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Basil has taken over my garden so I am in the process of preserving and storing it now. Fortunately, it can be used for so much more than just cooking!
There are a few types of basil. The most popular are sweet basil, lemon basil, holy basil, and Thai basil. Though there are some differences, these all have many of the same essential oils in them.
Health Benefits of Basil
Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is most known for its culinary uses. If you have used my meal plans, you’ve probably noticed that I add it to everything! My husband’s Italian heritage has rubbed off on me and I absolutely love the sweet and fragrant addition of basil. But basil of all varieties has many other benefits besides tasting amazing. It’s highly nutritious with an abundance of vitamin A (as carotenoids), vitamin K, and vitamin C. It’s also rich in magnesium, iron, potassium, and calcium.
But it doesn’t stop there. Basil has many other health benefits too:
Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory
One of the health benefits of basil is that it can act as an antioxidant and help the body get rid of free radicals. Sweet basil is an excellent source of antioxidants such as phenolic compounds and polyphenols. Research published in 2012 showed that these antioxidants make basil a great choice for helping with inflammatory diseases. This includes:
- common cold
- purifying the blood
- reducing blood glucose, risk of heart attacks and cholesterol level
- mouth ulcer
This study also mentions that the anti-inflammatory properties of basil are well known. Because oxidative stress and inflammation are often present with serious illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, this research is promising for combating the increase in these health problems.
Basil also has some anti-cancer properties. Researchers found that holy basil, also known as Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum L. or Ocimum tenuiflorum L.), contains phytochemicals that prevent chemical-induced cancers (skin, liver, oral, and lung). Basil does this by increasing the antioxidant activity, altering the gene expressions, inducing cancer cell death, and inhibiting blood vessel development in the cell.
Antibacterial and Antimicrobial
Basil also has antibacterial properties and antimicrobial properties. In one 2013 study, basil essential oil was used to test its effectiveness against multi-drug resistant bacteria strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli). The basil essential oil was active against every strain of E-coli it was tested with. It was also shown to have anti-microbial properties that were found to fight mold, yeast, and bacteria.
Supports Healthy Cognition and Reduces Depression (Holy Basil)
Certain varieties of basil can help the brain too. Researchers found holy basil enhanced cognitive function and also improved other chronic health issues like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and psychological stress. A 2017 review also found that holy basil was a great remedy for mental stress associated with depression.
My Favorite Basil Leaf Uses
While fresh basil leaves are a tasty addition to many recipes, this herb has medicinal qualities as well. What isn’t as well know are the various other herbal uses of basil. It is a traditional remedy that has been used in various cultures for hundreds of years for many uses besides cooking. These are my top ways to use it:
- Basil Pesto: This culinary use is one of the most popular ways to use basil and with good reason! At our house, we add pesto to everything from eggs, to meats, to slices of fresh cucumber. There are variations of pesto in cultures all around the world, but here’s my recipe.
- Zesty Italian Dressing: A staple of any kitchen, this dressing recipe is my go-to for a quick side salad.
- Herb-Infused Water: For a fun mid-summer treat, try my watermelon-basil infused water recipe.
- Peach Cucumber Salad Recipe with Basil Vinaigrette: Summer in a bowl! Here’s the recipe.
- General Cooking: Dried basil can be easily added to practically any dish. Basil is used around the world in many different cuisines with good reason. It adds a depth and flavor that is not rivaled by other herbs. I make a homemade spice blend that includes basil and I add it to practically anything.
- Calming the Stomach: The Italians may be on to something with adding basil to everything. It is thought to have a calming effect on the stomach. One-half teaspoon of dried or fresh basil leaf in water can often help soothe indigestion and alleviate feelings of fullness.
- Coughing and Colds: I’ve heard several Amish in our area suggest using basil leaf to help alleviate coughing and colds. They chew fresh leaves to calm coughing or make a calming tea of dried basil to help soothe illness.
- Facial Steam for Headache: A facial steam with dried basil leaf can help alleviate a headache. Add a tablespoon of dried basil leaf to 2 cups of boiling water in a large pot. Carefully lean over the pot, cover head with a towel and breathe in the steam for 5-10 minutes until headache starts to subside. Bonus, you get to smell like an Italian restaurant for the rest of the day!
- Stings and Bites: If you are working outside and get bitten or stung by an insect and don’t have any plantain growing nearby, chewing up a basil leaf and applying to the bite will help relieve the pain and draw out the venom.
- Ear Infections: Basil essential oil is antibacterial, and drops of basil oil can often relieve ear infections.
- Blood Sugar: There is some evidence that basil can help level out blood sugar if consumed regularly and drank as a juice or tea.
- Stress Reduction: One herbalist I know suggests adding 2 cups of strong basil leaf tea to a warm bath to help reduce stress and facilitate relaxation.
Natural Home & Beauty
- Natural Cleaning Spray: The anti-microbial nature of basil makes this natural cleaning spray a great choice for sanitizing.
- Herbal Hair Rinse: This DIY recipe can help improve the health of the hair and scalp. Basil promotes hair growth as it nourishes with vitamins A and C, flavonoids, and polyphenolic acids.
Basil Safety & Precautions
While basil is generally considered a safe herb in culinary amounts, medicinal use of basil is considered “possibly unsafe” for children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Keep in mind also that basil essential oil (or any essential oil) is very concentrated and merits special precautions.
Because basil could reduce blood pressure, in theory, it could cause low blood pressure. Consult your healthcare professional before taking basil (or any herb) medicinally.
Where I Get It
Of course you can buy it fresh or dried from the grocery store, but if you use basil as much as we do, I definitely recommend growing it in a kitchen herb garden or buying it in bulk to save money. I also keep basil essential oil in stock in my natural remedy cabinet.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Jolene Brighten, a women’s health naturopathic medical doctor and practicing physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Do you grow basil? How do you use it? Share below!
- Al-Maskari, M.Y. & Hanif, Muhammad & Al-Maskri, A.Y. & AlAdawi, Samir. (2012). Basil: A natural source of antioxidants and neutraceuticals.
- Baliga, M. S., Jimmy, R., Thilakchand, K. R., Sunitha, V., Bhat, N. R., Saldanha, E., . . . Palatty, P. L. (2013). Ocimum Sanctum L (Holy Basil or Tulsi) and Its Phytochemicals in the Prevention and Treatment of Cancer. Nutrition and Cancer, 65(Sup1), 26-35. doi:10.1080/01635581.2013.785010
- Sienkiewicz, M., Yysakowska, M., Pastuszka, M., Bienias, W., & Kowalczyk, E. (2013). The Potential of Use Basil and Rosemary Essential Oils as Effective Antibacterial Agents. Molecules, 18(8), 9334-9351. doi:10.3390/molecules18089334
- Suppakul, P., Miltz, J., Sonneveld, K., & Bigger, S. W. (2003). Antimicrobial Properties of Basil and Its Possible Application in Food Packaging. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 51(11), 3197-3207. doi:10.1021/jf021038t
- Jamshidi, N., & Cohen, M. M. (2017). The Clinical Efficacy and Safety of Tulsi in Humans: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2017, 1-13. doi:10.1155/2017/9217567