My small but powerful lusitano horse, Jojo, was a bit of a thug in his youth. He was castrated late at five, and then only because I was pregnant and he bit anyone else that went near him. He took a chunk out of a groom’s arm once, and catapulted Luc into the air like a pancake when he deigned to ask him to move forward.
As he was entire, and therefore easily distracted (by ‘distracted’ I obviously mean: sent into an uncontrollable mouth-frothing frenzy) by mares, I used to rub a drop of basil essential oil near his nose. This had a double advantage: it helped him remain calm and focussed, and the pungent aroma covered the mares’ arousing scent.
I am happy to report that Jojo has grown into a real gentleman, and now radiates the sort of intensely serene calm sometimes found in the all-powerful. Riding out the other day, Java managed to round up a young deer who she chased out of the pine trees and straight into Jojo’s chest. The deer, unhurt, did a roly poly between the horse’s legs before shaking himself off and fleeing. Not to be outdone, Jojo’s rider (me) screamed like a banshee in shock. Despite the unexpected pandemonium, my darling horse stood stock-still and waited for everyone to calm down. Anyone familiar with horses and their reactions will know how unusual this is.
There are over 60 varieties of basil, also known as ocimum basilicum, or the king of herbs. The signature of Mediterranean cuisine, nothing says ‘summer’ to me as much as the heady scent of sun-warm basil. Known as ‘sacred basil leaf’ to Hindus, it has been used as a medicine throughout the world for over 3,000 years.
Basil belongs to the same family as mint, and shares many of the same characteristics. It is useful as a remedy for bloating, digestive cramps and colic. As is the case with many fragrant plants, it is its potent oils that have a relaxing effect on the muscles of the intestines, helping to ease cramps and spasms. It also helps alkalise the body and reduces the fat buildup in the liver that can cause liver disease.
Basil calms anxiety and eases depression; many ancient texts recommend basil tea for ‘melancholy’. Less whimsically perhaps, it also makes for a powerful anti-parasitic treatment. Overindulgence in sugar means that parasites such as the notoriously difficult to treat Candida Albicans yeast, are a common problem.
Basil has antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been found to be helpful in the fight against numerous diseases, including cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, allergies, asthma, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, osteoporosis, psoriasis and septic shock. It is an adaptogen and supports the adrenal glands, protecting against stress and fatigue.
Basil is full of nutrients, with an abundance of vitamin A (as carotenoids), vitamin K, and vitamin C. It’s also a rich source of magnesium, iron, potassium and calcium.
In the kitchen, basil is incredibly versatile. I always use it raw, adding it at the end of cooking to retain flavour and potency. Obviously it makes fantastic pesto when combined with pine nuts, olive oil and garlic, but it’s also delicious with tomatoes, helping to balance the acidity. I also often add it to asian cuisine as it marries particularly well with chicken, fish and seafood, spices and coconut. I sometimes add a few leaves of basil and some lemon juice to a jug of cold water in the summer; refreshing and calming!