Native to the Middle East, Iran and Southern India
As one of the oldest herbs known to mankind, Basil has been providing health benefits for millennia. It is a member of the large mint family alongside rosemary and sage. Whilst Basil is thought to have originated in India, it has been cultivated for over 5,000 years in all corners of the globe.
With a long history of use as a culinary and healing herb, it has been used in every traditional medicine system around the world. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is used to lift the spirits, to promote digestion and as an antidote to poisons.
Basil is rich in the phytonutrient eugenol – a compound that exerts an anti-inflammatory action on the digestive tract.
It promotes an environment in which healthy gut bacteria can flourish and decreases harmful, disease causing bacteria. A happy, healthy microbiome is essential to good digestion.
Basil alleviates many other digestive issues, such as bloating, excessive gas, digestive spasms and loss of appetite. It is commonly used in traditional medicine to expel worms and parasites from the stomach and intestines.
To take advantage of its digestive benefits, Basil can either be added to dishes or the essential oil can be diluted and massaged into the abdomen around mealtimes.
Basil is high in heart healthy magnesium and beta-carotene (vitamin A). According to a review published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition", increased dietary magnesium intake has been associated with lower levels of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction.
Another study in China found that Sweet Basil is also able to lower blood pressure – a powerful contributing factor to heart disease. Anti-inflammatory and packed with antioxidants, Basil helps the muscles that control blood vessel function to contract and relax, thus promoting healthy blood pressure.
Furthermore, Basil essential oil has been shown to lower blood glucose, triglyceride and cholesterol levels. These properties can contribute to the prevention of cardiovascular disease, according to a study published in the “Journal of Clinical Nutrition”. The researchers commented, “Our data indicate that Basil essential oil treatment was very successful in preventing atherosclerosis and providing cardiac protection against hypercholesterolemia.” They went on to state that the active ingredient, eugenol, may play an important role for the therapeutic effects.
Type 2 Diabetes
The control of blood sugar levels is at the heart of diabetes management strategies.
The Azad University of Agriculture and Technology in Kanpur, India conducted a four-week study of 40 patients with type 2 diabetes. Half the group received a placebo, whilst the other half were given 2.5 grams of a powdered dried Basil leaf per day. At the end of the study, the Basil group recorded a 17.6 percent reduction in fasting blood glucose levels and a 7.3 percent decrease in postprandial blood glucose levels. It is believed that one possible mechanism for Basil’s blood glucose lowering effect is ursolic acid, which has been shown to act as an alpha-glucosidase inhibitor, meaning it reduces the absorption of glucose in the small intestine and prevents a rise in blood sugar levels.
The immune boosting properties of Basil are believed to be due to two water-soluble flavonoid antioxidants known as orientin and vicenin. These compounds protect white blood cells which are critical to the immune system and protect the DNA against mutations.
Additionally, these compounds may protect against cellular radiation. A 2016 study concluded that both flavonoids significantly reduced chromosomal damage, most likely because of their antioxidant properties.
Basil essential oil is also antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial and antimicrobial. In cell culture studies, Basil essential oils have demonstrated potent antimicrobial activity, inhibiting bacterial growth by degrading bacterial cell walls.
Basil essential oil acts as a natural adaptogen – a herb that can act on the adrenals and balance cortisol levels.
A study conducted by Indian scientists took 35 subjects with anxiety disorder and gave them 1,000mg of Basil leaf extract per day for sixty days. They found it reduced anxiety by 34.2 percent and stress by 27.5 percent. They concluded that Basil leaf extract has a positive impact on the regulation of hypothalamo-hypophyseal-adrenocortical axis (HHA axis), a system that controls reactions to stress.
The Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist, Dioscorides discusses the use of Basil as a laxative, a digestive, a galactagogue (promoting the flow of breast milk), for eye problems and for melancholy. Dioscorides is the author of a five volume encyclopaedia - De Materia Medica - that was widely read for more than a thousand years.
Culpeper the English botanist, herbalist, physician and astrologer recommends Basil essential oil for bites and drawing out poison. Dr Jean Valnet, the pioneer of Aromatherapy recommends this herb for epilepsy and paralysis. In India Sweet Basil is a sacred botanical, considered to have purifying and protecting qualities.
Alcohols as Linalool, citronellol, geraniol,terpinen, a-terpineol, phenols ethers as methyl chavicol, eugenol, methyl eugenol, monoterpenes as limonene, camphene, a-pinene, b-pinene, y-terpinene, p-cymene, cis-ocimene, oxides as cineol, esters as linalyl acetate, fenchyl acetate, methyl cinnamate, sesquiterpenes as b-caryophellene.
Basil essential oil must be diluted before application to the skin.
Not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers.
Please contact your healthcare practitioner if you are taking prescription medication - especially in the case of cholesterol lowering drugs.