Table of Contents
- Characteristics of sweet basil
- Why should you grow sweet basil in your garden?
- How to get a hold of your portion of sweet basil?
- Basil health benefits – how many are there?
Basil health benefits are indubitable.
In Hinduism, basil is believed to be the incarnation of Lakshmi, the wife of Vishnu. They call it “The Incomparable One” and “Mother Medicine of Nature”. Holy basil, for that matter, is frequently offered to Gods in the form of prasad.
Sweet basil (lat. Ocimum basilicum), an aromatic, leafy green herb, is a member of the mint family. It is, perhaps, worldwide best known as the key ingredient in pesto. Savory Italian dish and other culinary usage aside, basil has been cultivated for more than 5000 years. Basil health benefits are the reason people have been using it for centuries.
Basil is a bushy annual plant that grows best in tropical climates. Its origins derive from Asia and Africa.
There are many species and cultivars of the plant: Thai, Lemon, Cinnamon (native to Mexico), African blue, Asian, Lettuce leaf, Bush or Greek, Holy basil or tulsi and Mediterranean or sweet basil.
Characteristics of sweet basil
The most widely grown, popular one is Mediterranean or sweet basil.
You can recognize this particular sort for its light green and silky leaves and big white flowers that are arranged in terminal spike. It has likorice-clove flavor.
Being very low in calories and without cholesterol, this interesting herb is essential for optimum health.
Like all aromatic plants, basil contains essential oils and phytochemicals in the leaves, stem, flowers, roots and seeds. Those compounds may induce biological activity in human body.
Some of beneficial oils that one can find across all species of basil are cinnamate, citronellol, cineole, chavicol, eucalyptol, methyl eugenol, eugenol, estragole, linalool, pinene and terpineol. And it is the presence of these oils that determines the smell and flavor of the herb. It also greatly affects basil health benefits.
Along with essential oils and phytochemicals, this waistline-friendly herb is also a rich source of different vitamins and minerals, highly important for human health.
Famous in religion and culture and worshiped as a powerful remedy that treats all aspects of life, sweet basil surely is a necessary plant.
As a cooking herb, it gives zest not just to pesto, but also to tomato dishes, salads, zucchini, eggplant, meat seasonings, sauces, stuffings, soups etc. Basil complements many other spices such as garlic, marjoram, mustard, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper, rosemary and sage. Recommendation is to add it fresh at the final step of cooking because heat can diminish the flavor and brighten its green color.
As a nutrient and health improver, this miraculous plant has numerous purposes.
Why should you grow sweet basil in your garden?
For centuries, all parts of the herb, leaves, seeds, roots, flowers and essential oils, have been used in medicinal purposes.
According to John Gerard, English botanist and herbalist, folk medicine was using this aromatic herb as a pain relief for scorpions’ stings. Other used it for better blood circulation, as a protection from infections and for brain stimulation and concentration.
Presence of many vitamins and minerals enables basil health benefits.
One of the most important vitamins that sweet basil contains is certainly vitamin A. Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant and immensely important for our skin and healthy eyesight. Note that 100 grams of sweet basil’s fresh leaves meet 175% of Reference Daily Intake requirements of vitamin A.
Another important vitamin is vitamin K, essential for bone strengthening and mineralization. We all need to satisfy our daily intake of vitamin K. We can easily do it with basil since 100 grams of its fresh leaves meet 345% of daily required doses of vitamin K.
As for the minerals, basil is a great source of manganese, copper, iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc. Its 100 grams of fresh leaves contain 1.15 mg of manganese or 57% of the RDI requirements.
This green herb contains high level of beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and cryptoxanthin that protect the body from free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS). Zeaxanthin in particular protects from UV rays, and age-related macular diseases.
Other nutrients we can find in this potent plant are vitamins C, E, thiamin, riboflavin, pyridoxine, niacin, folates, pantothenic acid and electrolyte potassium. Full list, nutrient values and RDI percentage for basil see here.
How to get a hold of your portion of sweet basil?
Growing basil is not complex. All you need is a lot of sun exposure and nighttime temperatures above 60℉/ 15.5℃ for at least two months per year. You can plant a seed in the soil or cut a stem from another plant and put it in the water until roots start to grow.
However, dried version is less expensive, more convenient and available in any respectable food store. As well as basil frozen into recipe-portioned cubes.
Nevertheless, our recommendation is to use fresh herb, whenever possible. Much of basil health benefits, as well as flavor and aroma, come from the antioxidant compounds and essential oils that are mostly lost during the drying process.
Whatever your tastes and preferences, this aromatic spice can be a welcome addition to your kitchen, adding flavor and personality to dishes while providing an added health benefit.
Basil health benefits – how many are there?
Researches show that essential oils found in sweet basil have many benefits for our health.
Basil essential oils have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antimicrobial, antiviral and many other health benefits.
Antioxidant and anti-cancer benefits
Basil contains two important water-soluble flavonoid antioxidants, known as orientin and vicenin. These potent antioxidants can help protect body tissues against free radical damage and oxidative stress. Basil can help strengthen immune system and protect cellular and DNA structure. It may also delay effects of skin aging.
Since antioxidants play significant role in cancer prevention, basil may contribute to a significant reduction in cancer risk.
Inflammation has become a widespread issue being the root cause of nearly every chronic disease, including cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Acute inflammation is a normal, protective process. It helps the body to cope with infections, immune reactions and tissue injury. But in some cases, inflammation occurs chronically and systemically, affecting the whole body. That kind of inflammation can significantly impair one’s health.
Basically, the powerful essential oils in basil, including eugenol, citronellol and linalool may help lower the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and inflammatory bowel conditions. Consumption of this healing plant could also soothe fever, headache, sore throat, cold, cough and flu.
Antimicrobial and antibacterial basil health benefits
Consuming basil is excellent and natural way to boost your immune system or fight off pre-existing infections.
Different essential oils in basil are responsible for its pungent scent and strong flavor. In nature, these compounds defend the herb from insects and invasive bacteria and fungi. In the same way, the herb can help protect us.
This powerful plant can fight pathogenic and antibiotics resistant bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus faecalis, Escherichia coli, Shigella species, Salmonella species, Mycobacterium species and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
One of basil health benefits is to stimulate neurotransmitters that regulate the hormones responsible for inducing happiness and energy. Basil may have the ability to act as an adaptogen to help the body more efficiently handle stress.
As a health tonic, this health-boosting plant is used as a remedy against sleep difficulties, nervousness and depression.
Promotor of healthy digestive tract
Basil may prevent fat build-up in the liver due to strong detox properties.
It also helps restore the body’s natural pH levels due to essential oil eugenol present in the leaves. This feeds healthy bacteria within the gut microflora. Basil also protects against aspirin’s damage to your gut, particularly preventing ulcers. Natural pH level in the gut microflora ensures anti-inflammatory surroundings and could cure acid reflux as well.
Consuming this body weight-friendly herb could also help reduce bloating and water retention, even stimulate loss of appetite.
Basil health benefits in aromatherapy
In aromatherapy, eugenol is used to treat asthma and diabetes as well, especially in India. Due to very low glycemic load, consumption of basil could result in a slow release of blood sugar, which is essential for diabetics. Eugenol may also lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels, a persistent risk factor amongst diabetics.
When used in aromatherapy, this aromatic herb may also be effective in treating nervous tension, mental fatigue, melancholy, migraines and depression. It can also increase mental alertness.
Other basil health benefits
- Basil may act as a blood thinner thus reducing blood pressure in people with hypertension.
- It may also help reduce stroke damage.
- Chewing basil twice a day may help heal infections of the mouth and inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause dental decay.
- Basil preserves and enhances nutrients in the food. It may also improve food safety, if placed into food packaging by manufacturers.
- It repels insects, such as mosquitos and ticks.
- Basil may also help reduce kidney stones. Recommendation is to drink basil juice with honey every day for six months. This remedy will also strengthen the kidneys. However, you should consult your doctor before the treatment.
- Basil based cosmetics is excellent skin cleanser for those with oily skin. Basil’s powerful oils help cleanse the skin from within. It also helps remove dirt and impurities that clog pores thus preventing formation of acne.
- If you use it externally, in form of essential oil, basil does wonders with treating cuts, wounds and skin infections.
- Many also opt to use it as a remedy by drinking sweet basil tea. Fresh leaves are more beneficial for our body, because when dried, leaves lose some of its benefits. For making a tea, use two tablespoons of fresh leaves for one cup of boiling water and drink it one to two times a day. People also used to snuff dried leaves as a remedy for cold.
Basil health benefits are numerous and it is generally safe when consumed in small amounts. However, certain health conditions and drugs necessitate caution.
As mentioned earlier, basil leaves are rich with vitamin K, which helps blood to clot. Frequent consumption and high dosage of basil could interfere with blood-thinning drugs, such as warfarin.
Eating foods made with a lot of basil frequently, i.e. pesto, means your doctor will probably have to adjust your medication.
In contrast, basil extracts found in supplements can thin your blood. This may lead to problems if you have a bleeding disorder or an upcoming surgery.
Additionally, basil supplements may lower blood pressure. People taking blood pressure-lowering drugs should consult a doctor for proper drug dosage.
Due to the ability to enhance the effectiveness of insulin, people with diabetes should use sweet basil with caution and with the approval of health care provider.
If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, recommendation is to avoid holy basil. Some studies show that holy basil supplements may trigger contractions in pregnancy, even negatively affect the sperm.
Though basil allergies are relatively rare, there had been a few cases with people who reacted to pesto.
Images credit: DepositPhotos.com
Last update: 9/2/2020 by Gordana Vrtodusic