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Basil Seed

A Definition
Basil is an aromatic, low growing herb the leaves of which have a bright green to purple ovate colour, and is grown in warm, tropical climate. It belongs to the botanical family of 'Ocimum Bailicum', more commonly known as mint. It is grown on a mass scale in central and tropical Asia and Africa and has been cultivated for as long as 5000 years. In India, it is known as the sacred 'Tulsi' and holds a major religious significance. The basil leaves are known to have many medicinal and other healing properties and are strongly recommended by physicians practising Ayurveda.

The basil plant grows anywhere between 30-130 cms., and has light green, silky leaves that are 3-11 cms long and 1–6 cm broad. The flowers of the basil plant are big, white in colour and have terminal spikes. The plant has a strong, sweet and pungent smell. Its growth is best during the summer season, since it is extremely sensitive to cold. Most of the variety of basils are annuals, i.e., they grow and die in the same year, while others are perennial, i.e, they grow for more than two years.

History of Basil
Basil first originated in Asia and Africa. It was brought to Greece by the legendary warrior Alexander the Great, in around 350 BC. In 1500, it came to England, via India and finally came to USA during the 1600s. Basil held a deep significance for people during those times. It was believed to be a symbol of both love & hatred, life & death, and danger & protection. In India, it is termed as the holy basil, and its cultivation in India started 3000 years back in the courtyards or temples. In Egypt, the basil was used to embalm the mummies while in Greece, because of its embalming effects, it was used as a symbol of mourning. It was known there as 'basilikon phuton', meaning magnificent, royal or kingly herb.
Etymology of Basil
The term 'basil' is derived from the Greek term 'basileus' which means 'king', and is believed to have grown above the spot where the Holy Cross was discovered by St. Constantine and Helen. In different countries, they are known by many different names. In India, it is known by the name of 'tulsi'. While in Russia, it is known as 'vasilki', in Iceland, it is known as 'basilíka'.

 
Types of Cultivated Basils
There are a wide variety of basils that are cultivated to be used in various different endeavors. Their variety depends upon the shape and colour of the leaves. Some of the common basils that are cultivated are:

  • Sweet Basil: Also known as common basil, this type of basil is used mostly used in cuisines and also in medicines. Italian cuisines make the maximum use of this basil, and it is also used in Thai and Vietnamese cuisines. Their leaves are as tall as 2-3 inches and appear in bright green colour. It smells like a clove.  In India, it is known by the name of Tulsi
  • Scented Basil: In Latin language, it is known as 'Ocimum Basilicum Odoratum'. This basil is used in cuisines to add a distinct flavor to the dish. It is most often used for preserving the freshness of fruits as well as in custards and sharbats. The various basils that come in this category are cinnamon, lemon and anise
  • Holy Basil: Used for mainly religious purposes, this basil has leaves that are hazy and small with a fragrance that of a sweet clove. Its flowers are either violet or white in colour. It is recommended not to be used for cooking purpose. The Latin name for this kind of basil is 'Ocimum Canum' or 'Ocimum Sanctum'
  • Camphor Basil: Scientifically, it is known as 'Ocimum Kilimandscharicum'. Its leaves are of gray-green colour and have a strong medicinal smell. It is used in the form of tea to cure stomach ailments and is also used in sachets to protect woolen clothes
  • Purple Basil: Its scientific name is 'Ocimum Basilicum Purpurascens'. The leaves are the same as that of a sweet basil. It is known for its culinary skills and excellent ornamental foliage
  • 'Genovese' Basil: Known by the scientific name of 'Ocimum Basilicum Genovese', this basil has dark green leaves that grows up to 2 inches long. It is used on a large scale in pesto and garlic dishes
  • Lettuce Leaf Basil: Used largely as dressings in salads or in sauce, it does not taste much as compared to other green basils. The scientific name of this type of basil is 'Ocimum Basilicum Crispum'. Its leaf is quite wide and large. Some of the common types of this kind of basil are 'mammoth,' 'napoletano,' and 'green ruffles'.
 

Basil Seeds
The basil seeds, when soaked in water, become rubber like and very soft in texture. These are then used in a number of drinks like sharbat and in sweet dishes like 'falooda'. The various types of basil seeds are sabja, subja, takmaria, tukmaria, falooda, hột é, etc. These seeds are famous for their medicinal properties and are used in Ayurveda.

Growing Basil from Seeds
To get the desired benefits of the basil plant, the plant itself needs to be taken care, right from the very first stage of sowing the seeds. This stage is the most crucial and determines how strong the plant will grow. Following are some of the tips that can be useful in this regard:

 
  • The first step is to decide what kind of basil one would like to grow. While cinnamon basil has large and beautiful flowers growing in them and smells like a sweet spice, lemon basil smells a bit like lemon, and is the easiest plant to grow
  • Sow the seeds indoors for at least 6 weeks before the last frost date. The seeds should be sown 1/8" inches deep in full sun. Since it is extremely sensitive to cold, it is advisable not to transplant it until two weeks after the frost
  • Put one or two seeds in separate containers and cover the seeds lightly with soil. Use a clean plastic wrap to cover the container tightly with them. Place them under the sun. Once the leaves emerge, remove the plastic and give them their regular dose of water without fail
  • Slowly, leaves will star forming inside the container. These basil leaves can then be planted outside in a garden. Since they cannot tolerate frost, so care should be taken to ensure that they are not planted too early
  • If the basils are required for cooking purposes, make sure that flowers do not bloom as their blooming reduces the flavor of the basil leaves drastically. To avoid their blooming, pinch off the flowers and the two pars of leaves under them.
 

Cultural Importance of Basil
Basil is not just a good source of cooking and health, but has also been revered in many countries as being pious and pure. It is believed that basil was found around the tomb of Jesus Christ when he was resurrected. In India, it is largely used in religious ceremonies and functions. In Europe, basil was placed in the hands of dead to ensure their safe journey abode. According to ancient Greek and ancient Egyptians, the use of basil was considered to open the gateway for heaven for those who passed away.

 

Health Benefits of Basil
Basils come with loads of health benefits and have always been referred by the doctors of the ancient times. Some of the major benefits of basils are:

  • Basils are a rich source of key nutrients like Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium and phosphorus. The presence of Vitamin A helps is strengthening eyesight
  • Basils also contain antioxidants like beta carotene that help in preventing cell damage
  • 'Tulsi', or the holy basil, is famous throughout the globe for its healing and other medicinal properties. Its leaves are helpful in sharpening memory and in curing fever and common cold
  • They also act as an anti stress agent and also help in purifying blood. This, in turn, helps in reducing the risk of heart attacks and also lowers the cholesterol level
  • The leaves of the basil are also effective in reducing mouth ulcer and other infections of the mouth
  • People suffering from arthritis can benefit a lot, when taken with food, as the basil is also equipped with anti-inflammatory properties.