Basil is not only one of the most recognizable herbs used in cooking today, but the peppery, aromatic leaf also touts extraordinary health benefits.
Native to India and other Asian regions1, this almighty plant is part of the mint family and bursts with essential nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium and folate.2 And don’t be deceived by its humble size — its health properties makes it one of the most “medicinal” foods you can eat.
Let’s explore the main health benefits of basil:
Basil is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory
Basil’s essential oils contain various components, such as estragole, linalool, eugenol, sabinene and limonene, known to boast antibacterial properties.3 These same oils are credited with helping to reduce inflammation. Inflammation, when it’s acute and short-lived (think: pain and swelling in your toe when you stub it), is your body’s way of healing itself as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is when your body is at a constant state of high alert. This is considered the root cause of many diseases, including those relating to the heart as well as digestive conditions. No wonder there are entire diets based on eating anti-inflammatory foods!
Basil is chock-full of antioxidants
Basil is highly lauded for its antioxidant content, specifically a special class called flavonoids (plant-based polyphenol compounds), such as orientin and viceninare.4
Chances are you’ve already heard of antioxidants, as experts recommend them frequently for daily consumption and even in your skin care. But in case you need a refresher, antioxidants are substances that combat free radical damage, which is when oxygen molecules split and lose an electron, triggering a cascade of damage to other molecules. Think of this way: a free radical is a very unstable molecule that tries to steal electrons from other molecules. If free radicals are allowed to take over and dominate the body, that’s bad news — it can result in a number of both superficial and serious conditions, from premature signs of aging on your skin to heart-related ailments. Antioxidants are the antidote, as they interact with these unstable molecules and stop the chain reaction.
As you can imagine, antioxidants are tremendously beneficial for your health in multiple ways. When it comes to basil specifically, experts have found evidence of the following:
- Basil increases the activity level of antioxidants, which has been studied to help protect DNA cells. This process may help fight the formation and progression of abnormal cells.5
- Antioxidants, by the very nature of their function, are effective anti-aging agents, keeping the body’s various organs and systems strong and robust by defending cells from harmful effects.6Naturally, your skin (the body’s largest organ) also benefits, which is why so many skincare products are formulated with antioxidant-rich ingredients.
- Antioxidant vitamin A protects epithelial cells, which line many body structures like blood vessels and intestines.7
- Vitamin A helps prevent cholesterol buildup in the bloodstream.8
- Free radical damage is also partly responsible for some respiratory and joint conditions, which can all be minimized by the consumption of antioxidants.9
Basil is antimicrobial
The essential oils of basil are antimicrobial, fighting a wide spectrum of viruses, bacteria, yeasts and molds.10 If you’ve ever spent some time with an aromatherapy enthusiast, there’s a good chance they may have had a bottle of basil essential oil to help fend off infections, cuts and wounds.
Basil is considered a stress reliever, mood lifter and sexual enhancer
Stress might seem like a condition that only affects the mind, but it can have extremely adverse effects on the physical body as well. Studies have shown that basil may be a powerful adaptogen, which is a substance that helps the body normalize as it reacts to stress (e.g. regulation of increased blood pressure, breathing, heart beating and other responses as you’re feeling an acute sense of tension).11
Traditionally, basil has even been used to help mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety.12 It’s been suggested that basil can influence brain function by stimulating mood-regulating neurotransmitters (chemicals in your nervous system that act as communicators). Basil is so popular for helping to lift the spirits and energy that it is also considered an aphrodisiac in some cultures, most notably in Ayurveda.13
Basil helps balance your pH levels
Let’s revisit high-school chemistry class for a second: the pH scale represents a spectrum that ranges from acidity to alkalinity. In general, if your body is too acidic, you will get sick. Generally speaking, factors such as pollution, toxins and poor diet increase the acidity in your body, while fresh organic vegetables and whole foods decrease it.
Basil has been found to balance the acid and restore a healthy pH level within the body.14 As a result, your organs and systems can function more efficiently. Your digestive system may also improve since balanced pH levels create the ideal environment for healthy flora (also known as probiotics) in your gut to survive. Probiotics are vital to health, as they impact everything from digestion to even your emotions. Basil is also linked with the decrease of belly bloat, acid reflux, stomach aches and even the eradication of stomach parasites.15
Basil’s magnesium content is good for your heart
Along with its incredible anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, basil’s high magnesium content helps promote cardiovascular health by stimulating blood flow, thereby reducing the chances for spasms.16 This is because magnesium helps relax muscles and blood vessels.
Basil may help regulate blood glucose
Basil extract is associated with helping to decrease blood glucose levels that circulate in the body.17 This means this friendly herb may be able to protect your bloodstream from “sugar overload” — on top of lowering cholesterol levels (which those with diabetes need to keep an eye out for).
Just as a few leaves of basil added to pesto completely transform its flavor, consuming a bit of this beloved garnish can influence your health in a big way. Next time you want to eat guilt-free pasta, start by throwing in some basil.
1,2,3. Nordqvist, J. (2016, September 27). Nutrition / Diet Complementary Medicine / Alternative Medicine Basil: Health Benefits and Nutritional Information. Retrieved December 28, 2016, from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266425.php
4. Chandra S, Khan S, Avula B et al. Assessment of Total Phenolic and Flavonoid Content, Antioxidant Properties, and Yield of Aeroponically and Conventionally Grown Leafy Vegetables and Fruit Crops: A Comparative Study. 2014.
5. Baliga, M. S., Jimmy, R., Thilakchand, K. R., Sunitha, V., Bhat, N. R., Saldanha, E., Rao, S., Rao, P., Arora, R., & Palatty, P. L. (2013). Ocimum sanctum L (Holy Basil or Tulsi) and its phytochemicals in the prevention and treatment of cancer. Nutrition and cancer, , 26–35.
6. Basil Holds The Key To Anti-Ageing. (2008, September 8). Retrieved December 28, 2016, from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/120651.php
7,8,9. Basil: The World’s Healthiest Foods. (n.d.). Retrieved December 28, 2016, from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=85
The George Mateljan Foundation
10. RATTANACHAIKUNSOPON P. Antimicrobial Activity of Basil (Ocimum basilicum) Oil against Salmonella Enteritidis in Vitro and in Food. http://wwwtandfonlinecom/doi/pdf/101271/bbb90939. 2017. Accessed January 5, 2017.
11. Jyoti, S., Satendra, S., Sushma, S., Anjana, T., & Shashi, S. (). Antistressor activity of Ocimum sanctum (Tulsi) against experimentally induced oxidative stress in rabbits. Methods and findings in experimental and clinical pharmacology, 6, 411–416.
12. Cohen M. Tulsi – Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons. 2017.
13. Pattanayak P, Behera P, Das D, Panda SK. Ocimum sanctum Linn. A reservoir plant for therapeutic applications: An overview. Pharmacognosy Reviews. 2010;4(7):95-105. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.65323.
14. 12 Benefits of Basil Recipes. (2015). Retrieved December 28, 2016, from https://draxe.com/benefits-of-basil/
15. 12 Benefits of Basil Recipes. (2015). Retrieved December 28, 2016, from https://draxe.com/benefits-of-basil/
16. Basil: The World’s Healthiest Foods. (n.d.). Retrieved December 28, 2016, from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=85
The George Mateljan Foundation
17. Agrawal, P., Rai, V., & Singh, R. B. (1996). Randomized placebo-controlled, single blind trial of holy basil leaves in patients with noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. International journal of clinical pharmacology and therapeutics, 9, 406–409.