Basil (Ocimum basilicum), also known as Saint Joseph's Wort, is an herb belonging to the mint family - Lamiaceae. It is often used as a seasoning in cooking. Basil is native to India and other tropical areas of Asia.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles about the health benefits of popular foods. It highlights the potential health benefits of consuming basil and provides a nutritional profile for the herb.
The herb is well known for its use in Italian cuisine - it is one of the primary ingredients in pesto sauce. Basil is also commonly included in Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisine.
The word "basil" derives from the Greek word "basileus," which means "king." The Oxford English Dictionary says that basil may have been used as "some royal unguent, bath, or medicine."
In fact, there are quite a number of beliefs associated with the herb. The French often refer to it as "l'herbe royale" (the royal herb), and in Jewish folklore, basil is thought to give strength while fasting.
Basil is used in traditional Tamil and Ayurvedic medicine, which is a form of traditional medicine popular on the Indian subcontinent.
There are different types of basil, which differ in taste and smell. Sweet basil (the most commercially available basil used in Italian food) has a strong clove scent because of its high concentration of the chemical agent eugenol. Alternatively, lime and lemon basil have a strong citrus scent due to their high concentration of limonene.
Fast facts on basil
Here are some key points about basil. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Basil is associated with a number of rituals throughout the world
- The herb may have anti-inflammatory qualities
- Basil has a potent antibacterial property
- Containing just 22 calories per 100 grams, basil is nutrient-heavy and calorie-light
- Basil may even contain compounds that fight the effects of aging
Possible health benefits of basil
Basil is a widely used plant in global cuisine.
Research indicates that there may be several health benefits associated with basil.
A study by researchers at Purdue University revealed that basil "contains a wide range of essential oils, rich in phenolic compounds and a wide array of other natural products including polyphenols such as flavonoids and anthocyanins."
Basil contains high quantities of (E)-beta-caryophyllene (BCP), which may be useful in treating arthritis and inflammatory bowel diseases, according to research conducted at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
A study published in the Journal of Bone Reports & Recommendations agreed that BCP might be useful in the treatment of certain diseases with an inflammatory component.
The investigation was carried out on arthritic rats; the team of researchers concluded: "The present study is suggestive that beta-caryophyllene has prominent anti-arthritic activity which may be attributed to its anti-inflammatory activity."
Reduce inflammation and swelling
One study, presented at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's annual event, revealed that "extracts of O. tenuiflorum (Holy basil) were shown to reduce swelling by up to 73 percent, 24 hours after treatment".
These effects on swelling were similar in extent to those seen with the drug diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory medication that is widely used in the treatment of arthritis.
In their paper - Therapeutic uses of Ocimum sanctum Linn (Tulsi) with a note on eugenol and its pharmacological actions: a short review - the authors conclude:
"Our results supported the use of these traditional treatments in inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis."
According to research presented at the British Pharmaceutical Conference (BPC) in Manchester, basil also has properties that can help prevent the harmful effects of aging.
Holy basil extract was effective at killing off harmful molecules and preventing damage caused by some free radicals in the liver, brain, and heart.
Dr. Shinde said: "The study validates the traditional use of the herb as a youth-promoting substance in the Ayurvedic system of medicine. It also helps describe how the herb acts at a cellular level."
Rich in antioxidants
Results of a study published in the Journal of Advanced Pharmacy Education & Research showed that ethanol extract Ocimum basilicum had more antioxidant activity than standard antioxidants.
Lab studies have demonstrated that basil has some antibacterial properties. These antibacterial properties are thought to be because of its volatile oils, which include estragole, linalool, cineole, eugenol, sabinene, myrcene, and limonene.
Basil restricts the growth of numerous bacteria, including Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Yersinia enterocolitica, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
This could mean that adding fresh basil to a salad not only adds flavor, it also helps reduce the number of harmful bacteria on the plate.
Nutritional profile for basil
Nutritional value of basil per 100 g (3.5 oz)
|Energy - 94 kilojoules (22 kilocalorie)||Carbohydrates - 2.65 grams|
|Dietary fiber - 1.6 grams||Fat - 0.64 grams|
|Protein - 3.15 grams||Water - 92.06 grams|
|Vitamin A - 264 micrograms||Thiamine - 0.034 micrograms|
|Riboflavin - 0.076 milligrams||Niacin - 0.902 milligrams|
|Vitamin B6 - 0.155 micrograms||Folate - 68 micrograms|
|Choline - 11.4 milligrams||Vitamin C - 18.0 milligrams|
|Vitamin E - 0.80 milligrams||Vitamin K - 414.8 micrograms|
|Calcium - 177 milligrams||Iron - 3.17 milligrams|
|Magnesium - 64 milligrams||Manganese - 1.148 milligrams|
|Phosphorus - 56 milligrams||Potassium - 295 milligrams|
|Sodium - 4 milligrams||Zinc - 0.81 milligrams|
Source: USDA Nutrient Database5
As with any food stuff, basil should be eaten alongside the full range of components that make up a healthy diet.