What is the herb basil good for?

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Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
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05 November 2021

What is the herb basil good for?

Basil, also known as sweet basil, is a rich source of a number of nutrients and phytonutrients including vitamins A, C and K, potassium, iron, magnesium, lutein and xanthin. Volatile oils can also be extracted from fresh basil in order to formulate basil essential oil, which is thought to provide some additional health benefits.

What are the benefits of eating basil?

Although there are different variations of basil, sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), is the main type of basil used in Western cultures. This fragrant herb may be good for:

1. Providing a source of vitamin K

Like many leafy greens from kale to spinach, basil is known to be an excellent source of vitamin K. Vitamin K is beneficial for maintaining bone health (it works in sync with some of our other key bone-maintaining nutrients including calcium and vitamin D), plus, vitamin K also works quietly away in the background maintaining some other important bodily functions, such as optimal blood clotting.

Interestingly, food sources aren't our only way to top up on vitamin K as having a healthy balance of gut bacteria can also help support this process and may even contribute to as much to 50% of our requirements of this underrated vitamin. (1)

2. Providing an all-round source of nutrients

Like many herbs, especially if you eat the whole herb and prioritise using the fresh leaves as much as possible rather than the dried version, the spectrum of nutrients basil provides is really quite impressive.

Including being a source of vitamin K and the potent antioxidant vitamin C, basil also contains beta-carotene – another antioxidant, which is handily converted into vitamin A in the body.

Next, some other carotenoids including lutein and xanthin can be found in the leaves of basil, as well as other plant-based sources of nutrients including calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese and iron. Basil is also quite unique in that it is also a vegan source of omega-3 essential fatty acids.

3. Providing unique essential oils

The fragrant taste of basil doesn't only make it a delicious accompaniment to many of our meals, but it also suggests that there are some deeper benefits offered by this humble herb, and this is a result of many of the volatile oils it contains.

These essential oil constituents include linalool, methyl chavicol, eugenol and these all have the potential to offer an array of additional health benefits, from supporting your digestion, to gently balancing blood sugar levels, or aiding in stress relief.

How to add more basil to our diet

There are lots of simple ways to add this beneficial herb to your diet. Here are a few of my suggestions:

1. Add to water

Most of us could benefit from drinking a little more water each day, as ideally, we want to aim to consume at least 1.5l-2l of water, and that's before any additional options – even teas!

However, whilst plain water is normally your best bet (I often say this, as I generally don't rate any synthetic flavourings or unnecessary fizz being added), however, it is perfectly ok to jazz up your water slightly with say, some fresh, simple additions such as fresh fruit slices or fresh herbs. So, could basil be the one, why not?

Basil leaves can make for a lovely, unique addition to water and the leaves can work well with both cold or warm water. Why not pair it with some lemon for a refreshing twist on your everyday cold water, or instead, steep it in some warm water for your very own, minimal effort, homemade basil brew? Delish!

This is also another handy way to reduce any food waste if you have some leftover herbs on your window ledge or in your fridge.

2. Garnish your food

This is arguably one of the simplest yet most effective ways to get the most out of your decidedly delicious basil. The whole, raw leaves can add a picture-perfect finishing touch to many dishes including pasta dishes or homemade pizzas, or for an extra depth of flavour bash, tear or gently sliced your basil into strips. You can then garnish your dishes in a similar way or you could also use it in this was to jazz up a dull salad. Using your basil in this way usually means you can sneak an even bigger portion into your diet and therefore acquire even more of the health benefits as mentioned above.

3. Blitz it to add flavour

Blitzing basil up can help to really extract the maximum taste. Add it at the end of cooking to help to keep the freshness of the flavour, or use in cold dishes to really benefit from the distinctive raw taste.

Basil can work really well in sauces or soups (particularly tomato-based varieties which makes for a match made in heaven), or why not see my recipe below for a unique, homemade pesto option: My Pepper Core & Basil Pesto.

Again, this particular recipe is pretty quirky and is aiming to really tackle the issue of food waste, (but is delicious all the same), but basil pestos can be whipped up using a whole array of ingredients you have to hand, including different nuts or seeds, or why not incorporate in some chickpeas to make your very own basil hummus – yum!

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