Many folks don't think of basil as a tea herb, but I have been savouring its rich low-note flavour this winter, and I've also been enjoying the way it makes me feel.
Basil provides a soothing balm for nerves and the belly, it has a clarifying influence on the brain and ignites a bit of a spark in the spirit. It is known as an amphoteric herb for the nervous system, meaning that it works as both a stimulant and a relaxant. It can help to uplift and energize low moods, while it can also ease the stresses of the day, readying the body for restful sleep. Herbs that can both stimulate and relax are particularly suited to these current times. Many are finding struggle in carrying not only responsibilities in the outside world that need to be addressed, but also ongoing undercurrents of mental/emotional stress. Mental health has posed an increasing challenge in the modern world, as many of us well know, with depression and anxiety levels at all time highs. Of course there are numerous reasons for this, and many ways to address it, but sometimes amidst the complexity, the tried-and-true effectiveness of simple, age-old garden herbs (or pantry herbs) can be easily overlooked.
Any herb that has a flavour and aroma will have a relaxing effect on the smooth muscles of the gut, reducing cramping, indigestion and inflammation. This is part of the reason that humans have included aromatic spices in cooking for millennia. They actually help us to digest our food. Drinking aromatic tea after a meal will do the same. As we are discovering more and more, the brain and mental health are quite reliant on gut health, and there are important connections between the nervous system and the digestive system. As basil tea helps to ease indigestion and inflammation in the digestive tract, the body can more easily uptake some of its soothing gut-brain neurotransmitters, like the well-known serotonin which brings feelings of happiness and peace.
Basil tends to bring more mindfulness and awareness. Many are familiar with its Ayurvedic cousin, Holy Basil (Occimum sanctum). This is a much revered herb that has a slightly sweeter flavour than the culinary basil of the west (Occimun basilicum). Holy basil makes a delicious tea, long touted as a supportive herb for the brain, bringing more mindfulness and presence in meditative states. Holy basil is also classified by herbalists as an adaptogen---which means that it helps the body and mind to adapt to various stressors, maintaining a state of equilibrium and equanimity both physically and mentally. It has been shown to help support the body and mind through overcoming various addictions (cannabis and coffee are two examples), helping to clear out any toxic build-up, while providing the clarity, stamina and positive outlook needed to move out of old patterns.
In fact, the European basil (Occimum basilicum) has many similar properties and also a long tradition of use. Basil has been shown to help stimulate and support adrenal function---which helps with stress management in general. It has shown to be helpful in clearing out heavy metals and toxic residues that are stored in fat cells in the body. It has a beneficial influence on womens' health, supporting breast milk production and flow for nursing mothers, and helping the body to regulate in the wake of menopausal shifts, and/or post hysterectomy. Basil is also a fairly potent anti-microbial herb that can help the body to fight bacterial infections of various types. It has significantly high levels of both vitamin C and vitamin A as well.
I find that basil's deep, pungent flavour speaks to the depth of reach that it has on the system. It is known to combine well with lemon balm in tea to help ease depression. I like to blend it with lemon peel and cinnamon to accentuate its unique flavour, and also to further support digestion, bring a warming effect (cinnamon) and an increased boost of vitamin C (lemon peel). The bright, deep and spicy flavour of this blend has been keeping me cozy, mellow and perhaps a little more deeply attuned to my body and mind on these chilly winter evenings.
Here is a simple recipe for this tasty, feel-good tea:
1 heaping teaspoon dried basil (or a small handful of fresh basil)
1/2 teaspoon broken cinnamon bark pieces (or 1/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
1/2 teaspoon organic dried lemon peel (or 1 teaspoon fresh), peeled & chopped into little pieces or grated, with as little of the white pith on as possible (Note: lemon should be organic)
2 cups of freshly boiled water
Put herbs into a teapot and pour hot water over them. Put a lid on the pot (this helps to keep the aromatic medicine from evaporating out, and yields a more potent infusion).Allow tea to steep for at least 15-20 minutes. Strain, drink and share as desired.