10 Fascinating Basil Facts You Never Knew

10 Fascinating Basil Facts You Never Knew

The basil harvest is upon us! It’s one of the world’s most popular herbs – and with good reason – but how much do you really know about basil? We provide you with all the basil facts you need!

1. Eat your words

Unfurl the red carpet for the king of herbs! The words ‘basil’ and ‘basilicum’ are derived from the Greek ‘basilikon’, meaning ‘royal’. 

2. Legend has it

Basil is the herb that launched a thousand myths is the focus of John Keats’s Isabella. After her lover is slain, Isabella takes his head and bathes it in her tears, eventually hiding it in a pot of sweet basil, now a symbol of love.

3. The travelling herb

Though it’s an Italian favourite, basil actually originated in India over 4,000 years ago. From India and southeast Asia, it travelled westwards along the spice route, making its way to Persia, the Middle East and eventually Europe.

4. Careful how you cut

In ancient Greece, basil was so revered that they forbade it to be harvested with anything other than gold or silver. Experts today recommend tearing basil – never cutting – as metal oxidises the basil, causing it to blacken and lose flavour. 

5. Healing powers

Basil was said to have magical healing powers, used for embalming by the ancient Egyptians and to treat fever and repel mosquitos in Africa. In India, it held religious significance – called ‘tulsi’ or ‘the incomparable one’ by Hindus. Over the years, it has been used to remove warts, ease flatulence and was even fed to horses as an aphrodisiac. 

6. Grown from goodness

Basil isn’t just a tasty addition to your pizza and pasta. Naturopaths recommend it to ease headaches, sore throats, coughs and skin irritation, as it’s rich in vitamins A, C and K as well as copper, calcium and magnesium.

7. Know your types

From Thai to lemon, to purple and Mexican spicy, there are over 150 varieties of basil – each boasting different leaf shapes, colours, aromas and flavour profiles. 

8. A late arrival

Britain didn’t see basil until the early 16th century, when it was primarily used for medicine and perfume making. People only began eating it at the end of the 20th century.

9. Then and now

Word has it that when Pope John Paul II made an official visit to Genoa in 1990, a local priest slipped both basil and olive oil into the Holy Water in which the city was about to be blessed.

10. Grow it yourself

To see your basil flourish, plant in January through to April and choose a sunny, sheltered spot. Before it flowers, pick the tender young leaves to encourage future growth, bring out its best flavour and truly make it sing.  All facts extracted from ‘Notes on the herb Basil’ by Simon Parkes, April 2017.

Is Pesto Good For You

Pesto can be a healthy addition to your diet when consumed in moderation. It's made primarily from fresh basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. These ingredients offer some health benefits:

  1. Basil: Rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
  2. Olive oil: Contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
  3. Garlic: Known for its potential health benefits, including immune support.
  4. Pine nuts: Provide healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.
  5. Parmesan cheese: Offers calcium and protein.

However, pesto is calorie-dense due to the olive oil and cheese, so portion control is key. A little pesto goes a long way, and it's often used as a sauce or flavouring rather than a main dish. Enjoying it in moderation can be a tasty and nutritious choice.