Basil is a member of the mint family, believed to have originated in India or possibly China. Its adaptability to being grown indoors allowed basil to spread throughout the world and be adapted to a vast array of cultural cuisines.
Cultivated for at least 5,000 years, basil was a primary ingredient for embalming in ancient Egypt and is included in many ancient medicinal traditions such as Ayurveda. In Jewish tradition, basil was consumed during religious fasts to bolster strength, while certain African cultures used basil as protection against scorpion stings and snakebites. Shared along trade routes throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, basil has been incorporated into many diverse foodways, and at least a dozen culinary subspecies are known today.
Basil is a good source of vitamin K, calcium, and several antioxidants that protect against skin aging and inflammation, and support cardiovascular and mental health.
Snip the bases of basil stems and place them in a jar with an inch or two of water at the bottom. Store at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for up to 2 weeks.
Most commonly used fresh in cooked recipes, basil can be added in the final stages of cooking pasta sauce, risotto, soup, or curry for a burst of spicy, citrusy flavor. Shredded fresh basil is a delicious condiment for summer vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant, summer squash, and fresh corn. It pairs wonderfully with mild cheeses and can be infused into flavored oils. Classic pesto incorporates large amounts of fresh basil combined with toasted nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.
Cutting basil with a metal knife will quickly oxidize leaves. Either use immediately after cutting, or tear basil leaves by hand.