Fresh sweet basil is floral, pungent and readily available in the U.S. You’re probably well aware of the flavor it contributes to dishes, like pasta and salads. But what you may not be aware of are the powerful healing compounds associated with the essential oil. In fact, sweet basil oil can help the digestive, immune and nervous systems. If you haven’t tried it yet, here are some natural fixes that can really boost your health.
Sweet basil’s essentials
Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), is a plant with a thick foliage and small white flowers. Fresh basil projects a fresh and floral aroma, while the dried basil has a spicy and earthy scent. Like most herbs, sweet basil is loaded with health benefits. In fact, it’s a rich source of vitamin K, beta carotene and iron. In addition, this herb has anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
But the majority of basil’s benefits are attributed to its volatile oil and flavonoids. The preferred method for obtaining the oil is through steam distilling the flowers or the whole basil plant. These powerful, plant-based antioxidants reduce inflammation and help fight aging. Whether you take it internally or use it topically, here are some basil oil benefits you may want to consider.
1. Antibacterial and antifungal
Basil oil has antimicrobial activity that fights a wide range of foodborne bacteria, yeasts and even mold. A study published in Food Microbiology found that basil oil can stop the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Researchers looking for natural, toxin-free food preservatives, discovered that washing produce in a basil oil solution decreased shigella.
Shigella, a bacterium closely related to salmonella, produces abdominal pain, tenesmus, watery diarrhea, and dysentery. Other symptoms may include abdominal tenderness, fever, vomiting, dehydration and convulsions. Interestingly, a solution made from one percent basil oil decreased contamination below levels at which it could be detected. Scientists suggest including basil in your salad to provide similar safeguards.
In another earlier study from Australia, researchers looked at the effects of basil oil against bacteria, fungi, yeasts and molds. All five essential oils of basil showed antimicrobial activity against most of the organisms. That means you can use a solution of basil oil to remove bacteria and prevent contamination from kitchens and bathrooms. Simply combine basil oil with water in a spray bottle and wipe down surfaces.
2. Indigestion and cramping
Basil oil can help increase urine production, which in turn, can reduce water retention, uncomfortable bloating and digestive issues. It’s also an effective antispasmodic and can reduce food and illness associated cramping. Add one to two drops of sweet basil oil to warm water or tea. You can also inhale it or massage it directly into painful areas, such as the abdomen and lower back.
3. Constipation relief
Sweet basil oil can also provide natural constipation relief. Add one to two drops of sweet basil oil to warm water or tea. You’ll be feeling better in no time.
4. Flatulence and upset stomach
Basil essential oil is also useful as a digestive tonic. Since basil oil has carminative properties, it prevents or relieves flatulence. In fact, it can provide immediate relief from gas. It also has colic qualities and is therefore used to alleviate bowel pain. Alternately, sweet basil oil can expel gas from the stomach and intestine, helping calm an upset stomach, suggests the University of Michigan Health System.
5. Prevents infections
Due to basil’s antibacterial properties, it may also treat several infections, including cuts, wounds and bladder infections. It’s also great for avoiding viral infections that attack and enter the body through other wounds.
6. Pain relief
Often used for arthritic pain, wounds, sprains and headaches, basil oil is an analgesic and provides effective relief from pain. According to a study published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences, basil oil was found to reduce hyperalgesia in mice. Research suggests that sweet basil oil may also be a natural alternative for treating chronic painful conditions, such as fibromyalgia.
Basil’s powerful essential oils contain eugenol, citronellol and linalool. These enzyme-inhibiting oils help lower inflammation — the root cause of most diseases. In a 2007 study, researchers found that sweet basil oil significantly reduced an induced inflammation response in rats. Researchers found that sweet basil showed important anti-inflammatory effects.
8. Insect repellent
Similar to citronella and thyme oil, the volatile oils found in basil make a good, natural mosquito repellent to prevent bug bites. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association investigated sweet basil oil as an irritant and repellent against mosquitoes. Pure essential oil was used in combination with absolute ethanol. Researchers found that sweet basil oil is a moderate mosquito irritant and repellent. However, they found that another variety of basil, hairy basil, was a much more effective mosquito repellent.
Make your own homemade bug lotion by diluting several drops of basil essential oil in a carrier oil. Massage into the skin as needed.
9. Anxiety relief
A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology reported that basil oil relaxed mice experiencing stress. The study found that the protective properties of basil (particularly holy basil) on the brain tissue protected mice against the detrimental effect of noise stress.
10. Cold and flu Relief
If you feel a cold or flu coming on, basil oil may help diminish symptoms. This essential oil helps detoxify the body of bacteria and viruses. It also fights inflammation, pain and fatigue. Simply add a one to two drops to a steam bath. Alternately, make your own homemade vapor rub with eucalyptus oil and basil oil. Rub it into your chest to open nasal passages.
11. Air freshener
Sweet basil oil is ideal for eliminating odor-causing bacteria and mold in your home, car and furniture. Combine basil oil with baking soda to remove stains and bacteria from pots or pans. You can even spray it inside your toilet, shower and garbage cans.
Now that you know everything sweet basil can do, are you ready to give it a try? Here are all the ways that you can get it into your system.
Inhale the oil directly from the bottle or rub several drops into your palms. Hold your hands over, but not touching, your face to inhale.
Always dilute basil oil with a carrier oil such as coconut oil or almond oil. Use a 1:1 ratio before applying onto the skin. Because it is potent, it’s best to start slowly. Basil oil may cause reactions in people with sensitive skin. Test before applying to the skin and avoid the face, neck and chest prior to testing.
The FDA recognizes pure basil oil as safe for consumption, but only when using 100 percent therapeutic-grade, high-quality oil. Look for Ocimum basilicum and add a drop in water. Or, take it as a dietary supplement by mixing it with raw honey.
You won’t have any trouble finding sweet basil oil because it’s produced in the U.S. and harvested from February to September. So the next time you have a cold, or simply want to freshen your home naturally, give it a try. Your nose will thank you.
— Katherine Marko