Basil – more than just a culinary herb…

Basil photographed by Stephen Studd

We all know and love basil (Ocimum basilicum), the tasty, fleshy green leaf often added to Italian dishes and the main ingredient in pesto (well until wild garlic season – in my house at least!).  I grow basil in a pot in my kitchen, that way I can keep it going year round, avoid the voracious appetites of my local slug population, and always have it on hand.  It’s not that I am such a fan of Italian cuisine more a fan of basil itself.  In my kitchen it protects my rare salvias that are prone to whitefly as it deters aphids, of course you could take advantage of this property if you grow it in a greenhouse where it will protect your tender food crops.

However, the real beauty of basil for me is its multitude of medicinal uses.  It is one herb that can be used so simply and yet be very effective.  It is important to note that to benefit from its medicinal properties you will need either fresh leaves or an oil/ tincture made from fresh leaves as once dried or frozen the leaves lose potency.  A tip to keep your plants bushy (and thus always flush with plentiful leaves) is when you need a leaf pinch out the growing tips, this will not only casue the plant to bush out but also delay flowering.

The most simple way of using basil is just crushing the leaves!  A crushed leaf  held as a quid in the mouth against an ulcer will speed healing, quickly reducing swelling and rawness.  If you are a headache sufferer try crushing the leaves on your temples next time you get a headache.  If crushed leaves on your temples doesn’t do the trick then place a handful of leaves in a bowl, cover with hot water, place your face in the steam with a towel over your head and breathe in the vapours.  The facial steam method is also a great one to try when suffering a cold, it will take the antibacterial, volatile oils directly into your lungs to help fight the infection.

If you begin to feel cold or flu symptoms coming on and you have some fresh basil handy add a generous helping of  chopped raw leaves onto every meal, be it a cheese sandwich or cup of soup and let the antibacterial properties get to work in your system.  To get a full dose of basil’s healing power make an infusion, just pour hot water over a couple of teaspoons of chopped leaves, cover the cup to keep all the volatile oils in, and leave to brew like you would any herbal tea.  Drink two cups a day to treat fevers, colds, flu, tension headaches and even migraines.

So you see, incredibly easy to use!  What I have listed is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the healing power of basil, but I just wanted to turn you on to the healing possibilities of this green friend.

A cautionary note: If you are pregnant I would not advise using basil in large quantities but otherwise go for your life!

If you are interested in how to preserve herbs for times when they are not fresh (oils & tinctures etc) or how to work with them more deeply (for emotional & spiritual healing), why not join me for my Sacred Plant Medicine Retreat? In the meantime don’t forget to talk to your basil, make a new friend and save yourself a trip to the pharmacy…

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