A Bounty of Basil

What would a summer garden be without basil? Pretty boring if you ask me! I love to think of fresh herbs as staples for exquisite cooking and, come summer, basil is a must-have. Its refreshing aroma and distinct flavor are loved by cooks all over the world and the popularity of pesto simply added to its appeal. By some accounts, there are more than 60 varieties of basil — all slightly different in taste and appearance. Most of us are familiar with Sweet Basil, which is common to Italian dishes. Other varieties we may recognize are Thai Basil, Holy Basil and Lemon Basil. Although generally green in color, some varieties of basil have beautiful hues of red and purple. A long-time native to India, Iran, Asia and Africa, basil is grown all over the world and you’ll find it in popular dishes from Italy, Thailand and Vietnam as well as right here at home in the U. S. On the health front, basil has vitamins A and K and is packed with antioxidants, which can help protect against chronic diseases. Studies show that a higher intake of antioxidants can:

  • Keep the immune system healthy

  • Support healthy blood sugar levels

  • Protect against oxidation reactions thought to be responsible for aging

  • Keep the brain functioning optimally

  • Promote healthy inflammatory reactions

  • Support heart health

Ready to take the summer plunge into the world of basil? Here’s how:

For slow simmering with sauces, stews and soups, dried basil works best. To keep the flavor of fresh basil, use it raw or stir it into hot dishes just before serving.

When purchasing fresh basil, look for beautiful firm leaves that are not wilted or showing signs of discoloration. If you wrap fresh basil in a barely damp paper towel and store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, it should last for about four to five days. You can also purchase fresh basil with the root attached; just place root- side down in a glass of water and cover the leaves with a plastic bag. Change the water every couple of days and be sure to use the basil within a week. Got your own basil bias? What’s your favorite recipe? Let me know!

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