Basil, a flavourful favourite


Basil Plant Flowering
Basil Plant Flowering (Photo by H. Zell on Wikimedia Commons)

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a herbaceous plant that is no stranger to the kitchens of most individuals. Native to tropical regions of Central Africa and Southeast Asia, it is an extremely flavoursome herb used in a wide range of cuisines. It has a number of varieties and other names including, Great Basil, Sweet Basil, Lemon Basil and Holy Basil. 

Usually reaching only a height of approximately 100cm, it is a popular addition in many kitchens and herb gardens. You may consider keeping basil on a kitchen window sill if you use it regularly within your cooking. 

The oval shaped leaves are a deep, rich green and will often have a soft sheen. When flowering it produces a number of small white flowers that emerge from the growing tip of stem at the top of the plant.

Cultivation and History

Basil is an annual plant that must be reseeded each year. It is easy to seed and also to propagate. Basil trimmings will grow strong roots quickly when placed in a small container filled with water.

Different basil varieties have emerged over the years including sweet, lemon, Thai and purple basil, each with a slight difference in their dominant flavour. Sweet basil is the most common variety, it is a widely cultivated herb, used mainly for its leaves.

Warm climates are more preferable for growing basil as it does not fair well in the cold. When grown commercially it can usually be found in subtropical climates, like the Mediterranean.

Basil is usually associated with Italian and Mediterranean cooking, however many may be surprised to learn that it is said to have originated in India. From ancient times it has travelled along spice routes and now finds itself in the gardens all over the world.

Basil Close Up
Basil Close Up (Photo by Lavi Perchik  on Unsplash.com)

Toxicity

Within food, basil has no toxic effects on humans, however warnings do exist that warn against using basil in high dosage amounts. Basil contains a chemical known as estragole which scientific evidence has shown can cause damage in the liver of mice when received in a high dose.

Uses

Culinary

You will likely be familiar with a hugely popular product created using basil, pesto. The famous Italian sauce, a popular sauce used for roasting vegetables, or coating pasta. Other popular uses include adding flavour to soups, salads, and particularly dishes that feature chicken and/or tomatoes. It is also often used as a decorative garnish to give meals a more delectable appearance.

The flowers can also be eaten, however their flavour is more mild. Generally the flower buds are pinched off the plant to prolong the freshness of the leaves. Once the plant flowers it loses its essential oils which give it the notable aromatic flavour.

Basil freezes very well, so it has become a popular kitchen technique to ‘store’ chopped fresh basil in compact ice cubes, ready to use in dishes and meals at a later date.

Basil and tomatoes (Photo by Monicore on Pexels.com)

Medicinal

Basil has a history of being used to aid in a variety of medical situations, from stomach spasms, the common cold, intestinal problems, increasing blood flow and even warts. It also has a number of helpful medicinal qualities including anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

Basil also contains a number of antioxidants, which aid the body in protecting itself against free radicals from smoke and radiation. It also contains a variety of aromatic chemicals which help to repel insects, making it a great addition to a herb garden and which a number of studies have even concluded is toxic for mosquitos.

Did you know…

A number of Orthodox churches in Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia still use Basil today in the preparation of holy water.

Conclusion

Basil is an incredibly versatile plant and a herb garden simply wouldn’t be complete without it. It is easy to grow and seed within a window box or even on a kitchen windowsill, making it possible for those living without a garden to use and enjoy. Whether you use dried, frozen or fresh basil, it is a great herb to experiment with in the kitchen. From making your own pesto to trying it out in a fresh summer salad.

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet 
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel.
Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com



Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

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Aralia, golden foliage and edible shoots


Aralia (Aralia cordata) is a herbaceous and perennial plant native to many parts of Eastern Asia, including Japan, Korea and China. It can grow to a maximum height of approximately 3 metres and can usually be found growing in the wild within mountainous, wooded areas with gentle slopes.

During spring the leaves are usually golden in colour, and can sometimes transform into bright green during the summer. The plant resembles a small to medium sized bush when fully mature. The deciduous leaves are fairly broad and appear quite soft, giving the plant a very appealing and ornamental look. When flowering in June and July, it can produce loose clusters of delicate white flowers that are particularly attractive to pollinators like bees.

Other common names include Spikenard, Sun King, Herbal Aralia, Japanese Spikenard and Mountain Asparagus. The genus that Aralia cordata belongs to contains a number of other similar species that can be found across America as well as Asia, however these were likely introduced and some are currently considered an invasive species in the US.

Aralia (Aralia cordata)
(Source: Qwert1234/Wikimedia Commons)
Aralia Illustration (Aralia cordata)
(Source: Philipp Franz von Siebold and Joseph Gerhard Zuccarini/Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and History

Aralia is primarily grown for culinary uses and for its aesthetic appeal, however it is often grown and harvested for use in traditional medicines and remedies. It has been grown and cultivated for many centuries in Eastern Asia. When first introduced to America in the early 1900’s its culinary popularity was not as successful as in East Asia, however it is now being cultivated and used within an increasing amount of exotic dishes in restaurants across the US.


Toxicity

When planting the plant typically prefers a semi-shaded position with dappled light and it is considered frost tender. It also prefers moist, normal to sandy soil with a neutral or slightly acidic pH. Many consider aralia easy to grow as it does not require much attention or additional fertiliser and growth tends to be quite rapid.

You can only consume the tiny (3mm) black/purple, stone bearing fruits on this species of Aralia.

Uses

Culinary

The root of aralia can sometimes be used as a substitute for ginseng in China, however the shoots are the most widely consumed part of the plant. Each spring new shoots can be harvested and blanched. The shoots have a fairly strong but appealing aroma and flavour. When preparing it is usually best to soak, peel and cook before eating to remove the slight resinous taste. You can add them to salads, soups, pickles and many Asian dishes.

Aralia Shoot (Aralia cordata)
(Source: ja:利用者:たね/Wikimedia Commons)

Medicinal

The medicinal value of Aralia has not been widely recognised worldwide, it is more commonly used in traditional remedies. Its roots are usually the part of the plant with the most medicinal value. The roots are commonly used in Korean herbal medicine for treating general pain, common cold, migraines, inflammation and fevers. When preparing, the roots are collected, dried and used within herbal remedies, from powders to ointments.

Did you know…

The planting position of Aralia can directly effect its colour. When planted in an area with a higher amount or full sunlight, the leaves will retain their bright golden colour. When growing in full shade, the leaves will eventually transform into a bright and equally beautiful lime green.

Conclusion

Aralia is a beautiful plant that can add a bright and tropical splash of golden, green colour into a garden. It’s attractive foliage and ability to grow well without much care makes it especially popular in a range of gardens, from beginners to experts, as it is easy care for. Although its culinary use is not as prolific as within Asia, many gardeners in Europe and Northern America are growing Aralia for use in exotic dishes and cuisines. The young shoots can make a tasty and unique addition to a number of meals for those wishing to experiment.

Written by Hannah Sweet 
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel.
Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com



Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

Subscribe to our mailing list

our facebook page for additional articles and updates.

Follow us on Twitter @EatThePlanetOrg



eattheplanet.org is an affiliate marketer. We may earn commission from links to products and services on this page.

Basil, a flavourful favourite
Read more.
Aralia, golden foliage and edible shoots
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Anise, the original star of the herb garden
Read more.
Angelica (Wild Celery), sweet but hardy
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Aloe Vera and its soothing properties
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Anise, the original star of the herb garden


Anise Plant (Source: Raffi Kojian / http://www.gardenology.org/Wikimedia Commons)

Anise (Pimpinella anisum), not to be confused with its popular Chinese cousin star anise, is a herbaceous annual plant with a particularly sweet, liquorice like flavour. Growing to a maximum height of about 3ft, it features a long stem with feathery leaves towards the top and small broad leaves at its base. When flowering from early to mid-summer, its small flowers are either yellow or white and form an umbrella like cluster.

Another popular name for anise is aniseed, which is actually the name given to its fruits. Native to Southwest Asia and the Mediterranean, anise can now be found in herb gardens and fields across Europe.

Cultivation and History

Anise is currently cultivated primarily for its fruit, or aniseed. It is grown commercially across the Mediterranean for its use in flavouring liquors like Ouzo, Sambuca and Absinthe. However it has a long history of being cultivated for its medicinal and culinary properties.

You can plant the seeds directly into the soil in spring, or they can be sown a little earlier if you keep them indoors. Anise typically does not fare very well when transplanted, so it is best for you to plant any seedlings as soon as the weather is suitable. Ensuring it is in a position where it will not need to be moved. Seeds are normally harvested towards the end of summer, from July until September. It grows well in sunny spots with well drained soil and often develops more successfully if planted along side coriander.

Ancient Egyptians are considered the first to have cultivated anise and as word of its medicinal value spread, it too began to spread across Europe. Today many gardeners choose to grow anise for its ornamental value and for its use of flavouring.

Anise seeds (Source: David Monniaux/Wikimedia Commons)

Toxicity

When used within foods and liquors anise has no toxic value. Its consumption as food is safe for children and pregnant and breast feeding mothers, however it is generally recommended that these groups do not use Anise as a medicine. Anise oil should not be consumed in large doses as it could cause neuronal poisoning. Symptoms of neuronal poisoning being headache, seizures and numbness.

Uses

Culinary

From salads and soups, to garnishes and curries, the seeds and oil can add a wonderful sweet and delicate, liquorice like flavour to your dishes. You can also use the seeds in various herbal tea flavourings, liquor and cordial production. A number of sweets and confectionaries like aniseed balls and humbugs also use anise flavoring. The seed is also popularly used in a number of baked goods like biscuits, cakes and breads to add a sweet aromatic flavour.

Anise Illustration (Source: Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen/Wikimedia Commons)

Medicinal

Anise has been used throughout history to ease the symptoms of IBS, abdominal cramps and intestinal gas. Other less predominant uses include using anise as a topical treatment for lice and psoriasis. Many have also used anise to treat menstrual discomfort and even increase milk flow in nursing mothers.

The Romans once used anise as a flavouring in spiced cakes that were served at the end of a feast. The cakes were used to aid any intestinal discomfort and flatulence.

Did you know…

Oil of anise was sometimes applied to metal parts and bearings within steam locomotives. It was hoped that if they began over heating the strong, aromatic smell of anise would pre-warn drivers and engineers of the issue.

Conclusion

Anise would make a great addition to your herb garden. Its delicate and ornamental shape and flowers add a unique texture amongst a collection of traditional herbs. Its talents in the kitchen are a bonus if you love to experiment with different flavours and recipes.

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet 
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel.
Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com



Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

Subscribe to our mailing list

our facebook page for additional articles and updates.

Follow us on Twitter @EatThePlanetOrg



eattheplanet.org is an affiliate marketer. We may earn commission from links to products and services on this page.

Basil, a flavourful favourite
Read more.
Aralia, golden foliage and edible shoots
Read more.
Anise, the original star of the herb garden
Read more.
Angelica (Wild Celery), sweet but hardy
Read more.
Aloe Vera and its soothing properties
Read more.
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
Bunchberry, a Beautiful and Valuable Wild Edible
Read more.
Giant puffball mushroom (Calvatia gigantea)
Giant Puffball Mushroom, a Soft and Tasty Delicacy
Read more.
Redroot pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus)
Redroot Pigweed, a Humble and Underrated Wild Edible
Read more.
Sourwood Tree (Oxydendrum arboreum) in the fall
Sourwood Tree, Gorgeous Foliage and Tasty Flowers
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Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata)
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Angelica (Wild Celery), sweet but hardy


Angelica (Angelica archangelica) is a biennial, and particularly hardy herbaceous plant. It can tolerate extreme frosts and is particularly pest resistant. Growing to a maximum height of approximately 8 ft, it consists of long fluted stems, and small broad leaflets with a slightly serrated edge. When flowering, in June to August, the flowers are small, white tinged with yellow and green and grouped into numerous stems to form clusters or umbels. Other common names for Angelica include Wild Celery, Norwegian Angelica and Garden Angelica. It typically grows wild in parts of northern Scandinavia, Russia, Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, however it can now be found growing in woodlands, coastlines, riverbanks, forests and gardens across Europe.

Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
(Source: Robert Flogaus-Faust/Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation & History

Angelica Illustration (Angelica archangelica)
(Source: Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen/Wikimedia Commons)

Once native only to Northern Europe, Angelica is now grown and farmed for medical and culinary purposes in a number of European countries, including France, Germany and Hungary. For optimal growing it requires a damp soil, as when found in the wild it often favours shady areas close to rivers and streams. It can be found in many herb gardens, being grown for its sweet aromatic scent and culinary uses.

Angelica has been cultivated for centuries, predominantly for its medicinal value. It was often referred to as ‘Root of the Holy Ghost’ by many physicians and alchemists. During the 16th and 17th centuries Angelica was widely grown and used across Europe for many different applications, with the French using it to create a well known liquor ‘Chartreuse’, and Norwegians using the roots in the production of their bread.

Toxicity

You can safely consume Angelica within food quantities. However care should be taken if ingesting supplements of the herb as an overdose could cause nausea and other discomforts. It’s similar appearance to other poisonous Apiaceae species means that you must take care in identifying and consuming any wild plants. It is generally recommended that sunlight should be avoided when taking Angelica as a supplement as it can cause photosensitivity. Pregnant or breast feeding individuals should not take Angelica as a supplement. In high doses some of the substances found within could be toxic to the health of the baby. It even has a historical medicinal use of purposefully causing abortions.

Usage

Edible

The roots, seeds, fruit, leaves and stem of Angelica are perfectly edible. You can use them as an ingredient in a wide range of recipes. From Angelica leaves in salads and teas, to the stems being used to create a jam. It can also be candied and eaten as a sweet, or used to decorate cakes. It is believed to have been the Danes who first began to produce and sell candied Angelica. The roots, seeds and fruit are commonly used to create Angelica oil. The oil can be used in many liquors and even some perfumes.

Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
(Source: Mike Peel/Wikimedia Commons)

Medical

As a medical aid, Angelica has a long history of being used to provide relief or to cure a number of ailments. From toothache and rheumatism, to the common cold. As modern day scientists begin to further research its potential benefits the number of medicines that use Angelica is only set to grow. It is now often used to treat indigestion, circulatory problems and even anorexia as it can sometimes help to stimulate an appetite. It is also frequently used as a topical medicine to treat skin disorders and even nerve and joint pain.

Did you know…

The scientific name Angelica archangelica was said to have been inspired from the dream of a monk in the late middle ages. The archangel Michael visited the monk and informed him that this particular herb could be used to help cure and prevent the bubonic plague. After news of the dream spread, all individuals from peasants to royalty, collected the herb in hope of protecting themselves.

Conclusion

Angelica can make a wonderful addition to many herb gardens and kitchen recipes, from desserts and sweets to omelettes and garden salads. Its medicinal value has been well revered throughout history and for good reason. The herb contains a number of beneficial compounds and substances still being used in modern medicine today.

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet 
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel.
Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com



Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

Subscribe to our mailing list

our facebook page for additional articles and updates.

Follow us on Twitter @EatThePlanetOrg



eattheplanet.org is an affiliate marketer. We may earn commission from links to products and services on this page.

Basil, a flavourful favourite
Read more.
Aralia, golden foliage and edible shoots
Read more.
Anise, the original star of the herb garden
Read more.
Angelica (Wild Celery), sweet but hardy
Read more.
Aloe Vera and its soothing properties
Read more.
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
Bunchberry, a Beautiful and Valuable Wild Edible
Read more.
Giant puffball mushroom (Calvatia gigantea)
Giant Puffball Mushroom, a Soft and Tasty Delicacy
Read more.
Redroot pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus)
Redroot Pigweed, a Humble and Underrated Wild Edible
Read more.
Sourwood Tree (Oxydendrum arboreum) in the fall
Sourwood Tree, Gorgeous Foliage and Tasty Flowers
Read more.
Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata)
Wild Cucumber, Inedible Fruits but Great for Making Tea
Read more.

Aloe Vera and its soothing properties


Aloe Vera (Aloe Vera), the plant we all turn to after too much time spent in the sun. Aloe is a species of succulent, believed to originate from the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula (including the countries Yemen, Qatar etc.). It is now commonly found growing wild in tropical and arid climates around the world, including the volcanic Canary Islands and large areas of Northern Africa.

As an evergreen perennial, and reaching a maximum height of approximately 100cm, its long, glossy, triangular leaves create a bold structure. It is often a popular and unique addition to rockeries and gardens.

It has also recently seen a surge in popularity as a house plant. Compared to other house plant species, Aloe needs only a small of amount of water and attention to thrive. This makes it a popular choice for a green fingered novice.

The plant possesses a wealth of potential healing and soothing properties. Some of which are still being discovered and researched by scientists across the globe.

Aloe Vera Plant Close Up (Photo by pisauikan on Unsplash)

Cultivation History

Aloe soon spread from the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula into China and parts of Europe. It is believed to be caused by the transport and exchange of goods throughout history as different cultures began to understand and value the plants medicinal potential.

The ancient Egyptians and even Alexander the Great utilised Aloe for its healing properties by treating the wounds of the sick or injured. It is also said that Cleopatra drank the nourishing juices of Aloe as part of a healthcare and beauty regime to stay youthful.

Aloe is easy to propagate, which could be a reason for its early dispersion across the world. Adult plants can produce offsets or ‘pups’ which can be easily removed and replanted into a new pot. Within a matter of minutes you could have several new plants.

Today Aloe is cultivated around the world for its potential healing properties, as well as its attractive form and tolerance in gardens with low water availability. Countries such as Australia, China and the US have a growing industry of Aloe plant farming. There is an increase in demand as it is being used in such a wide range of beauty products.

Aloe Vera Farming (Photo by Dietmar Reichle on Unsplash)

Toxicity & Cautions

There have been a few notable stories of individuals attempting to consume Aloe to obtain certain health benefits, and unfortunately suffering as a result. In todays society where alternative medicine has gained interest, experts are warning that ingesting Aloe is not usually recommended. Certain parts of the plant contain toxins that cause abdominal discomfort and other unwelcome symptoms.

The gel inside Aloe is generally considered safe to consume, however the plant must be thoroughly washed and carefully prepared. To prepare Aloe you must by removing the serrated edges and toxic latex layer surrounding the gel.

Usage

Gel of Aloe Vera (Source: Pava/Wikimedia Commons)

One of the current and most popular uses of Aloe today is in the skin care industry. It can be found in a wide variety of topical forms including after sun care, moisturisers and facial cleansing products. This is in part due to the climates from which this plant originates. Succulents are able to store a large amount of water in their swollen leaves, certain compounds found in the gel of aloe are labelled hygroscopic, which means they are excellent at absorbing and retaining water. A necessary evolutionary trait for a plant that inhabits dry and arid landscapes with a sparse water supply.

Other prominent uses include dietary supplements, drinks and ointments for promoting general health and well-being. Many alternative health companies claim that Aloe can help to reduce inflammation, improve immune system health and reduce acne, among many other benefits. Although many scientists note there is not yet enough evidence to support these claims.

One interesting and recent discovery by scientists is that Aloe gel may prove useful in the preservation of certain types of food, which highlight its potential anti-microbial effect.

Did you know…

Other common names you may know for Aloe include ‘First Aid Plant’, Burn Aloe and Barbados Aloe. These colloquial terms notably reference its use as a healing plant.


Conclusion


Not only is the plant an unusual and beautiful structure to behold, Aloe vera is appreciated worldwide for its soothing and medicinal value. Although more research must be conducted for us to unlock the full potential it may hold, it is still a very promising future. It highlights how we must care for and protect the floral and fauna of our world.

—————
Written by Hannah Sweet 
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel.
Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com



Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

Subscribe to our mailing list

our facebook page for additional articles and updates.

Follow us on Twitter @EatThePlanetOrg



eattheplanet.org is an affiliate marketer. We may earn commission from links to products and services on this page.

Basil, a flavourful favourite
Read more.
Aralia, golden foliage and edible shoots
Read more.
Anise, the original star of the herb garden
Read more.
Angelica (Wild Celery), sweet but hardy
Read more.
Aloe Vera and its soothing properties
Read more.
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
Bunchberry, a Beautiful and Valuable Wild Edible
Read more.
Giant puffball mushroom (Calvatia gigantea)
Giant Puffball Mushroom, a Soft and Tasty Delicacy
Read more.
Redroot pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus)
Redroot Pigweed, a Humble and Underrated Wild Edible
Read more.
Sourwood Tree (Oxydendrum arboreum) in the fall
Sourwood Tree, Gorgeous Foliage and Tasty Flowers
Read more.
Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata)
Wild Cucumber, Inedible Fruits but Great for Making Tea
Read more.