Sunshine warms your cheeks as you dig your ﬁngers into the dirt and breathe in the fragrance of a June afternoon in the garden. You inhale deeply and feel the world melting away, leaving you alone with the birdsong, the buzzing bees, and the scent of basil. The delight of real food ﬁlls your senses, as you gently pinch basil leaves from the stalk, rubbing them between your ﬁngertips to release their spicy perfume. Ahhh, basil—an herb both evocative of carefree summer bliss and loaded with serious beneﬁ ts—let’s dig into that.
Basil’s origins date back more than 5,000 years, and history has valued it throughout the centuries for its health-supporting properties.i In the ancient Ayurvedic traditions of India, holy basil is revered for its many beneﬁ ts including as a respiratory and digestive aid.ii iii iv Modern science conﬁrms that basil’s volatile oil compounds can overpower a wide spectrum of bacteria, yeast, and mold and may inhibit several strains of drug-resistant bacteria.v vi vii Like other culinary herbs, it’s a concentrated source of antioxidant polyphenols,viii with the purple varieties boasting an extra punch of antioxidizing power because of the abundance of anthocyanins they contain.ix
Make your pollinator garden come alive with basil. It’s super easy to grow, and the bees adore it too.x Just be sure to choose organic seeds for your own sake, and for the bees. If planting basil isn’t in the cards this season, still buy organic. Two of the top chemicals used on conventional basil in California in recent growing seasons were 1,3-dichloropropene and metam potassium.xi Both are classiﬁ ed as “Bad Actors,” a term the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) has established to identify the most toxic pesticides. The qualiﬁcations for becoming a Bad Actor include being known carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and groundwater contaminants. xii Go organic for your health, the planet, and the bees!
Delightful June afternoons melt into deliciously long evenings. Wrapping yourself in the warmth of a summer night and watching the stars come out is pure bliss until the pests show up. Guess what can throw mosquitoes off your scent? You guessed it—basil! Research suggests that basil essential oil may be as effective as DEET, so keep your summer evenings pestfree with a DIY non-toxic bug spray.xiii xiv Try mixing 20-30 drops of basil essential oil with a ½ cup of water and ½ cup of witch hazel in a spray bottle. For extra repelling action, include 10-20 drops each of lemon eucalyptus, citronella, geranium, and/or lavender. Good riddance mosquitos!
Summer soirées are the perfect opportunity to explore the flavorful nuances of basil’s many renditions. Thai basil has a subtle licorice ﬂavor and maintains its ﬂavor during cooking and lemon basil lives up to its name with a refreshing citrus twist. In authentic Italian pesto, Genovese rules the day,xvi while dark opal will lend its aesthetic appeal to any culinary combination.xvii British food writer and cookbook author Elizabeth David once said, “Summer cooking implies a sense of immediacy, a capacity to capture the essence of the ﬂeeting moment.” To that end, we say, inhale the ﬂavor, embrace the moment, and eat lots of pesto!