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Holy Basil, Sacred Basil (Ga-Prow)

The holy basil scientific name is Ocimum sanctum linn. and it is a plant in the Labiatae family. The important plants in this family include sweet basil, lemon basil, etc. Other names that Thai people call holy basil such as in central Thailand are red holy basil (Ga-prow Dang), white holy basil (Ga-prow Kow); northern and Chiang Mai province call it Gum Gau Kow, Gum Gau Dam, Gom Gau Kow, Gom Gau Dam; for Karen (a hill-tribe in northern Thailand) and Mae Hong Son province they call holy basil Hau Too Bploo, Hau Gwau Soo.


Holy basil is a short-lived shrub, and grows to a height of about 30-60, although some can grow up to a meter. The base of a tree is quite strong, and has hair along the trunk. Leaves are single leaf and attach to the stem in pairs with one on each side opposite from each other and perpendicular to the stem. Leaves are oval shaped and 1-3 cm wide and 2.5-5 cm long. The leaf tip can be pointed or rounded, the base is sharp, and the edges look like sawtooth and waves. Leaves have hairs. Flowers are like a tiered umbrella bouquet, with the blossom at the top and the end of branches, and 8-10 cm long. The flowers are small sized and bell shaped. Flower petals are both white with purple stripes and solid white color. Petal base is connected as a cone. The end is separated to 2 parts. The top part is separated to 4 tapering petals. The bottom part has only one round petal. The inner surface of the petal is smooth. The outer petal is coated with hair especially on the base of the petal. Sepal is red or brown mingled with purple and green. It is hard and the base is connected as a cone. The end is separated into a pointed segment as a thorn. Small stalk of the flower is green and about 0.20-0.30 cm long. The fruit, when it dries will burst open. It has small oval brown seeds.

Holy basil leaf has a yellow essential oil in it, it also has a fragrance and acrid odor like the smell of clove oil. The seed has a greenish yellow volatile oil. The quality of the essential oil depends on various factors such as age, geography and climate.

Holy basil is a plant that has been grown in Southeast Asia for a long time, especially in Thailand and Malaysia. There are three kinds of holy basil ; red holy basil (Ga-prow Dang), white holy basil (Ga-prow Kao) and the hybrid between the red and the white one. But the kinds that are popular to grow generally are white and red holy basil only, which called by the color of the petiole and the stem.

Holy basil is considered a spice plants and also a vegetable, and the fresh and young leaves are used for cooking. It’s also a plant that is used for flavoring the food, for fragrance, and to deodorize the fishy smell of meat, such as when it is put into Gang Pah (one of Thai spicy soup dish), Gang Ped (hot curry), and all types of Pad Ped (stir fried spicy curry). Typically it is used by putting the fresh holy basil leaves into the food after the food is cooked but before lifting it off from the heat. And for using holy basil as a flavoring vegetable, such as when it is used to cook Pad Ga-prow (stir fried holy basil), or added to Hoy Neung (steamed shellfish), etc. In addition to many nutritional values, to consume holy basil also helps the body to get so many benefits. Use it to prepare and use as a herb medicine, and it is said to help promote good blood circulation.

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