Basil is an herb in the mint family. It adds flavor to meals, and its nutrients may provide health benefits.
Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) plays a role in many Mediterranean, and particularly Italian, cuisines. It forms the basis of pesto and adds a distinctive flavor to salads, pasta, pizza, and other dishes. Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisines also feature this herb.
Sweet basil is available in many grocery stores, while other varieties have different tastes and fragrances.
Another type of basil is tulsi, or holy basil (Ocimum santum). This plant plays a therapeutic role in Tamil and Ayurvedic medicines, which are predominantly practiced in Southeast Asia. This is different from sweet basil.
In this article, learn more about the health benefits and nutritional contents of basil, and find some tips on how to include it in the diet.
Basil may provide health benefits in the diet, as herbal medicine, and as an essential oil.
Basil provides some macronutrients, such as calcium and vitamin K, as well as a range of antioxidants.
Sweet basil, for example, has a high concentration of the chemical agent eugenol. This gives it a clove-like scent. Lime and lemon basils have high concentrations of limonene, which give them a citrusy scent. Both
Reducing oxidative stress
Antioxidants are essential for eliminating free radicals from the body.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that develop as a result of metabolism and other natural processes. They can also form as a result of smoking and some dietary choices.
Antioxidants are compounds that help remove these molecules from the body. If they build up instead, oxidative stress can occur, resulting in cell damage and, possibly, disease.
Which foods are good sources of antioxidants? Find out here.
Supporting liver health
Tulsi — a plant that is very different from the basil in the average Western supermarket — plays a role in Indian traditional medicine.
The authors concluded that the phytochemicals in holy basil may help prevent certain types of skin, liver, oral, and lung cancers.
They appeared to do this by increasing antioxidant activity, changing gene expression, triggering cell death, and slowing cell division.
However, the studies in this review were preclinical or performed in animals. Confirming the effects will require further research.
Is there a link between cancer and the diet? Find out here.
Protecting against skin aging
In the study, the scientists applied a basil extract to laboratory models of skin. The results suggested that including basil extracts in topical skin creams might improve skin hydration and reduce roughness and wrinkling.
While extracts of basil at certain doses may have this effect, consuming basil will not necessarily benefit the skin.
However, the antioxidants in basil and other plant-based foods may have a protective effect if a person consumes them as part of a varied diet.
Learn about foods that can help boost skin health.
Reducing high blood sugar
Some practitioners of traditional medicine commonly recommend basil to help manage blood sugar levels.
If further investigations confirm these findings, basil extracts could prove useful for people with diabetes.
Which foods are good for people with diabetes? Find out here.
Supporting cardiovascular health
However, 2 minutes after the researchers used the extract, the blood pressure returned to its high levels.
After 4 weeks, those who took the tulsi extract had lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides than those who did not. The authors concluded that the extract could help reduce some risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Find foods that may help lower blood pressure here.
Boosting mental health
Mental stress can trigger the production of free radicals in the body.
According to a 2014
- alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression
- increase the ability to think and reason
- prevent age-related memory loss
- improve stress-related sleep and sex issues
Some studies, the authors report, produced results comparable to those of diazepam and antidepressant drugs.
However, confirming these findings will require more research. Also, consuming tulsi — in a tea, for example — is unlikely to have the same effect as receiving a dosage of an extract.
How may the diet impact depression? Learn more.
Reducing inflammation and swelling
Oxidative stress can lead to inflammation, a factor in various diseases, including cancer, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.
According to their results, basil oil may help treat various diseases that involve inflammation resulting from oxidative stress.
It is not clear whether eating basil, however, could have the same effect.
Which foods may help manage inflammation? Find out here.
Various practitioners of traditional medicine have used basil as an antimicrobial agent, and some scientific research supports this use.
The researchers concluded that certain preparations of basil oil could help treat or prevent some types of infection.
Oregano is another herb that may have health benefits. Learn more here.