Around the Island

Back to Your Roots: The sweet benefits of basil

SARAH SHEPHERD PHOTO | Basil from the author's garden.
SARAH SHEPHERD PHOTO | Basil from the author’s garden.

Basil uplifts my spirit like no other plant in the garden. Just the smell of it elevates my mood, awakens my senses and gets me motivated. Valued as an important culinary herb, basil holds even more uses in any herbal medicine cabinet. 

Basil is an important medicinal plant in various traditional and folk systems of healing. Sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum, is native to India and other tropical areas of Asia. It is believed to bring prosperity and happiness when planted in the garden. As an herb belonging to the mint family Lamiaceae, the word “basil” derives from the Greek word “basileus,” which means “king.” So here is to the king of herbs and a few of my favorite ways to use it around the kitchen and home medicine cabinet.

Leaves and blossoms are often the parts harvested, dried and used for teas and other herbal blends and preparations. Calming to the stomach and supportive to the immune system, it is one of my favorite plants to gather in its summer abundance. Infusing the basil tops in extra virgin olive oil can make a spicy medicinal oil to use topically as a muscle rub, or internally as a digestive aid. Leaves and blossoms dried in a warm, dry location are best stored in glass containers to have for later use.

The easiest way to use basil is to eat it. Chewing on a fresh leaf, adding leaves and flowers to salads, vinaigrette, and beverages is a simple, yet effective way to complement and celebrate the many different varieties of basil and ways to explore it within your garden and kitchen.

Steams and inhalations offer another fantastic way to benefit from the aromatic and medicinal essences of the plant. They support upper respiratory issues, benefit headaches and eases congestion. Here is a simple recipe for a facial steam for headaches. Add 1 tablespoon of dried basil leaves to 2 cups of boiling water. Carefully lean over the pot, covering your head with a towel. Allow yourself to breathe in the steam for 5 to 10 minutes.

Brushing a few bees off of a bloom, I gently break a fragrant stem of sweet basil and add it to my drinking water. The bees adore the plant as much as I do. Stings and insect bites are no match for the anti-inflammatory properties of basil though. In a pinch, a few leaves chewed and applied topically to a bee sting, bite or rash can sooth the irritation and may help reduce the inflammation.

Children and adults are relearning how to use leaves and flowers as medicine. This is the green revolution I am excited to be a part of. Passing on the herbal knowledge, mother to daughter, friend to friend. Empowering our health care with the use of plants.