborough Faire.
Are you going to Scarborough Fair,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.
The original version dates back to the 16th century and there really was a fair in the town of Scarborough. There are many guesses as to what the whole song means. That the spices are in the song is either that it has an important meaning or it just rhymes.
Not technically a spice, parsley is the world’s most popular herb. It is native to the Mediterranean region. It derives its name from the Greek word meaning “rock celery” (parsley is a relative to celery). A biennial plant, it will return to the garden year after year once it is established.
PARSLEY – a herb which aids in digestion, but many believe eating it will also help take away bitterness. Eating a leaf or so of parsley with a meal enables better digestion, especially of heavy vegetables such as spinach. Medieval doctors also felt parsley aided spiritually with eliminating bitterness. Relationships where bitterness is present will not last until removed.
There are two main cultivars (types but not of natural botanical origin) of parsley: leaf parsley and root parsley. Leaf parsley is further divided into a flat leaf and the curly leaf type. Root parsley looks similar to the parsnip but the taste is obviously quite different from that of parsnips. These cultivar types of parsley have different flavors and many feel that flat leaf parsley is the stronger. Two tablespoons contain 155% of daily vitamin K. Parsley is a good source of folic acid, which helps in cardiovascular health. It also contains vitamin C, which many believe helps in the prevention of rheumatoid arthritis.
You will probably see parsley on your plate as a garnish. Eat it and throw out the rest of the stuff. At least recognize its true worth and partake of its abilities to improve your health. As an added bonus, you’ll also enjoy parsley’s legendary ability to cleanse your palate and your breath at the end of your meal.
Chefs use parsley extensively in culinary dishes as well as a plate garnish. They use it successfully in various soups, sauces, stews, salads and even casseroles. Don’t underestimate parsleys’ versatility. It adds not only to the sense of taste but to the esthetic value as well. We make soups that use parsley and it adds to the nutrition and the flavor. The main problem in buying fresh is that it comes in a bunch and you have to use it up.
Don’t go hunting parsley in the wild unless you know what you are doing. Fool’s parsley is a European weed naturalized in America that resembles parsley but causes nausea and poisoning when eaten. You might see it also in swamps or swampy areas. I have always thought carrot tops look like parsley. Just go to the store and select a bunch labeled parsley.
Parsley serves other purposes besides in culinary dishes. In a garden, it will attract certain swallowtail butterflies that use it as a host plant for their larvae, which will then feed on the parsley for two weeks before turning into butterflies. Various nectar-feeding insects such as bees, will seek out flowering parsley plants, and birds, such as the goldfinch feed on the seeds. So, here’s to parsley, a herb said to remove bitterness and enhance our meals in more than one way.
OREGANO – People have known about oregano and used it for centuries, but years back The Andy Griffith Show brought it to the foreground as the “secret ingredient” in one of the episodes. Different townsfolk in Mayberry invited Sheriff Andy Taylor to dinner, all on the same night. At each meal, they served spaghetti, and they all claimed to have THE secret ingredient in their spaghetti, which he finally learned was none other than OREGANO.
The Greeks first used oregano. Hippocrates used it as well as its close cousin, marjoram, as an antiseptic. The Romans took it from the Greeks and then off to the spice highways around the world. In spite of its use in England, the United States knew little about it prior to the Second World War. Soldiers discovered the flavors and aromas during the Italian Campaign and brought back the spice and the desire for it.
Yes, oregano is one of the main ingredients in homemade spaghetti or marinara sauce. Many call it the “pizza” herb. In fact, the sale of this herb increased dramatically, some 5200 percent, between 1948 and 1956 as interest in pizza grew and people began to gobble down this delicious “Italian” food. Use and interest of oregano has not decreased over the years either, nor has everyone’s taste for pizza.
The Greek word for oregano is origanum vulgare, which means “joy of the mountains.” It is a choice herb found growing wild on the mountainsides in Greece and other Mediterranean countries. Interestingly enough, it is also known as wild marjoram.
There are many health benefits to Oregano. Oregano is a rich natural source of vitamin K. It has anti-bacterial properties. Thymol and an acid called rosmarinic are potent antioxidants and are tucked away in oregano. It is high in iron, manganese, and other important minerals for health. Oregano is rich in fiber. Oregano is a natural source of Omega-3 fatty acids.
When oregano is in bloom, its pink and purple flowers are also edible. The leaves from the plant are used and they may be dried; in fact, it is one of the few herbs that once the leaves are dried, it is stronger than fresh. Did you know that one of oregano’s biggest commercial markets is in perfumes? Who would have thought?
There are different varieties of oregano. Many consider the Mexican oregano the strongest even though it is from a different botanical family. This particular variety is also known as Mexican marjoram or Mexican wild sage yet it is still oregano. Other varieties include Spanish oregano and Greek oregano, and both of these assume a different depth of flavor, less than the Mexican oregano.
Oregano is a warm, aromatic herb used widely in Italian, Greek, and Latin American cooking. Chop fresh oregano for salads, or steep 3 teaspoonful’s (1 to 2 teaspoons dried) 10 minutes in 1 cup boiling water and sweeten with honey to make an herbal tea.
Use it to brighten soft cheeses, and egg, bean, vegetable, or grain dishes; and substitute it for thyme or rosemary for variety.
Try making Grilled Chicken with Lemon and Oregano. Make a marinade using 1 tablespoon(s) grated lemon zest, 1/3 cup(s) freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2 lemons), 1/4 cup(s) finely chopped fresh oregano (or 1 tablespoon dried), 2 tablespoon(s) olive oil, coarse salt, and ground pepper.
Oregano is no longer the secret ingredient. Do a Google or a Bing and find some interesting recipes that use oregano.
I chose this spice as you have probably seen it on the shelf in the spice section and wondered what it was. Well, it’s many things. Curry powder is a spice mix of widely varying composition based on South Asian cuisine. That’s a quote from Wikipedia. However, you will see this is from Indian cuisine. (India) That’s because the blend determines the origin taste.
Here is an advertisement from The Spice House. Notice the variety in the ad. “The Spice House offers a basic yellow curry in both sweet (mild) and hot. The sweet version is a rich flavor with no heat, suitable for any recipe that calls for curry powder. Hot curry has a nice little kick in the taste buds without being overwhelming. The For those who prefer the very highest quality, try our Maharajah curry powder, a sweet yellow with cardamom and whole threads of saffron in the blend–it’s curry fit for a king! We also offer a Thai red curry, which is hotter with lemongrass and galangal.
In recent years, Ras El Hanout (Moroccan blend) has become increasingly popular as a Mediterranean style curry. Garam Masala is a Northern Indian style sweet curry blend useful for many vegetarian Indian dishes, and is available in whole or ground forms. And try our newest curry blend, the French-influenced vadouvan curry, a mild yellow curry with grated shallots.”
So there are curries for all areas of the world. However, yellow curry is primarily Thai or Asian. The red is probably a blend for Indian cuisine. Regardless, you have to decide what blends you like best.
Curry Powder is a readily available blend of spices, which is a Western approximation of Indian spice blends, and typically contains turmeric, coriander, chilies, cumin, mustard, ginger, fenugreek, garlic, cloves, salt, and any number of other spices.
Many manufacturers put together their blends. Try them out. Experiment.
When you look up curry recipes, you will also find the same variety. Some will be curried chicken with an Asian taste, others with an Indian taste depending on the blend of curry. As the ad for Spice House showed, there are hot blends and milder blends.
Here is a recipe for a homemade blend if you are into doing yourself. This is from the traditional Indian blend recipe.
Homemade Yellow Curry Powder, makes 5 to 6 tablespoons.
2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
1 tbsp. whole cumin seeds
2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1 1/2 tsp. whole brown mustard seeds
1 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. whole fenugreek seeds (I used 1 tsp. of ground fenugreek)
3 hot dried red chilies, crumbled (I used dried chile de arbol)
3 whole cloves
1. Heat a small frying pan over medium heat. When it gets hot, add coriander, cumin, peppercorns, mustard seeds, cloves, and chilies. Keep moving the pan constantly, to make sure the spices do not burn, the spices will begin to begin to get toasted and become fragrant. Keep moving the pan over the heat until they begin to darken slightly in color. Add turmeric and fenugreek and stir constantly for 10-15 seconds.
2. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Allow to cool. Once cool, place into a spice grinder and grind until fine. Store in an airtight container.
You will also see curry as a paste, which you can use like the spice blends. Now you can get really creative.
You can use curry to flavor soups, stews, sauces, marinades, meat, and vegetables. As the popularity of curry increases, creative chefs are finding more unconventional uses for the seasoning such as hamburgers, scrambled eggs, and potato salad. Because of its vibrant flavor, you can use curry powder as a salt-free table seasoning.
It has all the medical benefits of the individual spices. So it’s loaded with benefits.
CLOVES are the aromatic dried flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae. Not only are cloves fragrant and aromatic, many consider them to enhance the feelings of love.
Throughout history, many have remarked that the clove resembles small brown nails, thus its name comes from the French word “clou” which means nail. The clove is actually the dried flower bud of an evergreen tree.
Clove contains significant amounts of an active component called eugenol. The dental industry uses eugenol extracts from clove in conjunction with root canal therapy, temporary fillings, and general gum pain. Some mouth washes use clove.
Eugenol, also functions as an anti-inflammatory substance. Clove also contains a variety of flavonoids, including kaempferol and rhamnetin, which contribute to clove’s anti-inflammatory (and antioxidant) properties. Eugenol is an effective insect repellent, and a component in perfumes.
Cloves are one of the world’s oldest and most popular spices because its aromatic and spicy smell and taste compliment many food dishes. The use of cloves goes back in history…the Chinese used them as far back as 226 BC…and the Romans enjoyed them. Apparently, the Romans would chew the flowerets prior to having an audience with the Emperor so that their breath would not smell bad. Along with nutmeg, cloves were one of the most precious spices of the 16th and 17th century. This spice originated in Indonesia and now grows in many places today.
Cuisines all around the world use cloves both whole and powdered. They act also as a food preservative. How many of you pushed cloves into a ham garnished. The clove scent is common to perfumes, and using cloves in oranges as a decorative pomander is a popular European tradition during the Christmas holiday season. I remember pushing cloves into oranges as it emitted a wonderful holiday scent.
Because of its historic past, different cultures have incorporated the clove into their culinary dishes. You’re probably familiar with studding a ham with clove to enhance the ham with this aromatic spice. In France, they insert a clove into an onion for use in chicken stock. In England, they grind it up and mix it with apples. In India, they eat cloves with betel nuts, (a nut often chewed like tobacco and has some of the same effects) and are an ingredient of curry powder used in Indian cooking. Cloves can actually go with most anything, in their whole form or ground up. They are also an interesting garnish. I’m sure you’ve probably added them to your pumpkin pies. Why not enjoy them in a hot tea blend after dinner.
A search on the internet for recipes using cloves will yield a plethora of choices such as:
Baked Stuffed Apples With Cinnamon Allspice and Cloves
Texas Hot Apple Cider
Holiday Cranberry Sauce
Have you had your Cayenne today?
If you like it hot, you likely will enjoy using cayenne pepper to season your food, but watch out because it carries a kick. If you followed the articles we had on varieties of peppers, you’ll remember that cayenne pepper is a member of the Capsicum family, more commonly known as chili peppers. The common name “cayenne” came from a town on the northeast coast of South America in French Guiana called Cayenne.
I first tasted Cayenne at a dinner party. The host asked if I like pepper. I do. He said try this and after downing a glass of water I asked, “What was that?” That was my introduction to cayenne.
Cayenne pepper is both heat index hot and spicy. Cayenne pepper clocks in at 40,000 Scoville heat units (HOT!). Many enjoy using cayenne pepper in cooking because it definitely adds zest and “heat” to flavorful dishes. The “heat” produced by cayenne is due to the high concentration of capsaicin. Sometimes it’s called Red Pepper.
If you can’t stand the “heat”, then you may not want to use this zesty spice. However, you can start with a little and gradually work your way up the heat scale to enjoying more zesty spice in your cooking. World’s Healthiest Food website gives some helpful ideas in how to use and enjoy this particular spice:
- Add cayenne to any vegetable healthy sauté.
- Have a container of cayenne on the table next to the black pepper for an extra pinch of spice.
- Try adding a bit of cayenne pepper to your hot cocoa for a traditional Mexican flair.
- Even beans can take on an entirely new dimension when adding cayenne.
- Cayenne and lemon juice make great complements to cooked bitter greens such as collard, kale, and mustard greens.
Cayenne has many health benefits. Here are a few.
1. Anti-Irritant Properties
2. Anti-Cold and Flu Agent
3. Anti-Fungal Properties
4. Migraine Headache Prevention
6. Digestive Aid
7. Anti-Inflammatory Properties
8. Helps Produce Saliva
9. Useful for Blood Clots
10. Detox Support
11. Joint-Pain Reliever
12. Anti-Bacterial Properties
13. Possible Anti-Cancer Agent
14. Supports Weight Loss
15. Improves Heart-Health
16. Remedy for Toothache
17. Topical Remedy
Cayenne pepper supplements are available for those who avoid hot cuisine. Consult your doctor before using cayenne or other herbs to treat a health condition.
The uses of cayenne are endless—so whenever you want more zest and spice to your meals, spice things up with cayenne pepper. If you’re timid of using cayenne pepper in great measure, start with sprinkling cayenne on a vegetable sauté that you enjoy. It will certainly get attention as ‘not your ordinary vegetables’.
BASIL is a common name for the culinary herb Ocimum basilicum. It is one the most widely used herbs in the world. Basil isn’t just for Italian dishes, either. It runs the gamut in the kitchen for being the basis of pesto to one of the main ingredients in spaghetti sauce poured over your favorite pasta, and it’s even used in after dinner dessert treats.
We have grown to like basil in many dishes. Fresh basil is best. If you store basil in the fridge, wrapped or unwrapped, it will quickly result in a wilted brown mess. Basil is sensitive to the cold and, like all plants, produces ethylene gas which is what ripens fruit but deteriorates leafy greens when they’re not allowed to breathe. One way to keep it longer is to stick it in a jar of water and loosely cover it with a plastic bag. It is best to freeze basil but blanch it first. We plan our menus so we use up the fresh basil we have on hand before it spoils.
Basil is actually a member of the large “mint” family. It has a very unique taste and some say a pungent smell. Some folks have described its taste as a subtle peppery yet earthy taste with a hint of sweetness, similar to licorice. Interestingly enough in some parts of the world, basil is also known as St. Joseph’s Wort.
Early records indicate that sweet basil was grown and used as early as 907 AD in the Hunan region of China, but is most likely native to India. Carried by traveling spice traders it migrated westward. Growers like it because it is easy to grows indoors and away from frost exposure.
In ancient times, an embalmer used it as an embalming and preserving herb and was found in mummies in Egypt. Because of this use, it became a symbol of mourning in Greece. How they used it in other cultures in the world is interesting as well. In Europe, they place basil in the hands of the dead to ensure a safe journey. In India they put it in the mouth of the dying person to ensure they reach God. Tradition is that basil was grown on the spot where St. Constantine and Helen discovered the Holy Cross, and called it the king of herbs, a royal or kingly herb. The word basil comes from the Greek meaning “king”. African legend claims that basil protects against scorpions.
The uses of basil are numerous, from holistic benefits to uses in perfumery. The use of basil can also improve blood circulation, increase the appetite, enhance and help with digestion, and is good for reducing coughs, relieves gas pains, and soothes insect bites. Basil can help eliminate/reduce headaches as well. When fevers are present, basil is helpful in reducing a fever, aids with cold and flu symptoms, and even sinusitis. Some make a tea with basil and peppercorns that can help reduce the fever itself.
More generally you’ll use basil in cooking. It is best added at the last moment, because as with other fresh spices, cooking will quickly destroy the flavor. Dried basil will be less potent but is still used in many recipes.
Basil is one of the main ingredients in pesto—a green Italian oil-and-herb sauce. Its other main ingredients are olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and different cheeses such as parmesan. There are many basil pesto recipes on the internet. You can also buy them pre-made. Spread them on a wrap or on bread and sandwiches. You can even toss it into your salad. It makes a bright bold yet delicious additions to so many dishes.
If you thought basil was just plain basil, you’re missing all it’s varieties. The various types have different fragrances because the herb has a different essential oils coming together in different proportions for the varieties. The strong clove scent of sweet basil comes from eugenolo which is the same chemical that is in actual cloves. Then there is the citrus scent of lemon basil and lime basil that reflects their higher portion of citral, which gives actual lemon peel its scent. Now African blue basil has a strong camphor smell because it contains camphor in higher proportions, and licorice basil contains anethole, the same chemical that makes anise smell like licorice. As you can see, not ALL basil is the same.
Look into using basil. I think you will like it.