The king of herbs basil herb is one of the oldest and popular herbal plants brimming with notable health-benefiting phytonutrients. This highly prized plant is revered as "holy herb" in many traditions all around the world.
Basil belongs to the family of Lamiaceae, in the genus: Ocimum. Its scientific name is "Ocimum basilicum."
Basil is 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 1 inch 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.
Health benefits of Basil herb
- Basil leaves hold many notable plants derived chemical compounds that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties.
- Basil herb contains many polyphenolic flavonoids like orientin and vicenin. These compounds were tested in-vitro laboratory for their possible anti-oxidant protection against radiation-induced lipid per-oxidation in mouse liver.
- Basil leaves compose of several 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.
- The herbs' parts are very low in calories and contain no cholesterol, but are very rich source of many essential nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that are required for optimum health.
- Basil herb contains exceptionally high levels of beta-carotene, vitamin A, cryptoxanthin, lutein and zea-xanthin. These compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease processes.
- 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.
- 100 g 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.
Medicinal uses of basil herb
- 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.
- Oil of basil herb has also been found to have anti-infective functions by inhibiting many pathogenic bacteria like Staphylococcus, Enterococci, Shigella and Pseudomonas.
- Basil tea (brewed basil-water) helps relieve nausea and is thought to have mild anti-septic functions.