Ah, the wild basil. Related to Asian holy basil, this beauty packs a punch. This is an annual plant with pretty purple flowers. It is believed to have been naturalised to withstand the harsh Australian climate hundreds of years ago by Indonesian traders pre-European settlement. Use it, in smaller quantities, wherever you would use European basil.
Australian Wild Basil is a unique herb adding strong-sweet savoury characteristics that can enhance regular dishes bringing a fascinating Australian twist to traditional uses of basil. In cooking, it is used for its peppery taste, and is sometimes called "hot basil".
It is a wild desert herb, thriving in the drier regions of western Queensland and the Northern Territory. It boasts powerful medicinal properties - the leaves, stems, and seeds are used to make medicine.
◎ Common Name: Wild Basil, Holy Basil, Hot Basil
◎ Scientific or Latin Name: Ocimum tenuiflorum
◎ Comparison: Holy Basil
◎ Seasonality: Spring–autumn fresh, all year dried
◎ Region: Widely Grown
◎ Taste Profile: Wild Basil has an aroma that is a pleasant mix of basil, mint and sage flavours. The taste is that of cloves, with a spicy and peppery flavour.
◎ Types: Wild basil is an herbaceous wildflower in the Lamiaceae (mint) family. There are many varieties of basil, as well as several related species or hybrids also called basil.
- As with many mints, Wild Basil has many medicinal qualities. The plant is aromatic, astringent, cardiotonic, carminative, diaphoretic and expectorant.
- A Wild Basil infusion helps to overcome weak digestion.
- It has many uses for flavour enhancement in culinary dishes.
- The flowers can also be used as a natural textile dye.
Traditional Aboriginal Food and Uses
Indigenous Australians used this plant for medicinal and ceremonial purposes. It was traditionally used to repel insects.
Early European settlers often called it the Five Spice Plant because of its delightful fragrant mix of basil, mint and sage.
Western & Modern
Use Wild Basil in pasta sauces, casseroles, soups, broths, marinades, and meat seasonings, stir-fries and salads. It makes a great drizzle, infused oil, or finishing garnish.
Wild Basil can also be used as a warming, healing tea for colds or add it to your favourite herbal tea blend.
It is most well known as a cooking ingredient that can be used to add flavour to a wide variety of dishes. However, it can also be used in the preparation of dyes. Despite the purple hue of its flowers, the dyes it produces is typically brown or yellow.
Chemicals in Wild Basil are thought to decrease pain and swelling (inflammation). Other chemicals might lower blood sugar in people with diabetes.
There is interest in using Wild Basil seed oil for cancer. Early research suggests that the oil can slow progression and improve survival rate in animals with certain types of cancer. Researchers think this benefit may be explained by the oil's ability to act as an antioxidant.
Wild Basil is used for anxiety, stress, diabetes, high cholesterol, and many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.
Note: The term 'Bush Tucker' and 'Bush Food' are not Warndu's preferred terms for Australian Native Ingredients or Australian Botanicals.
Images: © Luisa Brimble