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With its pungent scent it makes the all-purpose ingredient: it goes well with tomato sauce, meat dishes, fish, eggs and seafood. Its scent sometimes recalls that of saffron, but also bears a trace of cinnamon, liquorice, mint and cloves.
Basil of Baker Street
Basil is a mouse detective and the main character in a series of successful books and cartoon films for children.
In its large leaved variety, known as “Neapolitan”, this ingredient is a must in any Caprese salad: fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and a drizzle of oil.
Hindu people believe that a basil leaf placed on the chest of the deceased is their passport to paradise.
As a medicinal herb, basil is used to treat a cough, thanks to its expectorant properties, as well as to ease anxiety, stress and insomnia: its oil has a natural calming effect.
This plant belongs to the same family as mint, rosemary, lavender and oregano.
The more common basil varieties have green leaves but purple and burgundy red ones also exist.
If left to dry, basil loses all of its properties and resembles hay. It is advisable therefore to use it fresh.
The king of Mediterranean herbs, it actually originated in India.
John the Baptist
A Christian legend tells that the first basil plant grew from the pot in which Salome buried John the Baptist’s head.
The Latin word basileus means king: in ancient times these leaves were used to create perfumes for monarchs.
In Romania, an enamoured girl will offer a sprig of basil to her companion, as token of her love.
The queen of Neapolitan pizzas has a little basil leaf at the centre: if it comes without, mistrust the pizza maker.
It has excellent digestive and anti-inflammatory properties: its extract is used in medicine to cure nausea and indigestion.
This is the Latin name given to this aromatic plant in 1753 by a Swedish naturalist, Linneo.
Basil leaves, pine nuts, parmesan and pecorino cheese, with a pinch of garlic and coarse salt: this is the authentic pesto recipe.
With tomato, ham and courgettes, basil also appears in various versions of the most famous savoury pie of French cuisine.
Thanks to its strong scent, this plant is used in gardens as a natural repellent to keep insects away from other neighbouring plants, and may also serve as an excellent mosquito repellent.
The ancient Greeks and Romans believed it would only grow if the person planting it howled at the sky when performing the task.
Used for preparing soap and toothpaste, its leaves are similar to those of sage. They may be chewed to sweeten the breath.
In the absence of direct sunlight, basil can be grown using the UV rays of a normal fluorescent light bulb, a method that is simple and cheap.
The most famous is called “genovese” (from Genoa), but many common varieties also come from Mexico and Thailand.
Extensively used in Mediterranean cuisine, it is loved throughout the world, used in India, in all South-east Asian food, as well as that of Thailand. It does not appear in North European dishes.
Rubbing a basil leaf on your pulse points before a date is supposed to have aphrodisiacal effects.
If you buy a basil plant, remember that it will only last one year: the following year you must plant its seeds to grow a new one.
Zero fats, proteins, carbohydrates and just 15 calories every 100 grams: basil is also ideal for flavouring dishes when on a slimming diet.