Basil (Ocimum basilicum), also known as Saint Joseph’s Wort, is a herb belonging to the mint family Lamiaceae and is often used as a seasoning in cooking. Basil is native to India and other tropical areas of Asia. Basil is used in traditional Tamil medicine and in ayurvedic medicine, which is a form of alternative traditional medicine in the Indian subcontinent and of course 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. Basil is rich in vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, potassium, and calcium.
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”. Research indicates that there are several health benefits associated with basil.
Medical or Health Benefits:
Basil significantly benefits the stomach during digestion and can provide immediate relief from gas, stomach cramps, and nausea.
Basil tea (brewed basil-water) helps relieve nausea and is thought to have mild anti-septic functions.
Anti-aging properties – 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. There is also a excellent organic product from Beyond Organics called Terrain Holy Basil. I highly recommend you talk a look at is and its medicinal proprieties as well.
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.
Zea-xanthin, a yellow flavonoid carotenoid compound, is selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea where it found to filter harmful UV rays from reaching the retina. Studies suggest that common herbs, fruits, and vegetables that are rich in zea-xanthin anti-oxidant help to protect from age-related macular disease (AMRD), especially in the elderly.
100g of fresh herb leaves contain astoundingly 5275 mg or 175% of daily required doses of vitamin A. Vitamin A is known to have antioxidant properties and is essential for vision. It is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural foods rich in vitamin-A has been found to help the body protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
Vitamin K in basil is essential for many coagulant factors in the blood and plays a vital role in the bone strengthening function by helping mineralization process in the bones.
Basil herb contains a good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, copper, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids, which helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
Basil leaves are an excellent source of iron, contains 3.17 mg/100 g of fresh leaves (about 26% of RDA). Iron, being a component of hemoglobin inside the red blood cells, determines the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.
Basil leaves contain health benefiting essential oils such as eugenol, citronellol, linalool, citral, limonene, and terpineol. These compounds are known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
An important essential oil, eugenol has been found to have anti-inflammatory function by acting against the enzyme cycloxygenase (COX), which mediates inflammatory cascade in the body. This enzyme-inhibiting effect of the eugenol in basil makes it an important remedy for symptomatic relief in individuals with inflammatory health problems like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and inflammatory bowel conditions. The herb contains high quantitites of (E)-beta-caryophyllene (BCP), which again may be useful in treating arthritis and inflammatory bowel diseases, according to research conducted at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
Basil Essential Oils has also been found to have anti-infective functions by inhibiting many pathogenic bacteria like Staphylococcus, Enterococci, Shigella and Pseudomonas.
Basil also is known to 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”.
Some Characteristics of Basil:
Basil is believed to be originally native to Iran, India and other tropical regions of Asia. This bushy annual herb is especially grown for its medicinally useful leaves and seeds. Basil grows best under warm, tropical climates. Fully-grown plant reaches on an average about 100 cm in height. Its leaves are light green, silky about 2.5 inches long and 1inch broad with opposite arrangement. The flowers are quite large, white or purple, arranged in terminal spikes.
Varieties of basil herb exist. “Mediterranean” cultivar which is typically known as sweet basil, has light green leaves as opposite to “Asian basil” (Ocinum sanctum) that features large, hairy stems and stalks with pink flowers, purple or red leaves in addition to possessing stronger ‘clove’ like flavor. There is also lemon basil, which has “lemon” flavor. Thai basil (O. basilicum ‘Horapha’) is similar in characteristics to Asian basil but features narrow, pointed, light green color leaves with a sweet licorice like aroma.
Selection and storage:
Basil plant can be grown as pot-herb in the backyard so that its fresh leaves and flowers can be readily harvested for use whenever you want them.
In the herb store, choose fresh organic basil over the dried form of the herb since fresh leaves are always superior in quality and flavor. Basil leaves should feature deep green leaves and free from dark spots or yellowing (yellow leaves is a sign of mineral deficiency). However, sun dried as well as radiation-treated basil leaves may contain significantly decreased vitamin-C and carotene levels. You will find a lot of imported basil to have been radiated in the customs or transportation clearance process. So please try to either grow basil or get is from a known reliable source.
Fresh basil herb should be stored in the refrigerator set at appropriate humidity. Dried basil should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for up to six months.