Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a culinary herb from the mint family. It plays a significant role in the many Mediterranean – mainly Italian – cuisines. It’s the basis of pesto and adds a distinctive flavor to pasta, pizza, salads, and other dishes. It’s also widely used in some Asian cuisines, like Thai, Vietnamese, and Indonesian cuisines.
There are more than 60 varieties of basil, but sweet basil is one of the most widely used. This herb has rounded leaves that are often pointed. The basil plant is usually bright green, though some varieties have hints of red or purple in their leaves.
Different basil varieties give off slightly different flavors. For instance, sweet basil has a strong and recognizable flavor. Lemon basil has a tangy, lemony taste, while mint basil has a refreshing, minty taste.
Basil contains different vitamins and minerals and antioxidants like lutein, beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin. Many of the health benefits of basil come from these essential antioxidants. Usually, these compounds mostly disappear when dried, so it’s better to opt for fresh basil to get the most benefits.
Benefits of Basil Leaves
Here are the benefits of basil leaves for your body:
Helps reduce high blood sugar
Adding basil to your diet can slow the release of sugar in the blood, helping reduce high blood sugar levels, which is very helpful for diabetics. This herb has a very low glycemic load, and this is why some practitioners of traditional medicine usually recommend basil to help manage blood sugar levels. It can also prevent the negative, long-term effects of high blood sugar.
Supports heart health
A review reported findings on sweet basil extract and found that it can reduce high blood pressure, most possibly due to the extract’s eugenol content. Eugenol in basil can block calcium channels in the body, which in turn lowers high blood pressure.
The essential oil of basil can also help lower cholesterol and triglycerides. It also contains magnesium, which helps improve blood flow by allowing muscles and blood vessels to relax.
Improves mental health
Basil is believed to stimulate neurotransmitters that help regulate the hormones that induce happiness and energy. Basil is considered a powerful adaptogen or an anti-stress agent. Using basil essential oil can help you manage anxiety and depression.
Tulsi, a popular basil variety used in Ayurvedic medicine, has anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties that help:
- Alleviate stress, depression, and anxiety
- Increase ability to think clearly and reason properly
- Lower the risk of age-related memory loss
- Improve stress-related sleep and sex issues
Some studies also report that tulsi produces these results comparable to the use of diazepam and antidepressant drugs. However, if you consume tulsi leaf, it’s unlikely to gain the same effect as receiving a dosage in an extract.
Basil has strong anti-inflammatory properties that can prove to be a cure for various diseases and disorders. The powerful essential oils in the herb – such as eugenol, linalool, and citronellol – help lower inflammation through the enzyme-inhibiting properties.
Studies have shown that basil oil can help lower the risk of heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel conditions. Consuming basil in the form of tea can also help soothe a fever, sore throat, flu, headache, coughs, and colds.
Protects against infection
Many traditional medicine practitioners use basil as an anti-microbial agent, and scientific research supports this use. Sweet basil oil has been proven to be active in fighting bacteria in people with respiratory, abdominal, urinary, and skin infections. Certain preparations of basil oil can also help treat and prevent some types of infection.
Promotes healthy digestion and gut
Basil can help restore the body’s natural pH levels and feed healthy bacteria within the gut flora. Having a healthy gut flora promotes healthy digestion and increases immunity. This herb fortifies the digestive and nervous system and can be a great remedy for insomnia and headaches. The eugenol present in the leaves stimulates the anti-inflammatory action in the digestive tract. It helps balance the acid in the body to restore its proper pH level.
Also, basil essential oil has been seen as a traditional remedy for treating different tummy problems besides indigestion. It can also help reduce bloating and water retention. It can also stimulate loss of appetite and heal acid reflux.
Reduces oxidative stress
Antioxidants help eliminate free radicals from the body. When free radicals form buildup in the body, oxidative stress can occur, resulting in cell damage and causing diseases. Studies link cancer, diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and other health issues to oxidative stress.
Basil is found to contain a range of natural antioxidants, such as anthocyanins and beta carotene. It can also help protect body tissues against free radical damage. The water-soluble flavonoid antioxidants that basil contains – orientin and vicenin – are potent in protecting cellular structure, strengthening the immune system, and delaying the effects of skin aging.
Supports liver health
A study conducted on rats concluded that antioxidants in a powdered preparation that included tulsi, or holy basil, positively affected liver health. The detox properties in basil can help boost metabolism, prevent fat buildup in the liver, and keep your liver healthy overall.
The phytochemicals in tulsi can also help prevent certain types of skin, oral, liver, and lung cancers. A study showed that tulsi appears to increase antioxidant activity, change gene expression, trigger cell death, and slow cell division – all of which can help prevent cancer.
Protects against skin aging
Sweet basil has been found to help protect the skin from the effects of aging. A study suggests that adding basil extracts in topical skin creams might improve skin hydration and reduce wrinkling and roughness. While consuming basil leaves may not necessarily affect the skin, basil extracts have this effect.
Basil’s powerful, natural oils also help cleanse the skin from within, making it an excellent skin cleanser for people with oily skin. It also helps remove dirt and impurities that can clog pores. Make a homemade paste using basil leaves, rose water, and sandalwood paste. Apply the paste on your face and let it stay for 20 minutes. Wash it off using cold water. This DIY skincare paste can help prevent acne, thanks to the strong anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties of basil.