The origins of basil are shrouded in doubt. It is thought to have come from Central Africa or India. In any case, it was found to have been cultivated there. It was offered to the gods Krishna and Vishnu 4,000 years ago. On its arrival in Ancient Egypt, it was used in the mummification process. It was also associated with rituals of death in other societies.
Basil has religious connotations in a number of countries: Greek Orthodox Christians place pots of basil at the foot of their altars as it was the herb growing around Christ’s tomb after his resurrection.
For the Romans, basil was a symbol of love. However, it was also a medicinal plant used to treat epilepsy and depression.
It appeared in France during the 12th century. It spread throughout southern Europe during the 15th century. It later arrived in England and the United States, where its cultivation began in the 17th century. It is now produced throughout the world.
Basil was considered a medicinal plant long before it came to be used in cooking.
The leaves should have a vivid and bright color, be free from blemishes or oxidation, and give off a strong and pleasant aroma. The stalks are firmly gathered in a bunch and wrapped in plastic without too much moisture.
Basil is found all year round, but also chopped and frozen, dried, and ground.
Made into pesto, it can be bought in jars.
Basil leaves are picked just before use. They are dried with paper towel before being chopped, in order to prevent oxidation.
Basil has a very volatile aroma, so it should always be added at the last minute, and never cooked.
The star ingredient in Italian and Provençal cuisines, basil is pounded in a mortar with pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese to make the famous pesto. Pesto or fresh basil is added to pasta dishes, salads, and is used to make pistou soup.
Basil is also widely used in Asian cuisines.
In the refrigerator, wrapped in slightly damp paper or in a ziplock bag.
The leaves can be plucked and frozen, or chopped and preserved in a mixture of olive oil and coarse salt.
Basil is high in carotenes and antioxidants. It also contains B group vitamins, a little vitamin C, and minerals.
It is used in herbal medicine to ease digestion, soothe sore throats, and as a tonic.