Basil (Ocimum basilicum), also known as Saint Joseph's Wort, is a herb belonging to the mint family Lamiaceae 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 a major ingredient in pesto sauce. Basil is also commonly used Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisine.
According to the International journal of Agronomy and Plant Production1, 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 different beliefs associated with the herb. The French often refer to the herb 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 medicine and in ayurvedic medicine, which is a form of alternative traditional medicine in 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. Whereas lime and lemon basil have a strong citrus scent due to their high concentration of limonene.
Possible health benefits of basil
Research indicates that there may be several health benefits associated with basil.
A study by researchers at Purdue University2 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."The herb contains high quantitites 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.3
Reduce inflammation and swelling
A study presented at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's annual event, revealed that "extracts of O. tenuiflorm (Holy basil) were shown to reduce swelling by up to 73%, 24 hours after treatment".
According to research presented at the British Pharmaceutical Conference (BPC) in Manchester, basil 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.
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.4
Nutritional profile for basil
Nutritional value of basil per 100 g (3.5 oz)
|Energy - 94 kJ (22 kcal)||Carbohydrates - 2.65 g|
|Dietary fiber - 1.6 g||Fat - 0.64 g|
|Protein - 3.15 g||Water - 92.06 g|
|Vitamin A - 264 μg||Thiamine - 0.034 μg|
|Riboflavin - 0.076 mg||Niacin - 0.902 mg|
|Vitamin B6 - 0.155 μg||Folate - 68 μg|
|Choline - 11.4 mg||Vitamin C - 18.0 mg|
|Vitamin E - 0.80 mg||Vitamin K - 414.8 μg|
|Calcium - 177 mg||Iron - 3.17 mg|
|Magnesium - 64 mg||Manganese - 1.148 mg|
|Phosphorus - 56 mg||Potassium - 295 mg|
|Sodium - 4 mg||Zinc - 0.81 mg|
Source: USDA Nutrient Database5