Most commonly used in Italian and Southeast Asian cuisines, basil leaves can be used in a variety of ways, such as a seasoning herb in Vietnamese pho and Thai curry dishes, or as the main ingredient in pesto sauces and spreads. While its flavorful punch makes it a kitchen staple, the secret to basil’s health kick is in its flavonoids – active organic compounds – and essential oils.
Here are four surprising health benefits of basil that will have you serving up basil dishes every chance you get:
Health Fact #1: It fights disease
Basil is made up of a unique array of health protecting flavonoids such as orientin and vicenin that fight for your health at a cellular level. In studies of human white blood cells, these flavonoids protect cell structures and chromosomes from oxygen-based damage and damage inflicted by free radicals, which is important for preventing diseases like cancer.
Health Fact #2: It has anti-inflammatory effects
If joint swelling, rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel conditions are a daily pain, try eating basil for symptomatic relief. Studies show that basil has strong anti-inflammatory affects similar to that of over-the-counter drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen – but without the side effects. It’s even reported to soothe stomachaches and cramps.
Health Fact #3: It keeps your heart healthy
Basil is packed with vitamin A, which is critical for immune function, vision and cellular communication. It’s also essential for cardiovascular health. Toss a healthy helping of basil into your next dish to protect against cholesterol buildup, heart attack or stroke.
Health Fact #4: It protects against bacterial growth
Essential oils from basil leaves can be effective at inhibiting some bacteria resistant to commonly used antibiotic drugs. One study showed that washing produce in a low concentration (1 percent) of basil oil reduced the number of bacteria that causes diarrhea.
RECIPE TO TRY: CHERRY BASIL SALAD
With cherry season around the corner, try this cherry basil salad from Seattle’s Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance. Pit and slice a handful of cherries and toss them with basil, mint, sweet corn, crushed chili flakes, orange zest and a light vinaigrette for a quick and unique springtime salad.
For Seattlelites participating in the Susan G. Komen Puget Sound Race for the Cure on June 1, be sure to stop by the LifeWise booth to get your free basil starter kit – it’s the perfect herb to start your urban garden or add to your P-Patch. LifeWise members will also receive water bottle infusers at the event for the perfect springtime refreshment on the go – just add basil leaves and your choice of berries for flavored water, the healthy way.
No infuser? Try adding 2 tablespoons of basil leaves, lemon slices and 1/4 cup of fresh strawberries into a pint glass or Mason jar. Muddle with a wooden spoon and then add about 16 ounces of water. Refrigerate overnight for maximum flavor.