5 Health Benefits of Basil

More than a pop of color for your latest culinary creation, basil leaves provide benefits that are almost endless.

“Basil contains nutrients and compounds that help prevent chronic diseases, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and arthritis,” says registered dietitian Gillian Culbertson., RD, LD. “On top of that, basil has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits. And it can even improve your mental health, depending on the variety and form you use.”

What is basil?

Basil (scientific name: basil) an herb commonly used in Italian and Southeast Asian cooking, such as Thai and Vietnamese food. It comes in many varieties with different flavors, colors and leaf shapes, so the sky is the limit on how you can prepare and consume it.

Common types of basil include:

  • Sweet basil: If you’ve tried basil before, it’s probably sweet basil — the most popular variety. Sweet basil has basil’s trademark round, curved, grass-green leaves and is a great base for pesto.
  • Genovese basil: Genovese basil is the cousin of Italian basil. Also good in pesto and other Italian dishes, it has larger, darker green leaves and a stronger flavor.
  • Thai sweet basil: Thai sweet basil leaves are flatter and more pointed than sweet basil leaves. But the differences don’t stop there. Its leaves have a distinctive dark licorice flavor that holds up well to high cooking temperatures, unlike sweet basil.
  • Purple basil: This variety of basil has beautiful reddish purple leaves. And its flavor is just as bold – it’s like herby cloves.
  • Holy basil (tulsi): As its name suggests, people use it for Hinduism worship. In Ayurvedic medicine (an ancient medical system from India), practitioners also consider it one of the most important medicinal herbs. More bitter than other basil varieties when eaten raw.

You can buy basil leaves fresh, frozen or dried. Basil is also an easy​​​​​​​DIY herb – all you need is a pot, soil and lots of sunlight. And to remember its water. If used medicinally, you can buy basil as a:

  • Essential oil.
  • Extract.
  • Powder.

Is basil good for you?

The answer is a resounding yes, says Culbertson — in more ways than one. “Basil is a great source of vitamin K, especially dried basil leaves. Vitamin K helps strengthen your bones. It also plays a big role in your blood’s ability to clot. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

A review of 24 human studies found that all reported results were in favor of basil’s health benefits, including positive effects on:

  • Blood sugar health.
  • Heart and blood vessel (blood) health.
  • Immunity.
  • The ability to think and reason (neurocognition).

Culbertson shares five main health benefits of basil:

1. Protects against cell damage

Basil leaves are full of antioxidants, natural compounds that protect your body’s cells. Your cells are damaged by oxidative stress when they have too many free radicals. “Your body produces free radicals in response to stress and inflammation. Free radicals also come from environmental exposures, such as cigarette smoke and ultraviolent (UV) radiation,” explains Culbertson. antioxidants act as a shield against free radicals – and the health problems they cause.”

If left unchecked, oxidative stress can lead to health conditions that include:

2. Prevents cancer

Many studies have shown the potential of sweet basil essential oil to prevent certain cancers. In a lab study, sweet basil inhibited the growth of human colon cancer cells in test tubes. In another study, scientists found that leaf extracts from six different varieties of basil all had anticancer properties. Basil blocks the ability of cancer cells to grow and divide, ultimately destroying them.

“There is increasing evidence that basil can be a powerful cancer prevention tool,” Culbertson said. “But researchers need to do more human studies to confirm these promising results and determine how much basil people should eat.”

3. Helps manage blood pressure and cholesterol

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been treating cardiovascular disease with basil for centuries — and with good reason. Non-human studies have shown that it can reduce high blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.

“Plus, holy basil contains eugenol, an oil that helps lower blood pressure by relaxing your blood vessels,” says Culbertson. “Studies have tested many forms of basil, including extracts, leaves and leaf powder.”

4. Improve blood sugar levels

Human and lab studies have shown basil’s special ability to manage blood sugar. For example, scientists observed that basil extract contributed to a significant reduction in blood sugar levels in lab models of diabetes. Another non-human study showed similar effects of holy basil extract.

“Human studies are in early stages but show some exciting potential benefits for blood sugar management and Type 2 diabetes,” says Culbertson. “But we need more research to fully understand the effects of different types of basil on blood sugar health.”

5. Improves mental health

Research shows that daily consumption of basil can influence many aspects of your mental health. In four different human studies, holy basil has been shown to:

  • Improve cognitive function, including short-term memory and attention.
  • Improves mood.
  • Reduce stress and anxiety.

Another non-human lab study showed that basil essential oils have the potential to reduce depression and age-related memory loss. “The results were so positive that the researchers concluded that it was time to see if basil could improve the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Culbertson. “It’s exciting to better understand the potential of basil after so much research has been done.”

How to include basil in a healthy diet

Before you run out to get your basil supplements, Culbertson has a few words of caution. “If you want to add basil to your diet to improve a specific medical condition, you should first look at food sources, not supplements, and you should also talk to your healthcare provider.

“They can help you make sure that eating basil doesn’t interact with any medications you’re taking. For example, basil with blood-thinning medications can thin your blood too much. There’s also a risk that your blood sugar or blood pressure will be low when eating basil and medicine for these issues.

Most grocery stores carry both fresh and dried basil leaves. You can also find a variety of varieties at farmers markets and ethnic food stores.

“The flavor of dried basil tends to be stronger. So, if you have dried basil on hand, use one-half to one-third the amount of fresh basil you would,” suggests Culbertson. leaves, and pay attention to the type you have. Some types of basil, such as sweet basil and Italian, are best used fresh as a garnish. However, other types, such as Thai basil, can prevent in the heat and cooked.

No matter how you choose to eat it, you’ll feel good knowing that you’re not only exciting your taste buds, but also improving your health.

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