Herb of the Month: Basil

Basil is high in vitamins A, K and C and adds a lot of fresh flavor to food without the calories.

In parts of Italy, men sport a sprig of basil on their lapel if they’re looking for love. Although an interesting fashion statement, we’ll enjoy basil as part of our healthy eats instead.

Basil Basics

The herb basil ( Ocimum basilicum, Labiatae) is part of the mint family. It seems to have originated in India about 4,000 years ago. The ancient Greeks called it the “King of Herbs.” The herb gained popularity in England in the 16th century and was brought to the Americas by English explorers.

Basil can be found in different shapes, sizes, and colors -- there are over 60 varieties. The most common are large-leaf Italian sweet, purple opal, Thai, lemon, tiny-leaf and African blue. Sweet Italian (a.k.a. sweet Genovese) is probably the one most recognized. The bright green leaves are rounded, have a pungent flavor that’s a cross between licorice and cloves.

The main producer in the U.S. is California, but basil is also grown commercially in India, Israel, Mexico, Yugoslavia, Italy and Morocco.

Nutrition Info

One-quarter cup of chopped basil has only one calorie, but is brimming with antioxidant vitamins A and C. It also contains more than one-third your daily dose of vitamin K.

Basil is also bursting with phytochemicals such as the antioxidants rosmarinic and caffeic acid. Orientin and vicerin are other phytochemicals that help protect cells from damage.

Basil has been used for years to help alleviate ailments such as mouth ulcers, earaches, hair loss, indigestion and itching. It’s also used to as a homemade bug repellent—just crush and rub onto skin.

What To Do With Basil

Basil is traditionally used in Mediterranean, Thai and Italian cooking. Many varieties pair nicely with tomatoes and garlic—such as in a homemade tomato sauce, pesto, or pizza. Fresh basil leaves can be torn and tossed into salads or pasta dishes. Besides savory dishes, basil works wonders in sweet dishes like yogurt or sorbet. Fresh leaves can be added to vinegar or oil—the flavor will seep into the liquid, infusing its flavor.

Basil can be dried or frozen. To freeze, layer herb between sheets of wax paper and place in freezer. The leaves will darken, but the flavor will remain.

Shopping and Storage Tips: Choose basil with bright green leaves without brown or yellow spots. Place cut stems in container of water and keep on the windowsill for up to one week (be sure to change the water every other day). Basil can also be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in a damp paper towel for up to 4 days. To lengthen shelf life, place basil in a contained, cover with olive oil, seal, and store in refrigerator for up to 2 months.

Recipes To Try:

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »

You Might Also Like:

Keep Reading

Next Up

Herb of the Month: Oregano

Sweet and spicy fresh oregano is totally different than the dried version in your spice rack. Fall is the perfect time to enjoy this hearty green herb.

Herb of the Month: Mint

In this new series, we’re exploring new ideas using our favorite herbs. Many folks buy or grow fresh herbs but aren’t sure what to do with them. Check these fresh ideas on our first herb, mint.

Herb of The Month: Marjoram

This lesser-known herb is a must-have in my garden. Learn more about the flavor of marjoram, plus find out why the ancient Greeks would stock up on it for funerals.

Herb of the Month: Cilantro

Most folks just love it or hate it – cilantro is fresh, flavorful and super easy to grow. Find out what’s to love about this polarizing herb.

Herb of the Month: Sage

If you thought all fresh herbs were past their prime, you’d be mistaken. Fresh sage is now in season!

Herb of the Month: Sorrel

This spinach-like tart herb is now in season. Pick up a bunch and get cooking!

Herb of the Month: Lovage

Have you even heard of this fresh herb? Here's why lovage deserves some love.

Herb of the Month: Thyme

It’s the season to pick up fresh thyme. Packed with flavor and nutritious goodness, make this delicious herb part of your next meal.

Herb of the Month: Chives

Learn why chives are so good for you, then try our mouthwatering chive recipes.

Herb of the Month: Dill

The Romans believed this herb was a symbol of good luck. This month we’re celebrating fresh and feathery dill.

Food Network Apps

In the Kitchen

Get over 70,000 FN recipes on all your mobile devices.

Facebook Messenger

Ask our bot for recipes, meal ideas and daily food trivia.

Amazon Echo

Just say "Alexa, enable Food Network skill" to get started.