Did you know that there are more than 60 types of basil, all members of the mint family? This fresh herb is a powerhouse of flavor that can be used in myriad ethnic cooking styles, from Italian to Asian dishes. While sweet green basil is the most ubiquitous in markets, spicy purple and peppery Thai varieties are becoming more popular in America.

Health Benefits. Fresh basil is a rich source of vitamins A and K, beta carotene, potassium, manganese, copper and magnesium. It is low in calories and loaded with flavonoids and other plant compounds that have antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Buying. Select whole leaves that are smooth, aromatic and free of black spots. Avoid wilting leaves or moldy stems.

Storing. Fresh basil should be used as soon as possible. Store it out of sunlight, at room temperature, in a glass or jar filled with a few inches of water. Do not refrigerate. To store for extended periods of time, layer whole leaves in a jar, sprinkling each layer with a little salt; cover with olive oil and refrigerate for up to 3 months.

Using. Wash fresh basil carefully, as it can easily bruise. Sweet basil, with its licorice-clove flavor, is great paired with tomatoes. The “Purple Opal” variety adds a hint of mint and cinnamon to salads and baked goods, while Thai basil imparts an anise taste to spicy stir-fry dishes.