Basil is a go-to in my kitchen especially during the summer when it is so readily available, I like to stockpile it by making and freezing pesto so that come those winter months of hibernation (and eating) I am able to enjoy summer again! It’s also one of the best ways to store basil since as a fresh herb it can only be kept for a short period of time in the refrigerator (washed and in a container or plastic bag). You might try drying it, but to me the flavor of dried basil is a weak competitor against fresh or frozen.
I was interested enough in this green (and sometimes purple) beauty to put together my own “Dummies 101 on Basil." According to research, the name ‘basil’ dates back – hmm – a long ways, to the Hellenistic Greek period (around 300 BC) and the word is associated with “king”. In fact, the Italians cannot lay claim to the discovery of this plant, even though they have a region called “Basilicata” in southern Italy. The Greeks inhabited this region in the late 8th century and it could have been because of them! Some suggest that the origins lie in Asia and India and certainly all of the Southeastern Asian cultures use Thai and holy basil in many of their dishes.Today, there are in fact over 160 different types of basil grown and used by many different cultures around the world.
There are many rituals and beliefs associated with basil, indicating again its ancestry and diversity. For example, African legend suggests that the plant protected against scorpions; in India, it is said that to place basil in the mouth of the dead would assist them in their journey to God. In Persia and Malaysia, it is apparently planted in cemeteries, on graves; Egyptian women toss the flowers on the resting-places of their loved ones. Haitian merchants often sprinkle their place of business with a mixture of basil soaked in water. The fragrance of this is said to chase away bad luck and attract customers. One consistent comment made is that basil is described as the "king" of the herbs.
Aside from loving the taste of basil in numerous dishes that I cook, its ‘royal’ stature can be upheld by all the health benefits it boasts. For example, did you know that there are flavonoids in basil that protect against radiation and free radicals that can destroy cell structures and chromosomes? By sprinkling fresh basil in a salad for instance, the herb inhibits the growth of food-borne disease bacteria, like listeria, staphylococcus and E.coli.
This leafy green herb contains an essential oil, eugenol, which has the ability to block inflammatory enzymes (better known as cyclooxygenase or (COX). In simple English, this is the same process that happens as a result of taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen. According to Nicholas Perricone, M.D., basil has anti-aging powers and may even help alleviate symptoms of inflammatory health problems such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes or inflammatory bowel conditions.
Because of its high content of beta-carotene, basil may protect the lining of blood vessels from free-radical damage and helps prevent them from oxidizing cholesterol in the blood, thus inhibiting the development of atherosclerosis and reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
It is also a good source of vitamin B6 which keeps levels of homocysteine from rising and damaging blood vessel walls, again preventing cardiovascular disease. By including basil in your diet, you will be also getting magnesium, an important mineral, needed in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. There are 56 conditions identified that can result from low magnesium levels: acid reflux, Alzheimer’s disease, brain dysfunction, kidney stones, irregular heart rhythms or spasms – to name a few.
So I hope I’ve made my point! There are many benefits to including this wonderful herb in your diet – whether it be sprinkling it fresh in a green salad, adding it to a salad dressing, tossing it into your favorite pasta sauce, stew, fish, egg, or bean dish or as I suggested, making your own homemade pesto. There are probably at least 101 ways to use basil! If you make your pesto (and yes, I’m going to give you a recipe), you can either keep it in a jar in your refrigerator for up to 2 or 3 weeks or you can freeze it for a cold wintery day. I chose to freeze mine in muffin pans; I lined each cup with saran wrap and put about a 1/4 cup in each before freezing them. Once they were firm, I removed them from the muffin tray and placed the basil 'pucks' in freezer bags.
So, without further ado, here’s a simple and easy recipe for pesto, adapted from Grains of Wisdom, The Callanish Cookbook.
3 cups of packed fresh basil leaves, washed and removed from the stem
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
½ cup of roasted pine nuts, sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds or a combination
¾ cup fresh parmesan, grated
¼ cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup or more of extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil
Salt to taste
I throw the first four ingredients (dry stuff) into my food processor and chop it for a few seconds until everything is reduced. Next I drizzle the lemon juice and olive oil in so it turns into a lovely, green smooth paste. You may want a bit more olive oil – it just depends on how thick you want it to be. Personally, I must admit I don’t measure mine much because I just know how I want it to look!
By the way, did I mention that in Italy, basil is a token of love. And isn't that what this is all about - love for food and a passion for a happy, balanced body!
How many zucchini does one family of 2 persons need, one might ask? Certainly, I should have given this a bit more consideration before eagerly raising 12 plants from seeds. I nurtured, watched and obsessed over these seedlings until I was confident they were on their way to teenage zucchini, at which point, I transferred them from their little pots into the soil which would become their breeding grounds, so to speak, to become adult zucchini. I just didn't have the heart to kill them off. I conceded by giving 4 away to good homes - which yes, left us with 8 plants.
I forgot how large and enthusiastic these plants are - beautiful yellow-orange flowers and HUGE leaves that tend to overshadow anybody near them. Bet you didn't know that you can even eat the leaves - when they are smaller, apparently. Most people (or anyone with Italian origins) knows that the flowers are also a delicacy to consume. But sorry no recipes this time for those - just the fruit themselves. And yes, zucchini actually are fruit.
The harvest has begun and within the last several weeks, we have enjoyed creamy zucchini potato soup, zucchini fritters, baked miniature zucchini frittatas, breaded zucchini sticks, zucchini muffins and cakes, stuffed zucchini, zucchini relish and a Greek zucchini pie called - wait for it - and do pronounce it phonetically - Kolokithopita .
Thought I would share some of these recipes and results for any who care. I mean, zucchini, really?? I personally hold this vegetable in very high esteem for its ability to blend in, absorb flavor, add moisture to and just generally be delicious. Not to ignore also the health benefits it brings to our various organs. According to Anthony Williams, zucchini is a highly alkaline food, easy to digest and helpful for liver hydration. The fruit provides a mild purging effect on the liver and both the intestinal tract and the gallbladder can be supported by this squash-like fruit - the phytochemicals in it reduce inflammation in the gallbladder and help push out bacteria and fungus in the intestines, so that nutrients can be better absorb and sent up to the liver. Who knew?
So think of this the next time you come across this green beauty in its many different forms.
I never thought I would end up living and creating a farm for my husband and myself when I met him, some 15 years ago. At the time, I was completing my studies on Holistic Nutrition and Community Counselling, and I was living in downtown Vancouver, working in the very busy and hectic corporate world. My how life delivers different opportunities if we are receptive to the cues. Here I am in 2020, having left all of the above behind to move to Powell River in early 2019 with my husband and elderly mother-inlaw - living on a rambling, green, wild and beautiful 2.4 acres of land - all in the midst of a pandemic. Who knew?
But now a whole year and a half later, since our arrival to Powell River and two houses built (mostly by my husband) summer is here (I think) and our next adventure has us firmly in its grasp. The great outdoors beckons. We have this rolling green canvas in front of us to create vegetable and flower gardens, install a greenhouse and a water collection system. Sounds like another adventure to me. What better opportunity for me, a self-proclaimed foodie, cook and nutritionist then to learn how to grow my own food!
It all started out a few months back (about the time the Pandemic did) when my brilliant husband starting stalking local businesses (kidding) to help them with their excess wooden pallets. Always willing to give a hand, he has transported many wooden pallets home where he has reconfigured them in to wooden raised beds and the foundation for a greenhouse for our next project - growing vegetables!
Here's a few shots of our burgeoning crops - looking pretty green and luscious right now... stay posted for new recipes as we eat our way through this adventure.
And, by the way, the fawn in the picture above was born on our property a few weeks ago. A special treat to come across it nestled in the green grass by our pond. Kind of like a sign - new life for all of us.