By Sarena-Rae Santos, Natural Health Blogger
What is Basil
Basil is also known by its botanical name Ocimum basilicum, not to be confused with holy basil, which comes from Ocimum sanctum. Basil, commonly called basil herb or sweet basil, is a flavorful, leafy green herb that originated in India (1). Basil is often used in cooking, herbal supplements, and herbal teas. There are many varieties of basil, but the most commonly used are holy basil, sweet basil, Thai basil, cinnamon basil, lettuce basil, and bush or Greek basil.
Health Benefits of Basil
An antibacterial property is when a substance, or in this case, an herb, can destroy or suppress the growth and reproduction of bacteria (2). In one study, they found the use of basil and rosemary in an essential oil form to potentially be an effective antibacterial agent as a treatment and prevention against emergent resistant strains in nosocomial infections (3).
An antifungal property is when a substance, or in this case, an herb, can fight the growth of specific pathogens that could harm your health, such as ringworm, athlete’s foot, tinea versicolor, toenail fungus, and jock itch (4). One study concluded that Ocimum basilicum L. essential oil had the potential to cure mycotic infections and act as a pharmaceutical preservative against Aspergillus flavus growth and aflatoxin B1 production (5).
An antimicrobial property is when a substance, or in this case, an herb, can kill or suppress the spread of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, protozoans, and fungi (6). In one study, they found Ocimum basilicum and several other essential oils to have antimicrobial effects and anti-plaque effects as an alternative to oral supplementation (7).
May Improve Fasting Blood Sugar & Diabetes
Ocimum basilicum has been found to exhibit antidiabetic properties that are said to be due to its ability to suppress endogenous glucose release while also inhibiting glycogenolysis and stimulating glycogenesis (8). In one study, they concluded that basil aqueous extract had a positive response between rat intestinal sucrase and either rat intestinal maltase or porcine pancreatic α-amylase as a way to positively benefit diabetes (9).
May Reduce Hypertension
Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is blood pressure that is higher than average and puts you at a higher risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke (10). One study found that Ocimum basilicum has antihypertensive effects in renovascular hypertensive rats (11).
May Thin The Blood
Like aspirin, but natural without additives, Ocimum basilicum has been found to affect platelet aggregation induced by Adenine di-Phosphate (ADP) and thrombin resulting in an anti-thrombotic effect in vivo over seven days that disappear over 3-7 days (12).
May Protect Against Asprin’s Damage To The Gut
Aspirin may help thin your blood, but it also causes damage to your gut, like ulcers, and is one of the most common hospitalizations for upper gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding (13). In one study, Ocimum basilicum was found to be protective against aspirin-induced gastric ulcers in mice (14).
May Reduce Damage From A Stroke
Basil has been found to reduce damage from a stroke while also supporting recovery if given before or right after the stroke. One study found that Ocimum basilicum prevented ischemia and reperfusion in induced cerebral damage and motor dysfunction in the brain of mice when taken as a pre-treatment (15). Another study found that Ocimum basilicum improved memory and neurological deficit after ischemia-reperfusion as an after-care measure (16).
May Reduce Memory Loss & Increase Mental Alertness
Not only can basil improve memory after a stroke, but it can even improve memory loss associated with stress and aging. One study found Ocimum basilicum to improve chronic stress-induced neurodegenerative changes in mice (17). In another study, they found Ocimum basilicum to enhance the results of memory retention and retrieval in mice, which was said to be due to the antioxidant activity (18).
May Reduce Depression
Basil is also said to reduce depression related to chronic stress. One study found Ocimum basilicum to relieve chronic unpredictable mild stress-induced depression in mice (19). In another study, they found Ocimum basilicum to have an antidepressant-like effect in animal models of depression (20).
May Prevent Certain Cancers
Basil has been found to prevent certain cancers, including breast, colon, and pancreatic cancer. One study found Ocimum basilicum essential oil, along with several others, to exhibit a degree of antiproliferative activity on specific cancer models, and basil was the most potent against human colon carcinoma (21). Another study found basil to have certain anti-cancer activities against diverse cancer cells (22). Another study found the sweet basil herb contains a powerful component that may effectively increase human health and even prevent cancer (23).
According to mainstream sources, basil is likely safe when consumed in food amounts. When taken by mouth as a medicine, basil is possibly not. They claim basil herb and basil oil contain estragole, which they claim is a chemical that might increase the risk of getting liver cancer (24).
Let’s fact-check these mainstream claims. Firstly, estragole occurs naturally in many common plants including anise, star anise, basil, bay, tarragon, fennel, and marjoram (25). Secondly, the animal studies that found estagole to be carcinogenic were not testing basil herb, they were testing basil essential oil when consumed (26).
With that said, let’s discuss essential oil safety. According to aromatherapist Wendy Robbins, essential oils should never be taken internally or applied undiluted. Ingestion aside, basil essential oil should be used sparingly and with caution due to its potential to be carcinogenic. Basil essential oil has a recommended dermal maximum of 15% and it is not recommended for children or while pregnant or breastfeeding (27).
Back to the herb, trusted herbalist Richard Whelan, there are no reports in the medical literature of toxicity associated with basil, and, as this is a herb that is used in large amounts in food. Richard Whelan thinks we can confidently assume it is safe for all ages, pregnancy, breastfeeding, etc. Additionally, Richard Whelan notes that some evidence suggests that basil extract can reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Theoretically, taking basil extract with antihypertensive drugs might increase the risk of hypotension (28).
How to Use Basil
You can find basil in dried bulk, pills, powders, teas, extracts, essential oils, or tinctures. Tinctures always contain the most concentrated amount of herbs. Teas and soups are also options, especially when following ayurvedic medicine recipes. Some great articles to check out featuring the use of basil include:
Follow the recommendations of any supplement; some of my recommendations include:
- Plant Therapy’s Basil Linalool Essential Oil is great if you are fighting a cold, use it to help combat groggy feelings. Unlike other basil essential oils, Basil Linalool has a more appealing aroma that somehow remains dominant. No matter how you use it, this essential oil works great for relaxing and clearing the mind after a long day. Add it to a carrier of your choice to help loosen up tense muscles caused from stress in your daily life.