two bunches of green, Sweet Basil on a white background

Basil beyond pesto

Although most of us probably best know this herb as a flavor-booster for foods with an Italian flare, basil was once considered among the earth’s most noble and sacred plants. The basil plant is believed to have originated in Asia, but its use in European culture dates back to Ancient Greece. (The Greeks called the herb “basilkohn” which means “royal.”) In Roman times, basil was a symbol of love.

In ancient cultures it was regarded as a food of enlightenment. According to Erotic Cuisine: a natural history of aphrodisiac cookery, its aroma was thought to guide both body and spirit into a “unity of perception and acceptance.”

Modern science has traced basil’s flavonoids, illuminating to us the source of the herb’s anti-inflammatory properties. In recent studies, its oil has shown promise in inhibiting antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Although it might come as a surprise to most pesto lovers, basil’s leaves contain a variety of libido-lifting nutrients. It is considered a good source of Vitamin A. It also provides beta carotene, magnesium, potassium and C.

Varieties of basil

There are over 50 varieties of basil grown around the world. Their shapes vary from long-leafed with pointy tips to broad with blunt edges. In flavor, varieties vary from subtle and anise-like to faintly spicy to a tinge of lemon.

You’re probably most familiar with the green-leafed Sweet variety used in Italian cooking. But if you’re ever lucky enough to find a bunch of Opal Basil, be sure to try this watermelon salad recipe, featuring the herb’s mild flavor.

The herb is sold both fresh and dried. Fresh basil lasts well on the counter in a cup, the stems in a splash of water. Or store the bunch in the refrigerator wrapped in damp paper towels. To make its flavor last, fill ice cube trays with the minced herb and cover with water or stock and use later for flavoring soups and sauces.

Discover more of the world’s greatest aphrodisiac foods


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