Why Basil Is So Good for You—Plus 14 Ways to Use More of It All Summer Long

“The most useful thing one can know about basil,” writes Marcella Hazan in her seminal cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, “is that the less it cooks, the better it is, and that its fragrance is never more seductive than when it is raw.”

In the summer, the floral bouquet of basil is ubiquitous: in the garden; at the farmers’ market; even at the supermarket. It’s as pretty as a bunch of flowers this time of year, too, with a voluptuous heft and verdant leaves you just don’t see in winter.

It’s also quite good for you. As Kara Lydon, RD, intuitive eating counselor and blogger, emailed Health, “Basil can help boost the antioxidants in your meals. … [It] contains one of the highest levels of the antioxidants beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants, also known as carotenoids, help to fight off oxidative stress in your body and may protect against chronic disease.”

So you’ve got plenty of reasons to use every leaf on the bunch. Happily, there are plenty of ideas out there for how to do that. Here are a few of our favorites.

Pesto

Make big bunches of pesto, and freeze any you can’t use up before it goes bad in ice cube trays, with a layer of olive oil on top. Swirl pesto into pastas, on to soups, into risotto, and on top of baked salmon.

Compound butter

The dreamiest of things to plunk on a steak, pork tenderloin, or grilled chicken, compound butter is as easy as combining room-temperature butter, chopped dry basil leaves, salt and pepper. Roll the mixture up in a layer of wax paper inside another layer of aluminum foil, as you would with extra cookie dough. Refrigerate until cold, and slice off rounds of green-flecked butter over the coming weeks. (It freezes well, too!)