Health Benefits Of Basil

What is basil?

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is an annual plant of the Lamiaceae family which is thought to originally come from India. The name comes from the Greek language basileus which means king.1 Sweet Basil is just one variety of basil available and probably the most commonly found to grow and buy but there are many different varieties or cultivars.

Sweet Basil has glossy green, oval leaves and produces small flowers which vary in colour from white to pink. All basil varieties are sensitive to frost and will not survive in harsh weather, preferring warm and sunny growing conditions.

Basil is an important medicinal herb in traditional medicine, one variety of Basil is a key herb in Ayurvedic medicine, which is the traditional system of Indian healthcare and remains very prominent today.  Aromatic extracts of basil are also used in the production of dental products, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and for flavouring.

Basil is a very easy herb to grow, but basil will only germinate in warm conditions. As an annual plant, basil flowers are followed by the production of seeds which can be collected and dried, and then stored for sowing. Plants can be bought from garden centres and supermarkets, many people like to grow basil indoors on sunny windowsills where the leaves are on hand to pick and use in their cooking.

All basil plants are highly aromatic and highly flavoured, this flavour and scent varies with the different varieties. Flavour and scent are affected by growing conditions, harvest and preparation methods. Basil is used extensively in cooking and is an important ingredient in the cuisines of many different countries and has been for centuries. It is grown in Asia, South America, Africa and the Mediterranean.

Basil varieties 

Asides from the most common Sweet Basil, there are many cultivars or other varieties available. All can be used in similar ways but taste and flavour will vary with the different varieties.

There are four basic types of basil:

  • Sweet basil
  • Small-leaved or dwarf basil
  • Purple-leaved basil
  • Basil with specially scented leaves

The ways in which basil plants vary include:

  • The production of more or less bushy plants
  • Varying leaf sizes from tiny to large
  • Leaf colour can vary throughout the green range or can be pink-tinged through to a very dark purple leaf
  • Scents vary in pungency as does taste, some cultivars have other tastes combined such as Lemon basil

Selected basil varieties

  • Napoletano – sweet, tender large leaved basil used in Italian cuisine
  • Genovese – similar to the Napoletano
  • Lettuce Leaf Basil – Japanese basil with large leaves
  • Dark Opal Basil – an intensely aromatic basil
  • Lemon Basil – tangy, lemony scent and taste
  • French Basil – a very fragrant variety
  • Thai Basil – sweet-tasted basil used in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia
  • Greek Basil – dwarf basil is often used for making Basil Tea as it has a great medicinal value

Holy basil 

Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)  is a very sacred herb and an important part of the traditional Indian medical system Ayurveda.2 This form of basil has a pungent and sweet taste and is found growing throughout India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, China, Thailand, and Malaysia.

Holy Basil has the following medical properties:2

  • Adaptogen (helps the body to adapt in its response to stress)
  • Antibacterial
  • Antidepressant
  • Antioxidant
  • Antiviral
  • Carminative (helps to relieve gas or flatulence)
  • Diuretic (promotes urine flow)
  • Expectorant (helps remove mucus from the lungs)
  • Galactagogue (promotes the flow of breast milk)
  • Immunomodulator (helps regulate the immune system)

As mentioned earlier, Holy Basil is a very important herb in Ayurvedic medicine and is used in religious practices and often brought into the home. Indian folk medicine made use of Holy Basil tea for respiratory disorders and stomach problems, the powdered herb was also used as a snuff to clear nasal congestion.2 Often the fresh herb is juiced and used for health benefits in this form. In Indian folk medicine, the root of this basil is used and made into a decoction for fever, for instance, if you are suffering from malaria. The roots and leaves can be made into poultices for applying to the skin to treat insect bites and stings.2

Many modern studies support the use of Holy Basil for numerous health problems, but few human studies show a reduction in asthma symptoms, lowered blood sugar levels in diabetic patients and lowered cholesterol.2

This herb works well in combination with other herbs that act on the brain, these are often referred to as ‘nootropics’ and are a class of herb with specific benefits to the brain and thought processes.2 Holy Basil in combination with other herbs such as ginkgo and rosemary are considered to benefit cloudy thinking which often accompanies menopause, poor memory and to speed recovery from head injuries.

In modern herbal clinics, Holy Basil is often chosen for forms of depression and cases of allergic rhinitis.

Health benefits of basil

There are many health benefits associated with sweet basil, below is a list of the health problems and body systems that basil has been found to help in numerous trials.1

  • Stress relief
  • Respiratory health
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Kidney diseases
  • Blood disorders
  • Skin disease
  • Eye disease
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Cognitive enhancement
  • Immune system
  • Oral health

The health benefits of basil can be gained by cooking with the leaves, seeds and stems, making herbal tea, using the essential oil in the bath, using the essential oil in an oil burner or room diffuser and as part of skincare products. Herbalists use sweet basil and Holy Basil as tinctures, often as part of a herbal tincture formulation. Other preparations with basil included can be found in tablets and capsules.

Nutritional facts

The flavour of regular basil is both sweet and savoury, it has spicy pepper-like tones initially but tends to add sweetness to food. All parts of the plant are edible and highly aromatic due to the high essential oil content.

Basil Seeds

Basil seeds traditionally have rarely been consumed as a food, but recent studies have looked at their potential as a ‘functional food’ due to their high nutrient value. Functional foods are foods that have nutritious benefits and also other health benefits beyond nutrition and impact our health in other specific ways. Basil seeds may have the following added health benefits.3

  • Preventing Type-2 Diabetes
  • Cardioprotective (protecting the heart)
  • Antioxidant
  • Antimicrobial (acting against pathogens such as bacteria and viruses)
  • Anti-inflammatory (helping reduce inflammation in the body)
  • Anti-ulcer (helping prevent the development of ulcers)
  • Anticoagulant (helping to prevent blood clotting)
  • Antidepressant

Basil seeds contain significant amounts of the following.3

  • Carbohydrates (the carbohydrates found in basil seeds are prebiotic and will support gut health)
  • Protein
  • Lipids including essential fatty acids
  • Amino acids
  • Minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium
  • Phenolic compounds

Basil leaves and stems

The leaves and stems of basil can be eaten fresh or dried, they can be powdered, juiced or made into a herbal tea. Many different food dishes from all over the world make use of basil as a flavouring. Basil is an essential herb for Italian, Thai and Mexican cuisine amongst others.

Basil is often found in combination with tomato as the flavours complement each other very well. The main vitamins found in basil are Vitamins A and C. 

Side effects and other concerns

As basil has had such a widespread and long history of usage both as a food and medicine, it can be considered a very safe herb and through the many clinical trials that have been carried out on many varieties and forms of the plant, minimal adverse effects have been found.

Some studies on animals have shown inconclusive results regarding any toxicity to embryos, for this reason, it is advised to avoid using Holy Basil during pregnancy. Another uncertain precaution that is advised is around fertility with the herb considered by some to have an antifertility effect and therefore it is best to avoid it if attempting to become pregnant.  Generally, there is a lack of trials involving the use of Holy Basil in human patients and much of the benefits discussed have been observed over the centuries of use. Some studies have found that Holy Basil enhances some liver activity and this may speed up the elimination of some medications.

As with many essential oils, avoid using too much in a bath and always ensure the pure oil is well diluted, likewise never use undiluted essential oil on the skin. Do not consume undiluted essential oil as it is very strong.

Holy Basil in tincture form is prescribed in Ayurvedic medicine at 40-60 drops, three times daily. For making Holy Basil tea it is suggested to add one teaspoon of dried leaf to hot water, steeped for 5-10 mins and to be drunk up to three times daily. Capsules of Holy Basil are available, following the individual manufacturer's instructions.


All forms of Basil are highly aromatic, flavourful and fabulous plants to grow in the garden or on a windowsill. The essential oils are potent and highly fragrant and have many uses. Many culinary dishes rely on this herb for its wonderful flavour and it is central to the cuisines of many parts of the world. Although human studies are limited to prove beyond doubt any medical benefits, a long history of usage in different countries, in both traditional folk medicine and modern medicine, suggests all forms of basil possess various health benefits. Accessing any health properties of basil is easily done by adding the herb in either fresh or dried form to cooking. If in doubt about using basil for a health complaint, consult a Medical Herbalist who will be able to advise on the best way of using this wonderful herb.


  1. Singletary KW. Basil: a brief summary of potential health benefits. Nutrition Today [Internet]. 2018 Apr [cited 2023 Jul 20];53(2):92. Available from:
  2. Jamshidi N, Cohen MM. The clinical efficacy and safety of tulsi in humans: a systematic review of the literature. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017;2017:9217567. Available from: 
  3. Calderón Bravo H, Vera Céspedes N, Zura-Bravo L, Muñoz LA. Basil seeds as a novel food, source of nutrients and functional ingredients with beneficial properties: a review. Foods [Internet]. 2021 Jun 24 [cited 2023 Jul 20];10(7):1467. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Victoria Ward

BSc, Herbal Medicine,University of Lincoln

Experienced Medical Herbalist BSc (Hons) and former nurse, highly knowledgeable about healthcare and medicinal plants. I’m especially interested in skin care and gut health. Regular blogger for my own website and freelance article writer. I enjoy writing both creative, ghostwriting and medical writing. Passionate about country life, have two horses and a collie dog.

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