Let’s begin by singing the praises of basil, a wonderful herb with a delightful flavor and a great collection of health benefits. Basil is found in cuisines all over the spectrum, from Italian pasta sauces to Thai curries to warming winter soups. Its health benefits are just as far reaching: Basil has notable anti-inflammatory properties (good for arthritis and joint swelling) and anti-microbial properties (when antibiotics don’t’ work), as well as prevents heart disease, diabetes and cancer while providing lots of essential nutrients. It can be grown easily on a windowsill in the kitchen, works wonderfully for adding to raw food consumption, and usually requires little more than chopping (if that) for preparation. In other words, we should all be using basil in our daily diets, and here are five wise ways to do so.

Sauces

The obvious answer is pesto sauce, which is as simple as basil, lemon, olive oil and garlic (nutritional yeast adds the Parmesan kick if need be). But, don’t be afraid to jazz it up a bit and take advantage of the raw food possibilities (Gluten Free Zucchini Pesto Pasta). Don’t stop there, either. Pesto is the apparent choice for basil in sauce, but of course any tomato-based or creamy sauce dances a few extra steps on the tongue when garnished heavily with some fresh basil. What’s more, pasta doesn’t always have to be the sauce facilitator. Sauces love resting atop grilled vegetables, roasted potatoes and fried eggplant, to name but a few. Check out Pesto Mushroom Burgers to change it up.

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Salads

Gone are the days of plain, old iceberg lettuce for salads. Hey, everyone enjoys a good throwback wedge salad on occasion, but modern tastes have gotten more sophisticated. Today’s salads are funked up with all sorts of greens, from arugula to mustard to kale. Well, basil is another great leaf to throw in the new mix. It’s got a strong, distinctive flavor that makes eater’s pay attention, and it mixes well with others. And, of course, there are pasta salads, and there is always the classic tomato-basil salad, loved by trendy cafes the world over. It’s a simple as slices of tomatoes with whole leaves of basil and a little drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Soups

When a combination is a winner, it pops up all over the place, and tomato and basil seem to be fast friends. Sauces, salads and now soups showcase the combination, but it doesn’t mean tomato-basil soup is the only winner on a cold winter’s day. Basil is great for accenting white beans, squash and just about anything that is thrown at it. Lots of folks like to cook the basil down in the soup, but I find this to be a mistake. Fresh basil packs a much more striking flavor, and having it raw ensures that all of those great health benefits aren’t lost in high temperatures.

Smoothies

Hey, that smoothie already has spinach, kale and whatever powders and super-foods on the counter, so why not add a little basil to the mix? It’s a medicinal herb with beau coup health benefits, as well as the ability to fit in with just about any kind of smoothie you are making. It shows of the sweetness with the fruity, peanut-butter stuff, or it functions like another vitamin-packed leaf in green smoothies.

Frozen Desserts

Because we are so accustomed to seeing basil in savory dishes, its minty (mint and basil are related) attributes are rarely utilize. However, basil plays very nicely with fruits, especially strawberries and lime. So, making a great, healthy, raw dessert just became a whole lot easier. Freeze up the fruit of your choice, and when the time comes, throw a few handfuls in a food processor with a bit of fresh basil for a refreshing sorbet. Or, make some pineapple-basil pops for a quick but healthy afternoon snack.

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Simply put, basil is awesome, versatile, and easy to use. The reasons for eating it regularly are vast and varied, just like the ingredients with which it can seamlessly blend. So, start reaping the benefits. Get a few pot plants of basil growing around the house (it is so easy to grow), and in the meantime, buy some fresh bunches at the farmer’s market.

Image source: Creamy Green Avocado Basil Dip