Arguably the most popular fresh herb (probably because it’s a pizza topper), basil has a sweet, aromatic and somewhat peppery flavor. Like the other fresh herbs, it’s rich in plant polyphenols that are thought to prevent chronic diseases. Not surprisingly, basil pairs well with Mediterranean flavors and works best when added at the end of cooking, as previously noted. Here Joseph Nordqvist, MedicalNewsToday.com, reflects on uses, benefits, and nutrition of basil, medically reviewed by Karen Gill, MD:
“Basil, also known as Saint Joseph's Wort, is an herb belonging to the mint family. It is used in cooking and may have some health benefits.
Basil's proposed benefits include reducing inflammation, and it is said to have anti-aging and antibacterial properties.
This article is part of a collection of articles about the health benefits of popular foods. It highlights the potential health benefits of consuming basil and provides a nutritional profile for the herb.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is well known for its use in Italian cuisine. It is one of the primary ingredients in pesto sauce. Basil is also commonly included in Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisine.
Basil is used in traditional Tamil and Ayurvedic medicine, which is a form of traditional medicine popular on the Indian subcontinent.
There are a number of types of basil, which differ in taste and smell. Sweet basil (the most commercially available basil used in Italian food) has a strong clove scent because of its high concentration of the chemical agent eugenol.
Alternatively, lime and lemon basil have a strong citrus scent due to their high concentration of limonene.
Research indicates that there may be several health benefits associated with basil.
Studies have shown that basil “contains a wide range of essential oils, rich in phenolic compounds, and a wide array of other natural products including polyphenols such as flavonoids and anthocyanins.”
According to research conducted at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, basil contains (E)-beta-caryophyllene (BCP), which may be useful in treating arthritis and inflammatory bowel diseases.
Reducing the effects of oxidative stress
An adaptogen is a herbal medicine that helps the body adapt to stress; ginseng is perhaps the most well known. Basil may also fall into this category.
In one studyTrusted Source, rabbits were exposed to oxidative stress (an increase in damaging free radicals). The rabbits were given 2 grams of fresh basil leaves each day for 30 days, and cardiovascular and respiratory adaptation were monitored.
The researchers measured a significant decrease in blood sugar levels and an increase in antioxidant activity. The basil appeared to help the rabbits deal better with oxidative stress.
According to research presented at the British Pharmaceutical Conference (BPC) in Manchester, basil also has properties that might help prevent some of the harmful effects of aging.
Holy basil extract was effective at killing off harmful molecules and preventing damage caused by some free radicals in the liver, brain, and heart.
The researchers, led by Dr. Vaibhav Shinde from Poona College of Pharmacy, Maharashtra, India, studied the herb for antioxidant and anti-aging properties.
Dr. Shinde said: “The study validates the traditional use of the herb as a youth-promoting substance in the Ayurvedic system of medicine. It also helps describe how the herb acts at a cellular level.”
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