What is basil?

What is basil but a divine herb rich in sweet smelling eugenol oil; it's strongly anti-inflammatory.

If I was hard-pressed to choose a favourite herb, it would be a choice between this beauty and garlic; parsley and ginger might also coming into the reckoning.

When I have plucked half a dozen leaves, which I do every day to go with our green salad, I just love to crush them in my hand; and then take deep breaths of the sweet-scented aromatic oil.

I could get high on it. It is one of those heady-fragrances that touch the pleasure centres in the brain.

Sweet basil flowers.

This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 8th February, 2023.

In the summer months when we have plenty of the herb growing in the garden, I make pesto at least once a week; it's such a simple recipe but, without the preservatives the food industry adds, you really need to finish it in a few days.

It's an annual plant, much loved by the bees too; the tiny white-flowers are equally divine smelling. I wish I could find someone who grows a couple hectares where I could take a few hives; I am sure the honey would be simply sublime.

What is basil?

Sweet basil has been used as a culinary-herb in Asia for thousands of years, known for good reason as the king; I think of many royal good reasons to use it in our cooking.

It's an annual plant that grows like a weed, but it is quite fragile; once damaged, say by hail, then if you live in a misty climate it is susceptible to blight. Pick the leaves only when they are still green but quite dry; no moisture or you may lose it.

It's reputed to reduce the pain of insect bites; perhaps that is why I do not really feel bee stings, but I would not count on that. This week I donated blood, and hardly felt the prick; perhaps it was the sweet basil that we enjoy almost daily in our green-salad.

On the subject of blood, I don't think any donors find it a pleasant experience having someone stab a needle into you, and suck out a pint. I am a fainter, but over the years I have learned to conquer it but eating a honey sandwich and a couple of large cups of tea before I go; and stay on the couch for ten-minutes after the phlebotomist is done.

We do it for king and country; for those children with leukaemia and others desperate for blood after trauma or surgery. You or I could be next. It's not a nice experience but one does it; would you swell the ranks of the donors? In most countries we are desperately needed.

Back to sweet basil; there are many cultivars but you probably have to take whatever is on the shelf at your garden shop.

It's the perfect herb for every summer vegetable garden.

Photograph of sweet basil plant.

So, what's potting in your garden?

Growing basil

Sweet basil seedlings.

Growing basil is really simple; it grows like a weed. Prepare a small patch of ground, perhaps just a foot or two square. It needs some well-matured compost and it's best to break down the soil so there are no clods.

The seeds are very tiny; just sprinkle them around but not too close together and cover with some fine-soil. Then all you have to do is water, weed and start to enjoy the leaves after a few weeks. Really, it's that easy.

I recommend growing it under the eves in pots as it's very susceptible to blight; try not to get the leaves wet when watering.


Pesto is divine in any salad; basil is the main ingredient.

You can enjoy your basil cooked in a soup, or raw as in pesto. It's one of my favourite condiments to go with a green salad, enhancing the flavour of your lettuce and particularly tomato.

It is a blend of sweet basil, pine-nuts and olive oil; and grated Parmesan cheese too. It takes no more than five minutes to rustle up a tablespoons or two of pesto; don't make too much as it does not keep and should be finished within a day or two.

Read more about the recipe for basil pesto. I particularly like to have extra virgin olive oil every day for its anti-inflammatory properties. Yes the DC and certainly all gardeners can feel it in the lower back periodically.

Kale pesto is another favourite in our family.

I love to barbecue a chicken; I always include some sweet basil in the marinade.

If you're cooking with basil, then like garlic add it at the last moment; the aromatic oil is driven off by heating it to death.

Helen always adds a half a dozen raw chopped leaves into her famous salads; each whole, unprocessed food has its virtues. We try to add at least eight different coloured fruits and salads to our diet every day; there is a 35 percent lower all-cause of death.

What is basil? Just one of the many natural ways that you can be more sure of reaching a sprightly eighty or even ninety with all your marbles intact.

Blue Zone longevity is a subject that consumes me.

Fresh basil recipes

Fresh basil recipes are dependent on the fresh herb straight from the garden; it's not difficult to grow. Make sure you can give an answer to what is basil.

If you want sweet basil available right through the summer like we do then I would have several sowings. It's susceptible to blight in some climates and it is best in a new bed every month or two.

Sweet basil blight.

You really don't want to use leaves like these for your green salad or in the pesto. It is so easy to start a new seed-bed when you can see the plants are maturing; within weeks you will be enjoying fresh sweet basil in your cooking.

Eugenol oil

Eugenol oil is one of the known active ingredients in basil.

Sweet basil is such a wonderful culinary herb because of these many different aromatic oils. Just take a handful of leaves, crush them in your hand and take in a deep whiff. Ah, that's a lot better than sniffing glue or snorting heroin.

There is a lot of research being done on eugenol; it's being used widely in dentistry and there are hopeful signs that it can reduce the nasty effects of osteoporosis. Healthy bone is continually being formed and broken down; it has been shown to prevent any over-exuberant destructive activity.

There is even research being done into the prevention of large intestine tumours by eugenol. So we try to eat from a wide range of fruits, salads and herbs daily; there are tiny amounts of all these substances that we miss out on if we are still enjoying the black and white diet.

So can you now answer the question, what is basil?


Our newsletter is entitled "create a cyan zone" at your home, preserving both yourself, the family and Mother Earth for future generations. We promise not to spam you with daily emails promoting various products. You may get an occasional nudge to buy one of my books.

Here are the back issues.

  • If you suffer from heartburn plant a susu
  • Refined maize meal and stunting
  • Should agriculture and industry get priority for water and electricity?
  • Nature is calling
  • Mill your own flour
  • Bake your own sourdough bread
  • Microplastics from our water
  • Alternative types of water storage
  • Wear your clothes out
  • Comfort foods
  • Create a bee-friendly environment
  • Go to bed slightly hungry
  • Keep bees
  • Blue zone folk are religious
  • Reduce plastic waste
  • Family is important
  • What can go in compost?
  • Grow broad beans for longevity
  • Harvest and store sunshine
  • Blue zone exercise
  • Harvest and store your rainwater
  • Create a cyan zone at your home


Chronic anxiety which raises cortisol levels in the blood is a huge feature of today's society. There is fascinating research showing that an extract in which the active phytochemical was thought to be eugenol lowers the serum concentration of both the stress hormones and glucose. It is all about the divine stuff in basil.

This is highly significant as raised cortisol is associated with tissue inflammation, a lowered metabolic rate and an abnormal immune response; of huge interest to all doctors.

Chronic stress with its associated raised serum cortisol, is almost certainly one of the underlying causes of the epidemic proportions of autoimmune diseases seen in today's world.

Researchers reporting in the medical journal Pharmazie report that an extract of holy basil, Ocimum sanctum, lowered the serum concentration of cortisol and glucose in mice[1]. What is basil is for everyone who has a stressful job, or is insulin resistant.

Have two blood tests, the haemoglobin A1c and a fasting insulin, to see if you might be one of the many walking the streets undiagnosed.

What is basil has important ramifications for us all.

Useful links

  • Helen's 15 euro salad is the cure for the most stubborn constipation. Add five prunes and a beetroot a day and I can absolutely guarantee it will be problem solved.

Sources and references

When browsing use right click and Open Link in New Tab, or you may get a bad gateway signal.

Bit of a bookworm too?

Perhaps you'll enjoy this stormy scene from my latest book, A Family Affair. Janet has just discovered that she is pregnant after being raped, and Santie cannot figure out why she is hesitating about having an abortion. They are in the midst of making basil pesto. Conflict A Family Affair. Hang onto your hat!

Cover of A Family Affair by Bernard Preston.

Did you find this page interesting? How about forwarding it to a friend, or book and food junkie? Better still, a Facebook or Twitter tick would help.


56 Groenekloof Rd,

Hilton, KZN

South Africa