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Basil

Disclaimer: This information is in no way intended to be a substitute for modern medical care. Do not self-treat any medical complaint without the guidance of a licensed health care provider.

      Once believed to possess magical powers, basil was considered by ancient peoples to be an elixir of love and a charm. Others, such as the Romans, recognized its healing properties and used it to aid digestion and counteract poisons. It also enjoyed a royal history having been buried with Egyptian kings in the great pyramids. While basil dates back to biblical times when it was seen growing around Christ's tomb, some cultures associated it with hatred and misfortune; others regarded it as a love token.
      A medicinal herb as well as a sweet, pungent culinary seasoning, basil is one of the most familiar herbs because it is widely used in Italian cuisine, particularly in tomato-based dishes. But it also complements many other foods, including meat, poultry, salads, soups and pasta. This is fortunate because not only does basil enhance the flavor of foods, it also aids digestion. Indeed, this popular herb has a long history of medicinal use. In past centuries, the plant was accorded wide respect for its healing potential and was used to purify the mind, open the heart and even cure malaria. Today, herbalists recommend basil as an antispasmodic. It is therefore often used to treat intestinal problems, motion sickness, flatulence and nausea. It also relaxes bronchial spasms and is thus helpful for treating various respiratory illnesses.
      Basil, Ocimum basilicum, is native to India, Africa and Asia, but after spice traders introduced the herb to Europe in the sixteenth century, its popularity took off; there are now more than 150 varieties grown around the world. Its common names include St. Josephwort, sweet basil and common basil. It is mildly sedative with antibacterial properties and can be used to relieve skin problems, to stimulate the immune system and the adrenal glands, and to prevent vomiting. In additions, fresh leaves can be crushed and rubbed on insect bites to reduce itching and swelling. In Ayurvedic medicine, basil juice is used for snakebites, chills, coughs, earaches and skin problems. What's more, even a tentative gardener (like me!) can grow this versatile herb.

Plant Facts
      A member of the labiate family, basil can grow to a height of 24 inches and is related to peppermint. Its leaves have a spicy scent and an aromatic taste. Basil grows in North America as an annual garden herb, where it loves the heat and hates frost. The herb does best in sunny areas that are protected from the wind.

Therapeutic Effect
      Thanks to its antispasmodic properties, basil is used for treating flatulence and stomach upset. It also helps ease tension and induce sleep. Its pungent taste triggers the production of saliva, enabling the body to digest food more effectively. It further aids digestion by increasing appetite and the flow of bile. Basil can also stimulate the cilia in the nose, helping to clear the nasal passages of mucus and disease-causing bacteria.

Components
      Basil leaves are rich in an essential oil called estragol that is comprised primarily of methylchavicol. The oil is credited for basil's antispasmodic and germicidal effect. Basil also contains saponines, tannins and flavonoids. Fresh basil also contains carotenoids and folic acid. In its dried form, basil is a good source of calcium, potassium and iron.

Indications
      When taken internally, basil is known to ease a nervous stomach, reduce intestinal gas and alleviate constipation and bloating. Its properties stimulate the appetite and digestive juices while soothing inflamed mucus membranes. Because of the herb's antibacterial properties, basil is favored as a supporting measure for a variety of infections, including gastrointestinal difficulties and urinary tract infections. Make a poultice from basil by simmering the herb for two minutes. Squeeze out the liquid, and apply to wounds that are slow to heal, as well as to fungal infections. Try basil for sleep disorders and headaches. Even a sore throat may be soothed by gargling a basil infusion.

Basil snuff
      Basil provides relief from respiratory diseases. Crush the dried herb to a fine powder and sniff it deep into the nose. Drying the leaves increases their essential oil content, thereby strengthening their antibacterial benefits.

Uses
      The wonderful scent and flavor of basil makes it one of the most popular garden herbs. Basil brings flavor to a variety of dishes with its very unique, sweet pungency. Medicinally, basil is considered a mild antidepressant, thought to be emotionally uplifting. To ease depression, eat fresh leaves or add 5 drops of essential oil (available at health-food stores) to your bath. For relief from a head cold, pour boiling water over fresh leaves and inhale the steam. Since basil is antiseptic, you can even put diluted oil on cotton balls and then dab on your skin to treat acne.


Methods of Administration

Juice of the leaf
      Chop 3-4 cups of basil leaves. Form a bag from a piece of gauze, place the leaves in the bag and press, squeezing the juice from the leaves into a glass. Take 1 tsp. of the juice 3 times daily.

Basil drink
      A cooling beverage that does double duty as an appetite stimulant can be made from basil seeds. Use organic seeds or those that come from plants you've grown, because the seeds that are sold commercially may be chemically treated. To obtain basil seeds, let a few plants flower; once the blossoms fall off, you'll easily be able to gather them. To make the drink, mix 1 tbsp. of seeds with 1 cup of nonsparkling mineral water or another beverage. Let the seeds soak in the liquid for a few minutes before drinking.

Infusion
      Pour about ¼ cup of boiling water over 2 tsp. of the dried leaves. Steep for 10 minutes. Drink 1 cup of the infusion 2 times daily; after 8 days take a break for 2 weeks, and then repeat the treatment.

Essential Oil
      Basil essential oil is used to make compresses and mild massage oils. It is a favored oil for treating arthritic conditions and may even be used as a hair tonic to encourage hair growth and to add highlights.

Caution: Do not use the essential oil on sensitive skin or during pregnancy. Also, as with any essential oil, never take it internally.

Inhalation
      Pour boiling water onto fresh basil leaves and inhale to help relieve the symptoms of a head cold. To enhance the effect, position a towel tent-like over your head.

Basil Wine
      Steep a small bunch of fresh basil in a bottle of white wine for 24 hours. Then strain the wine and refrigerate. Drink a 4-oz. glass after meals as a digestive aid.

For the bladder or kidneys
      Basil tea can soothe an irritated and inflamed bladder or kidneys. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 tsp. each of fresh basil and birch leaves; let it steep for about 10 minutes. Drink 1 cup 3 times a day between meals until the symptoms disappear.


Kitchen Hints


Magickal Uses

Folk Names: Albahaca, American Dittany, 'Our Herb,' St. Joseph's Wort, Sweet Basil, Witches Herb
Gender: Masculine
Planet: Mars
Element: Fire
Deities: Vishnu, Erzulie
Powers: Love, Exorcism, Wealth, Flying, Protection


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Sources:
      All information provided in this article is the result of research using (but not limited to) the following books and guides: Herbs for Health and Healing, Rodale; Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, Scott Cunningham; Magical Herbalism, Scott Cunningham; The Complete Guide to Natural Healing, International Masters Publishers; Earthway, Mary Summer Rain; Teach Yourself Herbs, Susie White; Natural Beauty from the Garden, Janice Cox; Nature's Prescriptions, Editors of FC&A Medical Publishing, and The People's Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies, Joe Graedon and Theresa Graedon, Ph.D