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Basil: Benefits, Nutrition, Risks

Basil is an herb in the Lamiaceae plant family, also known as the mint family.

There are many different types of basil. For example, cinnamon, anise, and lemon basil are used around the world. Sweet basil, scientifically called Ocimum basilicum, is the most common type of basil used for cooking.

Many people enjoy sweet basil in pasta, pizza, and caprese salad. It’s a great way to add a source of vitamin K to your diet. You can also purchase different types of basil as supplements, tea, or essential oils.

Holy basil, also known as tulsi, has been used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine for thousands of years and is referred to as the elixir of life because of its many healing and anti-inflammatory benefits. Researchers believe consuming holy basil daily may help prevent health conditions, reduce stress, and treat acne.

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The amount of vitamins and minerals your body ingests from eating a small amount of basil is minimal. Still, just two tablespoons (tbsp) of chopped fresh basil contain 18% of the Daily Value (DV) of vitamin K.

Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting and bone health. Basil is a simple way to boost your vitamin K intake, especially if you don’t typically consume a lot of leafy, green vegetables.

Too much oxidative stress (an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in cells) can increase your risk of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and asthma.

Basil is full of antioxidants like polyphenols, phenolic acids, and flavonoids that combat harmful free radicals. Combating oxidative stress also further prevents certain cardiovascular conditions.

Many plant-based foods have anti-inflammatory properties that help prevent inflammation from chronic health conditions. Compounds in basil essential oil may reduce inflammation.

Rosmarinic acid is an anti-inflammatory polyphenol in basil used to treat arthritis and ulcers. Caffeic acid is another compound in basil that has anti-inflammatory effects.

Although animal studies have shown inflammatory markers, limited research exists on how anti-inflammatory properties affect humans consuming basil.

The chicoric, caffeic, and rosmarinic acid compounds in basil essential oil may help prevent viral proteins from causing infections.

Studies show that compounds in basil may have antiviral properties to combat DNA and RNA viruses. However, more human studies are needed to confirm whether basil can prevent viral infection in humans.

According to research, holy basil may strengthen immunity against viruses like COVID-19. Still, more research is needed to know how much consuming holy basil can boost your immune system if you are infected with the virus.

Holy basil is the main type of basil in most supplements. Supplements made from holy basil are sold in capsule form, but you can also purchase liquid options. Researchers suggest using basil supplements to help manage inflammation and diabetes. Some small studies also suggest using basil supplements to help manage stress.

Consult your healthcare provider before adding basil supplements to your routine. More studies are needed to determine the time it would take to see the effects.

The amount of basil most people consume from food is generally safe. However, since basil has a high amount of vitamin K, people taking blood thinners should be mindful of their total basil intake. Vitamin K plays a key role in blood clotting, so it’s important not to consume too much vitamin K if at risk for blood clots.

Basil supplements may also be unsafe when consumed in high doses. According to some animal studies, sweet basil contains high levels of estragole—a natural part of basil that can potentially cause cancer.

If you are considering taking basil supplements, speak with a healthcare provider about whether it is safe to take them, especially if you are also taking other medications.

While basil allergies are rare, you may be at higher risk of a basil allergy if you’re allergic to other herbs of the Lamiaceae family, like rosemary, thyme, or oregano. One study found that basil sensitivities were more likely among people with birch, mugwort, or pollen allergies. Basil allergies may also be more likely to occur in children with allergic rhinitis.

Basil can be added to a variety of sweet and savory recipes. To extend its shelf life, consider trimming the ends of your basil and storing it in a jar of water out of direct sunlight.

Here are some ways to incorporate basil into your diet:

  • Blend basil with olive oil and freeze for future use
  • Use basil to make homemade pesto
  • Make a Caprese salad or sandwich with mozzarella, tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar
  • Add basil leaves to homemade pizza
  • Purée basil in soup
  • Top avocado toast with basil leaves
  • Add basil to mocktails
  • Enjoy pasta dishes with whole or sliced basil leaves
  • Make a basil watermelon salad

Basil can also be added to sauces and jams for its nutritional benefits and taste. When added to some drinks, basil can increase the antioxidant activity of the beverage.

One study found that basil oil may help treat acne and eczema. Basil has also been mixed with other substances to heal wounds. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of basil may also help treat psoriasis flares, but research on the effectiveness of basil for skin health is limited.

Some studies show that basil can help preserve foods by preventing the growth of foodborne bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Although more research is needed, basil can also help treat chronic conditions.

Sweet basil is a popular herb full of vitamins and minerals that help support bone and digestive health. Nutrients like vitamin K help to keep bones strong while also reducing inflammation. Basil is generally safe when consumed in small amounts.

If you are considering taking basil as a supplement, consult your healthcare provider before adding it to your routine. Otherwise, you can enjoy basil in salads, soups, or on top of your favorite mocktails.

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