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Healing Herbs: Basil

Updated on March 7, 2012

What is Basil?

Basil is an anise-flavored plant that grows annually in most areas, but is considered perennial in more tropical regions. A member of the Ocimum genus and Lamiaceae, or mint, family, this plant has an extensive clan. Some of the best know varieties include the common sweet basil, the spicy Thai basil, and the aromatic holy basil. Grown in its native India for more than 5,000 years, this delightful plant has now become a staple in herb gardens around the world.

The general appearance of this plant varies from species to species; however, they all have one thing in common: downy, square-shaped stems. Flower and leaf colors can be good indicators as to the type of plant you are looking at. For instance, sweet basil has deep green foliage and delicate white flowers, while dark opal basil has characteristically lavender-hued blossoms and deep purple leaves. The condition of the leaves may also help you to identify the type, as some varieties, like lettuce-leaf, will have crinkly leaves, while others, like purple ruffles, will have shiny foliage.

Though this herb may have originated in India, it has a long history of usage throughout the world. In Greece, this plant was widely considered a medicinal herb, and, thought to have a religious significance, it is also frequently used in holy water preparations. This plant is also considered symbolic, being used in Italy and Mexico as something of a love charm, and a symbol of marital commitment in Romania.

Although basil may have numerous uses, its nutritional benefits are what make it a favorite among those who study herbalism. This plant is not only packed with such essential vitamins as A, C and K, but it also hosts numerous antioxidants such as vicenin, essential oils like terpineol and citronellol, and minerals like copper and potassium.

What Are the Benefits of Basil?

The health benefits of basil are numerous. This is no surprise, as this healthy herb is not only packed with nutrients, it is also incredibly versatile and delicious. Although the majority of the plant is considered safe, most people prefer to use both fresh and dried basil leaves in their herbal remedies. Long used to cure diseases of the brain and bladder, today it is predominantly used to treat:

Respiratory Conditions and Cold Symptoms:

Considered a potent anti-inflammatory, this healthy herb is thought to be especially useful in treating lung conditions like bronchitis and asthma. Basil is also thought to work as an expectorant, an antibacterial tonic, and an anti-stress agent, so those suffering from cold symptoms like a sore throat, cough, or a high fever may benefit from the use of this herb.

Oral Infections and Skin Ailments:

Considering its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, this plant is very useful in treating gum infections, periodontitis and mouth ulcers, as well as skin conditions like acne, leucoderma and ringworm. Additionally, because of its high content of antioxidants, basil may also be beneficial in improving the quality of the mouth and skin.

Kidney and Heart Conditions:

Not only is this plant thought to strengthen weak kidneys, if taken over a prescribed course, it is also said to help eliminate kidney stones. Because the basil leaf contains numerous volatile oils and antioxidants, it is thought to help give the immune system a good boost, and because of this, it is may help strengthen those that have been physically weakened by ongoing heart issues. Additionally, this plant may also aid in the reduction of cholesterol, thus lowering the risk of heart disease.

Other Potential Uses:

A plant with almost limitless uses, basil may also help in relieving headaches and migraines, insomnia and exhaustion, depression and anxiety. Additionally, it is frequently used to treat gastroenteritis, nausea, stomach cramps, gas and nausea. Since this plant also acts as a phytoestrogen, it may also be used to treat female-related complaints like painful or delayed menstruation.

Side Effects and Warnings:

When used in small amounts, basil is unlikely to cause any serious side effects. Medicinal amounts are also thought to be safe for many; however, those with diabetes and those taking insulin or oral diabetes medications should avoid this plant in larger amounts, as it can not only alter the effect of your medication, it may also lower blood glucose levels. Those who are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant should also avoid medicinal levels of basil, as it contains a natural compound called estragole, which is thought to not only encourage uterine contractions, but may also have cancer-causing properties. Those taking NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and blood thinners should also avoid larger amounts of this herb, as it may increase the risk of bleeding.


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    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I plant basil in the summer and it has such a strong and unique aroma I cook with and have no mosquitoes biting us it keeps them away

    • mvaivata profile image

      mvaivata 5 years ago

      Thank you for your comment, thumbi7! It is great to see how the same plants are used throughout the world.

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 5 years ago from India

      In India, traditionally we grow basil plants at home. Mainly there are two different types.

      Hindus traditionally worship Basil and it is used for many different ailments as you have mentioned.

      Thanks for SHARING:)

    • mvaivata profile image

      mvaivata 5 years ago

      Thank you for your comment, billybuc! Not to worry! I will definitely be covering lavender! :-)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very interesting and since I knew next to nothing about this subject it was very helpful. Hopefully you will write something about my favorite herb, lavender, some day. Great job!

    • mvaivata profile image

      mvaivata 5 years ago

      Thank you for your comment, moiragallaga! It is amazing to find out the far-reaching properties of some very common plants!

    • moiragallaga profile image

      Moira Garcia Gallaga 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      This is very useful information mvaivata. I knew that Basil had beneficial qualities, but I didn't realize how extensive these benefits were until I read your hub. Thanks.