Ocimum is a genus of many highly aromatic herbs that have green colored, soft leaves with a strong pungent taste, almost like anise seeds. Also popularly known as “basil”, this perennial herb grows in tropical and warm temperate climatic regions. Most of the species of this genus are used as culinary herbs and also for many medicinal purposes. African Blue Basil, Camphor Basil, Cinnamon Basil, Dark Cinnamon Basil, Globe Basil, Hoary Basil, Holy Basil, Spice Basil, Lettuce Leaf Basil, Purple Basil, Queen of Siam Basil and Rubin Basil are a few names given to this sweet pungent herb with multiple uses.
Ocimum grows abundantly in tropical regions and also in warm temperate regions such as India, Europe, Africa, South America and North America.
Common Species of Basil –
There are many species of this herb that are used for culinary and medicinal purposes. Some popular varieties include –
- Ocimum americanum – This species is native to tropical region of Africa.
- Ociimum basilicum – This is the most popular species of this herb, also known as “sweet basil”. It is a culinary herb that is used in many preparations in various cuisines. There are many hybrids of this herb that are grown for ornamental purpose as well. Thai basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora), is a variation of this species that is used in many dishes of Thai cuisine.
- Ocimum gratissimum – This basil is native to Africa, also known as Wild basil in Hawaii.
- Ocimum micranthum – This South American variety is also known as Amazonian basil and is used in local rituals to help treat bad visions.
- Ocimum tenuiflorum – More popularly known as Holy basil or Tulsi, this is native to India. It is considered holy in India and used in various rituals and religious ceremonies. This herb is also used in tea, for healing various health problems and also used in cosmetics.
- Ocimum crossed with citriodorum results in Lemon Basil, which is used in culinary preparations for its lemon flavor.
- Ocimum kilimandscharicum is crossed with basilicum to result in “Dark Opal” basil.
Common Names of Basil
Ocimum or basil is known by different names depending on its origin –
- Albahaca in Salvadore and Honduras
- Balanoi in the Philippines
- Dama Kasseh, Taibedle and Ofgahng in Ethiopia
- Hung que in Vietnam
- Mreas preou in Cambodia
- Msubasha in Tanzania
- Sweet Basil in the US
- Tulsi in India
Ocimum is used in many dishes in various cuisines. For the aroma to permeate into the dish the herb is generally added towards the end of any preparation; else cooking tends to destroy its flavor. Some popular uses of this herb are –
- Used in sauces such as pesto sauce along with garlic, pine nuts and olive oil.
- It adds a wonderful flavor to soups prepared in most cuisines.
- In Chinese and Thai cuisines, the herb is deep fried and served with fried chicken.
- In Thai cuisine, ice creams and chocolates (like truffle) are flavored with basil.
- It is used as a condiment in Vietnam and in herbal teas, especially in India and other Southeast Asian countries.
- Most stir-fried dishes, such as pork, beef and chicken, of Chinese and Thai cuisines are flavored with basil.
- The soaked seeds of basil are used in various Asian desserts and drinks called falooda.
Popular Cuisines using Basil
Ocimum or basil is a popular herb used in most cuisines that include Mediterranean, Italian, Indian, Chinese, Thai, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Laos, Cambodian, African and even American.
Ocimum has been an essential ingredient of Ayurveda, an age-old study of medicine in India. Ocimum oil contains main essential oils such as eugenol, oleanolic acid, ursolic acid, carvacrol, linalool, rosmarinic acid, beta-caryophyllene, beta-elemene, and germacrene. All these compounds help in treating various medical conditions such as -
- High blood pressure
- The high level of antioxidants present in basil helps in controlling blood glucose level, thus treating diabetes
- Helps in controlling the cholesterol level
- The herb is known to have anti-cancer properties
- Heart diseases, stomach disorders, headaches, earaches, diarrhea, cold and malaria are treated with the help of this herb
- Even poisoning can be treated with basil
- Ocimum or basil does not have a very long shelf life; however, fresh leaves can be stored in plastic bags for a short period in the refrigerator. In case, the leaves need to be preserved for a longer time, they can be blanched in boiling water and stored in airtight bags in the freezer.
- Though dried herb can be used for cooking, it does not taste or have the same flavor as fresh leaves. However, if they need to be stored, they can be kept in airtight bags in the refrigerator.
Ocimum that is cultivated in India, has two strains named after Hindu Gods – green leaved basil that is grown in India and Nepal is called “Sri or Lakshmi Tulsi” and purple-leaved basil is known as “Krishna Tulsi”, significant of the blue colored Lord Krishna.