Basil is one of the most fundamental herbs when it comes to Italian cooking.
It’s used to flavor sauces and vinaigrettes and it serves as a base for the ever-classic pesto. It’s also a major component of South East Asian cuisine.
Over 60 different varieties of Ocimum basilicum exist and they all have valuable medicinal properties.
Far From Just a Garnish
Basil tea can be used to treat stomach spasms, intestinal gas, loss of appetite, fluid retention, kidney conditions, head colds, warts, and intestinal parasites. It also lowers and stabilizes cholesterol levels.
The oil can even be applied to bites caused by non-poisonous snakes and insects (1).
It’s All in the Antioxidants
Basil is full of antioxidants that can help improve the symptoms of arthritis, IBS, and other inflammatory conditions (2,3,4,5).
More specifically, the herb contains beta-caryophyllene, which has anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic properties (6).
In fact, one study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that “Basil essential oils and their principal constituents … exhibit antimicrobial activity against a wide range of Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, yeast, and mold.”(7).
In regards to basil’s cancer-fighting properties, regular basil (not just holy basil) has the ability to reduce the size of tumors by inhibiting lipid peroxidation caused by free radicals.
It also inhibits the formation of lactate dehydrogenase, an enzyme involved in tumor initiation and metabolism (8).
Straight to the Heart
Basil can help improve heart health and the function of the cardiovascular system as a whole.
Because it contains magnesium, eating lots of basil can help improve abnormal heart rhythms and low blood pressure as well as prevent coronary heart disease.
And it’s not just a prevention tool: if you’ve suffered a heart attack, eating more basil and other magnesium-rich foods will speed along your recovery (9,10).
It’s also a good source of vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and iron.
How To Cook With Basil
In order to preserve the flavor and nutrients of this fragrant herb, add it to your dish only at the last minute. Although dried basil is highly popular, it’s always best to use fresh basil and it’s very easy to grow at home!
To get a large dose of the herb all at once, make a pesto by combing 3 handfuls of chopped basil, half a clove of garlic, a handful each of toasted pine nuts and shredded parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil into a food processor. Pulse for a few seconds and add a bit more olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper and a squirt of lemon. Continue pulsing until smooth and serve.
If you’d rather drink it as a tea, simply steep a few leaves in a cup of hot water for 8 minutes or so.