Basil takes its name from the Greek word basileu, meaning royal. When we look closely at its taste and health benefits, we shouldn’t be surprised it received its name! Basil is mostly associated with the Italian cuisine; however, it goes well with various types of cuisine.
Basil has been used as a crop and medicinal plant for thousands of years. Supposedly, it appeared in the Ancient Egypt as basil wreaths were found in the local pyramids. On the other hand, in the Ancient Rome, basil served as a charm to keep bad spirits away. In the 16th century, it became better know in the rest of Europe, and it is still very popular as a plant used in cuisine and as herbal medicine.
Basil is a bush that grows to a small size. In different types of cuisines both fresh and powdered basil leaves are used as a spice. For medicinal purposes basil herb is cut during flowering and then dried. Basil herb contains essential oil (so-called basil oil), which has a slightly yellowish colour and a very characteristic, spicy-floral aroma. The herb of basil includes ingredients such as:
– Bitter substances,
– Trionic acid,
When we consider the multitude of ingredients that are found in basil, it comes as no surprise that it has so many health benefits.
Basil leaves may not only be an excellent flavour and decorative addition to our meals, its health benefits are often under appreciated.
Carotenoids are a group of compounds belonging to plant pigments. They are responsible for the yellow, orange, red, or green colour of plants. Cartenoids are classified as antioxidants. It means that they protect our body from excess of free radicals. These days, it is a common problem, as factors such as stress, poor diet, smoking, alcohol consumption, and air pollution contribute to their development. Even though free radicals are needed for the body’s proper functioning (including transmitting signals between cells), their excess can be very harmful. Oxidative stress related to too many free radicals can lead to cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Polyphenols are a group of compounds that occur naturally in the grains, roots, bark, and leaves of many plants. Like the carotenoids described above, they show strong antioxidant properties. Therefore, consuming products rich in polyphenols is very important to prevent and treat many diseases of civilisation, including type 2 diabetes. Nine years ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that about 350 million people worldwide suffer from it. Overproduction of free radicals is observed in the course of diabetes. Their excess promotes the development of the disease and increases the risk of diabetic complications. Therefore, as compounds with strong antioxidant properties, polyphenols are more and more often used to treat this disease.
Basil consists of some very vital mineral ingredients, such as iron, copper, and zinc. The first one is a necessary compound to synthesise hemoglobin – the red blood pigment responsible for oxygen transportation to cells. When we lack iron, we may feel weak and distracted. Iron deficiency leads to anemia, which manifests itself with pale skin, dizziness, excessive fatigue, sleepiness, or concentration problems. Another mineral found in basil is zinc, which is responsible for our immune system’s proper functioning. Therefore, the addition of basil to our dishes can be a step taken to strengthen our immune system. It is also worth mentioning that zinc, just like polyphenols and carotenoids, prevents our body from harmful excess of free radicals.
Basil has several other valuable properties. For example, it stimulates the secretion of digestive juices thanks to its intense flavour and aroma. Therefore it can be used when one suffers from a loss of appetite. Additionally, it has a diastolic, calming, and relaxing effect. The compounds contained in basil have a positive influence on the condition of the skin. As we can see, basil is not only a tasty and decorative addition to our dishes. It is above all, the plant that has many ingredients with valuable health properties.
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