Fresh Basil Cures (Walter Coraza Morveli)
Cusco’s rainy season will last until March or April approximately. It does not rain all the time. The sun comes out even when drops of rain are falling from the sky. All together this means our fields and landscapes are green and filled with life. From pots, gardens, and fields let off the scent of fresh flowers and aromatic plants such as wakatay, parsley, muña, mint, and basil, of course.
All of these herbs are an essential part of our local and national cuisine. They can be eaten fresh or dried whether as a basic ingredient of foods or as a dressing in salads, soups, broths, sauces, even mates.
The caseras, cooks and vendors who prepare our food, whether in restaurantes or traditional markets, use basil—we call it albahaca—to prepare our famous tallarines verdes. Unlike other renderings of pesto this dish and its sauce is eaten hot, especially in this season. The pasta and sauce is served as a background for a stew, breaded cutlet, Huancaina sauce, or a pork chop, depending on the diner’s preference.
Basil is also used as a remedy for colds. A month ago a cold grabbed me. My head hurt. My nose was congested. I went looking for a home remedy in order to avoid pills and I remembered a casera, vendor, who sells medicinal teas in the popular market of Rosaspata.
When I arrived at her stand she told me right away, “You have a cold, my son. You must have lost your covers in the night.” I returned her smile and responded, “It is the night cold, casera.”
“Don’t worry. Right now I will put together a tea that will put you back together. Wait a moment.”
She gave me boiling water in a cup and pulled from her bundle of herbs two branches of basil. He washed it and pulled the leaves from the stems. Then she put it in the cup to steep. She covered the cup with a small plate and told me, “Wait for two minutes and then drink the tea.”
While she tended to her other clients, I anxiously waited for it to be time. When I finally removed the plate, the steam flowed up with a light scent of basil. I drank it slowly, enjoying the strong flavor left by the basil leaves. It was lightly sweet and the tea only cost me 1/S. The casera gave me two other stems of basil to make myself a similar tea before going to sleep.
For the rest of the day I felt relieved. My headache was gone, even though I was still a bit congested. Before going to bed I steeped the rest of the basil in hot water and then drank it slowly. I went to sleep and when I awoke in the morning I was filled with energy and desire to begin a good day.
You can buy this herb in the various popular markets of the city. A bundle of mixed herbs containing basil costs from 0.50/S to 1/S, depending on the quantity. If you just want basil, however, the caseras will also sell it to you in small bundles.
The basil plant is green and its leaves shine a lustrous green with rounded borders. They look a bit like mint leaves since the two plants are related.
Basil in well known in many countries on earth and has different names: tuisi, occimum basilicum, etc. There is also quite a variety of different basils, from bitter to sweet, depending not just on the plant but on the soils and climate in which it is grown.
The earth is so filled with grace that it gives us everything and asks for almost nothing in return. Basil blesses our health and graces our tables as one of its gifts.