Basil is common name to plants of genus Ocimum. Around 35 odd species of basil are found across globe all differing in plant structure and chemicals found in them. The Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) and the sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) are popular varieties of basil known today. Basil is considered native to India and South East Asian region. Today they are found in tropical regions of Asia, Africa and Central America. It is believed that colonists brought Basil from India via Middle East to Europe and then America.
Holy Basil, native to India has been used traditionally in Ayurveda and references are found in old religious Hindu texts. It is believed by Hindus that Holy Basil is manifestation of Goddess Tulsi and has grown from her ashes. A Hindu belief is Tulsi was tricked into betraying her husband by God Vishnu; thereafter she killed herself in torment. Tulsi thereafter worshiped by married Hindu women for her faithfulness. Watering Tulsi plant at home is tradition by married Hindu women in India. Tulsi leaves are used in almost all rituals as it is considered close God and a symbol of love, eternal life, purification and protection. Similar story of Basil as symbol of love is found in Italy. Sweet basil is called Bacia-nicola (meaning kiss me Nicholas) and believed to attract man to his wife. Basil is considered symbol of luck. In India, Basil leaf along with jaggery is eaten before start of any important work as good luck charm. Indians keep a holy basil plant at their homes as symbol of spirits of their family and a lamp is lit in evening as symbol of respect towards them.
Basil derives its name from Greek word βασιλευς, meaning “king”. Basil is even today considered as king of all herbs. Often basil was used in purification during the crowning ceremonies of the King. Latin word Basilisk or dragon is very much etymologically connected as scorpions are believed to be attracted to roots of Basil.
Nutritional Value of Basil
Basil derives its aroma and taste due to presence of strong essential oils present in leaves, stem, roots and seeds of the plant. The composition of essential oil differs based on basil species. Depending on essential oil composition, various basil species offer different aromas. Sweet basil offer clove scent due to presence of eugenol, which is also present in clove. Lemon basil with citral and imonene has citrus smell. Camphor and camphene in Africal Blue Basil offers it camphor like smell. Licorice Basil has anethole which makes it smell like anise. Essential oils of basil are extracted using steam distillation of leaves and flowering tops. Basil oil finds its use in food additives, dental and oral care. Basil oil contains bioactive chemicals which have medicinal properties.
Basil leaves are rich in Vitamin A and Vitamin K. One ounce of dried Basil leaves are sufficient to meet daily requirement of vitamin A and vitamin k. Dried Basil leaves also supply vitamins like Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Folate, Niacin and Vitamin E. Basil leaves are also good source of Manganese, Calcium, iron, copper, potassium, zinc and magnesium. Dried Basil leaves are rich in dietary fibers, around 25% by weight.
Basil contains bioactive chemicals – flavonoids which have antioxidant properties. Orientin and vicenin are two water-soluble flavonoids present in Basil.
Seeds of Basil are packed with carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fat required for germination. Basil oil is essential oil extracted from leaves and seeds of Basil and are good source of various essential oils with varied health benefits.
Health benefits of Basil
In Ayurveda, Tulsi or Basil leaves have special place. In ayurveda it is considered remedy to all ailments and encourages people for chewing tulsi leaves regularly and enjoy health benefits of Basil. Today various ayurvedic products like Tulsi Tea, Tulsi powder, Tulsi capsules, Tulsi skin cream are available.
Basil leaves is used in home remedy of various ailments including cold, cough, fever, heart disorder, eye disorder, children ailments, stomach problems, insect bite, skin care, etc. Current scientific research has shown its health benefits in terms of its properties as antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, anticancer, antispasmodic, carminative, ophthalmic, tonic. Some of the health benefits of Basil are listed below:
Basil cures Fever
Basil leaves are used as cure of various fevers. Decoction of green tulsi leaves along with ginger helps in prevention of malarial and dengue fever. A decoction made from leaves boiled with powdered cardamom, honey, jaggery and milk helps bring down fever. Basil has microbial and anti viral effect which helps control viral fever.
Basil on Cough and Respiratory Problems
Chewing Tulsi leaves also cures cough and flu. It helps to mobilize mucous in bronchitis and asthma attacks. A decoction of leaves with honey and ginger is an effective remedy against bronchitis, asthma, influenza and cold. A decoction of leaves, cloves and common salt also relieves influenza.
In case of sore throat, water boiled with basil leaves should be drunk or used for gargling. Tulsi works as expectorant and is ke ingredient in many cough syrups. Drinking herbal Tulsi tea is cure for chronic form of cough.
Basil leaves contains vital compounds like vitamin C, camphene and Eugenol which have properties as decongestant. Tulsi helps in healing lung damage due to smoking or tuberculosis. Tulsi leaves are considered natural cure for Croup – a condition involving obstruction of larynx.
Basil aids Digestion
Traditionally its has been used to nullify harmful effects of food and aids digestion. Herbal Tulsi tea is good for indigestion, vomiting and nausea. It has been used as carminative and helps relieve flatulence, constipation, stomach disorders. Africans uses basil leaves to treat intestinal worms.
Basil has anti-microbial action
Studies have shown that Basil has antimicrobial action and is effective controlling growth of bacteria and virus. Crushed basil leaves can be applied on fungal infection as cure. Essential oils in Basil serve as natural insecticide and insect repellant.
Basil protects Kidney
Basil leaves have protective effect on kidney. It helps in prevention of kidney stones. Tulsi leaves juice with honey is natural cure for kidney stone. Its detoxifying effect helps removal of uric acid from body – prime cause for kidney stone. Basil seeds are also beneficial in treating bladder problems.
Chew Basil leaves to reduce risk of Heart disorders
Basil contains essential bioactive chemicals which offer protective effect for heart and helps reduce heart disorders. It reduces blood cholesterol. Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Eogenol are believed to offer strong antioxidant effect which helps protect heart from free radicals. Regular consumption of basil leaves helps reduce blood pressure in heart patients.
Basil relieves stress
Basil leaves act as adaptogen or anti-stress agent. Drinking Tulsi extract daily calms your nerves and relieves stress. Chewing 10-12 raw leaves daily helps prevent stress and offers healthy living.
Basil as pain killer
One of the health benefits of Basil is that it helps relieve pain. Compounds in Tulsi ease inflammation. It is effective in treatment of ulcers, cuts and wounds. Drinking Herbal Tulsi tea is home remedy for headache and migrane. Applying sandalwood powder with tulsi leaf powder cools body and relieves body heat and headache. Sniffing dry basil leaves serves cure for headache due to cold and sinus. Similarly, it helps relieve pain in case of earache. Applying few drops of basil leaf juice to ear, helps relieve earache. It is also believed to improve hearing.
Basil for treating teeth disorders
With its antimicrobial action, tulsi juice can be used as mouthwash. It works as very good mouth freshener and oral disinfectant. It helps relive pain in case of tooth ache and cures mouth ulcers. Powdered tulsi leaves are used for cleaning teeth. Mixed with mustard oil, it has been used for brushing teeth and gums.
Basil for healthy eye
Basil leaves offer sufficient quantity of Vitamin A and vitamin K which are good for eyes. Basil juice is used as home remedy in case of night blindness. 1-2 drops of tulsi juice can be put in eye to sooth them and reduce stress. With its antiviral effect, it protects eyes against conjunctivitis and other infections.
Anti-cancer properties of Tulsi
Current research has brought out some of the health benefits of Tulsi in terms of curing and preventing Cancer. Various bioactive chemicals in Tulsi are effective in treating cancers and tumours. Drinking herbal tea with Tulsi is one good habit which can help you prevent cancer.
Basil for nervous system health
Basil serves as tonic to nervous system and enhances brain growth and memory. Drinking Tulsi leaves juice helps in curing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. It strengthens memory and concentration. It serves as antioxidant in protecting brain tissues from free radicals. Basil serves as adaptogen, which helps in regulating enzyme and hormonal balance in body.
Basil is antidote for Insect bite
Basil is effective in relieving insect bite and pain. Rubbing fresh tulsi leaves on bitten region, quickly offers relief. Roots of basil have been used as cure for snake bite or scorpion sting. Often soil of tulsi plant is applied in case of ant bite.
Drink Tulsi tea if you want to quit smoking
Munching or chewing Tulsi leaves is believed to help quit smoking. It relieves urge of smoking.
Skin care benefits of Tulsi
Tulsi leaves with its antioxidant properties is considered good for skin. It helps make your skin younger. Today various cosmetic products with Tulsi are available. Tulsi also helps in curing various skin disorders like acne, pimple, fungal infections, itching, skin irritation and others. Some quick homemade herbal skin care products
- Mix tulsi powder with Lemon juice – relive itching, cure ringworm, relief from skin irritation
- Mix tulsi, turmeric and Besan – as skin cleanser or scrub.
- Paste from crushed fresh tulsi leaves – as skin ointment, cure for fungal infections, scabies, eczema, pimples, acne. Often tulsi is chewed, mixed with saliva and applied to skin; offers two fold benefits – internally as well as externally.
- Herbal Tulsi Tea – as detoxifying agent.
- Finely powdered tulsi leaves – as powder to be applied to skin to remove dark spots, on wounds, burns
- Tulsi leaves paste mixed with Eggwhite – as face pack for clean and healthy skin. Helps remove skin pore clogging and prevent skin infections.
- Tulsi heated in Mustard oil or coconut oil – as cure for skin diseases.
Hair Care benefits of Tulsi
Basil works as wonderful herb for shiny and healthy hair. It also helps prevent scalp infections including dandruff, psoriasis. Tulsi oil – made from heating tulsi leaves powder in coconut oil – is good for scalp. Massaging tulsi oil helps improve blood circulation, relieves itching in scalp and promtes hair growth. Tulsi powder mixed with lemon juice can be applied to scalp to keep away dandruff. Hair gel made from mixing Tulsi and neem powder in hibiscus gel can also be applied to hair for healthy skin.
Basil benefits for women
Basil leaves is found good in treating menstrual irregularities. Seeds of basil offer mucilaginous jelly which helps relieve labour pain and pain after childbirth. Sweet basil is believed to stimulate sex drive and boosts female fertility.
Basil leaves good for Children
Basil helps in cure of common children ailments including cold, cough, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, sore throat. Drinking tulsi juice avoids any teeth disorders. Add honey to tulsi juice, it helps cure many ailments. Basil oil is also cure for intestinal worms.
Is Basil Oxygenating?
Basil is be believed to add more oxygen to atmosphere. This has been one reason why holy basil had planted in home courtyard to purify house. It is believed to absorb pollutants and harmful gases from atmosphere. No evidence is found for such claim.
Tulsi for treatment of Diabetes
Tulsi leaves are often used to control blood sugar and are useful in treatment of diabetes. Chewing tulsi leaves regularly helps keep blood sugar in control.
Health benefits of Basil seeds
Basil seeds, specially seeds of Sweet Basil have properties very much similar to superfood Chia seeds. Traditionally, Basil seeds are used in treatment of constipation, stomach problem, stimulant, body cooling agent. Read more about health benefits of Sweet Basil seeds.
Side effects of Tulsi
No significant side effects of Basil has been reported. Given that tulsi or Basil in various forms and doeses has been consumed across the globe for centuries, one can be rest assured on health benefits of tulsi.
Culinary uses of Basil leaves and seeds
Basil leaves and seeds have been commonly used in making various recipes. Leaves are used for its rich aroma in soups, vegetables and rice preparations. Dried basil leaves powder is used as spice, seasoning or thickening agent. Mediterranean, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines are incomplete without basil leaves. Basil of various fragnance – ‘Genovese’, ‘Purple Ruffles’, ‘Mammoth’, ‘Cinnamon’, ‘Lemon’, ‘Globe’, and ‘African Blue’ are cultivated in Mediterranean. Sweet Basil seeds or sabja are used in various desserts and drinks.Image Credits: Wikimedia, Wikimedia, Flickr - Stan Dalone, Morguefile