The difference between basil and holy basil

Written by alane michaelson
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The difference between basil and holy basil
Basil, which is a common ingredient in Italian cooking, is the main ingredient in pesto sauce. (Getty Images)

Holy basil and basil are herbs that are members of the mint family. They are different variations of the same plant type, though they do have many differences. There are more than 40 basil variations, including lemon, cinnamon and Thai basil. Basil plants can be grown in a home garden. Many kinds are available in grocery stories or farmer's markets.

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Appearance

The leaves of holy basil are grey-green in colour, coarse to the touch, and have ragged edges. Basil leaves are deep green and tend to be smooth with smooth edges. Both plants can grow more than 61 cm (two-feet) tall and 61 cm (two-feet) wide. The flower of the basil plant is generally white while the flower of holy basil is lavender in colour. Holy basil can also have different colour stems, usually white or red.

Taste and aroma

Holy basil has a sweet fragrance, and basil has a spicy aroma. Holy basil and basil tend to have sharp flavours when raw, which is similar to other varieties of greens. Basil varieties all have strong flavour and aroma, and leaves will bruise and emit scent easily. Since basil's flavour can be overpowering, use it sparingly until you are sure you like the taste of it.

Cooking

Holy basil and basil can be cooked or served raw in similar styles. Grind up raw basil in a food processor with pine nuts, garlic and olive oil to make homemade pesto sauce for pasta. Add torn leaves to a soup, stir fry or casserole to add a strong fragrance and fresh, herbal flavour. Also, you can rip the leaves and sprinkle over a side salad, grilled chicken breast, spaghetti or steak to add a sharp, herbal flavour.

Holy basil is also commonly used in Thai dishes.

Other uses

Holy basil is used for medicinal purposes. It is considered a holy plant by Hindus, and is used to ease stress and promote longevity. Medicine is made from the plant, which is used to treat everything from the common cold to cardiac disease. It can also be used to help prevent inflammation. Traditional basil is not commonly used this way, though it too could possibly be used to help prevent inflammation.

Also, basil and holy basil leaves can be dried and mixed into pot pourri.

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