Monday, June 22, 2009

Herbs: Basil


scientific name: Ocimum basilicum

other common names: Sweet basil, alboharcar

growing areas: Native to the Indian subcontinent; thrives in temperate and tropical zones

physical description: It is an annual herb plant that grows to a height of about 2 feet and has a squarish stem that bears many aromatic branches of about 4 inches in length.

traditional uses: What cook does not know about basil? This aromatic herb is used in many cultures in the preparation of food. But it also has a history of medicinal use dating back to the time of the ancient Romans and Greeks. In folklore, basil has been associated with love among the Italians; a woman is said to place a pot of it on her balcony to signify she is ready to receive her lover. It has been held as sacred in India, where it has been used in burial rites.

In traditional medicine, it has been used to bring on delayed menstruation in Belize and to ameliorate painful periods, according to botanist Michael Balick. Elsewhere it has been used as an anti-inflammatory, for stomachaches, to treat intestinal parasites, and to lower blood sugar. Balick reported that it has also been used in Belize to treat earaches.

Among Mexicans on both sides of the border, it is reported to be one of the most common herbs used to treat susto, or gastrointestinal blockage. In the curanderismo ritual of barrida, aimed at warding off evil spirits, basil is also used as a cleansing agent, according to researchers. availability and dosage: Fresh basil is readily available in food and vegetable stores, as well as botdni-cas. Dried basil is available in the spice sections of supermarkets.

Herbalists recommend using up to 3 teaspoons of dried basil leaf, or 2.5 grams, in a cup of boiling water to make an infusion for drinking. The liquid extract is also available.

contraindications: Because it is used in some cultures to promote menstruation, basil should not be used in medicinal quantity by pregnant women. It should also be used cautiously by diabetics because it is believed to lower blood sugar, which if not monitored can lead to hypoglycemia. Researchers also say it should not be given to young children or mothers who are breast-feeding.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.

There are contradictory qualities attributed to basil that should be taken into consideration when its medicinal use is contemplated. While basil has been used as a medicinal plant to fight infection and to take care of gastrointestinal upset, it also contains estragol, a compound that is considered carcinogenic in animals.

medical research: In laboratory tests, the essential oil of basil has been found to show antibacterial, antiyeast, and insecticidal action, according to Balick. A human study showed that basil significantly reduced blood glucose levels, according to Fetrow and Avila.

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