Basil: Spice And Medicinal Plant

Basil is typical of Italian cuisine. Whether pesto, pasta, or pizza: It is the aromatic basil that makes many of the world’s most popular dishes something very special. But basil is not only a treat for the palate but also a valuable medicinal plant. Basil reduces inflammation and joint pain, relieves stress, calms the stomach, and can even put multidrug-resistant bacteria in their place. In addition, basil is a good source of vitamin K, calcium, iron, and beta-carotene.

Basil – balm for the soul

When “basil” is mentioned in Europe, it is usually the particularly diverse species Ocimum basilicum, which has been cultivated in the Mediterranean region for around 3,500 years.

It is hard to imagine that the aromatic spice was not considered a culinary highlight for a long time, but was primarily used as a medicinal and ritual plant. So put z. For example, the ancient Egyptians took basil with the pharaohs to their graves and tried to use it to protect themselves from spirits and demons.

Today, basil is one of the most popular spice plants on earth, and the Italians are not entirely to blame for this. Because no matter where they went, they brought back basil-rich recipes from their homeland, which were very popular all over the world.

The basil must not be missing from the obligatory pasta with tomato sauce. And isn’t it just that one basil leaf that makes the no-frills Pizza Margerita your favorite pizza?

However, if you want to enjoy the extraordinary density of vital substances in basil, then a single leaf is of little use. In the form of pesto, for example, larger quantities of basil can also be easily enjoyed – which then also provide relevant vital substance contents.

Basil: the vital substances

Basil contains many trace elements, minerals, and vitamins, such as B. manganese, copper, and vitamin C. However, the following vital substance contents are particularly interesting (per 50 g fresh basil):

  • 2,000 µg beta-carotene: This amount corresponds to half the amount of beta-carotene from carrots – and carrots are the top beta-carotene suppliers. Beta carotene serves the body as a raw material for vitamin A formation, acts as an antioxidant, e.g. B. counteracts inflammation, keeps the nerve cells healthy, cares for the mucous membranes, and is important for vision. The organism can produce around 330 µg of vitamin A from 2,000 µg of beta-carotene (daily requirement 800 µg).
  • 125 mg calcium for bones and teeth (daily requirement 1,000 mg)
  • 3 mg iron for blood formation (daily requirement 10 – 15 mg)
  • 88 µg of vitamin K – in just 20 g of basil. Two large tablespoons of pesto are therefore sufficient to cover around 100 percent of the recommended daily requirement of vitamin K (70 µg). Vitamin K is important for blood clotting and bone metabolism and contributes to a healthy cardiovascular system. The so-called Rotterdam Heart Study showed that people who ate foods with a high proportion of natural vitamin K over a period of 10 years had significantly fewer calcium deposits in the arteries. The researchers concluded that a diet rich in vitamin K can reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by as much as 50 percent.

Basil in folk medicine: the areas of application

Basil is not a typical medicinal plant, since its healing effect – is compared to other medicinal plants. B. St. John’s wort – is not so pronounced.

Nevertheless, basil is medically recognized and is still used in folk medicine for various ailments, e.g. E.g. at:

  • stress
  • inflammation
  • Digestive problems including stomach problems
  • depression and mood swings
  • sleep disorders
  • migraine
  • dizziness
  • Menstrual pain and menopausal symptoms
  • sore throat and hoarseness
  • skin diseases
  • joint pain

Basil: The special active ingredients

The healing effect comes in particular from the essential oil of basil. Its components (e.g. linalool, citral, eugenol, etc.) have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, analgesic, and anti-cancer effects.

The substance cineol is also found in the essential oil of basil. It has an expectorant and antibacterial effect and can provide relief for both acute and chronic and inflammatory respiratory diseases as well as asthma and hay fever. Studies have shown that pure cineole can significantly improve lung function in asthma and the lung disease COPD.

Another substance in basil is estragole. Its reputation, however, is less good. Because in studies, estragole harmed fruit flies and other laboratory animals – and it was already said that herbs with estragole were dangerous for humans, which meant that mothers no longer even dared to give their children fennel tea. Because estragole is also contained in fennel.

In the studies concerned, however, the pure estragole was isolated from the plant and administered in a highly concentrated form. However, no one takes such high doses when drinking fennel tea or eating pesto.

Highly concentrated basil preparations made from essential basil oil are not recommended for small children and during pregnancy and breastfeeding. But essential oils are only used very sparingly in children anyway – and certainly not internally.

The content and composition of the essential basil oil vary greatly depending on the variety, origin, and time of harvest. The plant has the highest content of essential oil just before flowering.

Basil is effective against multi-resistant bacteria

If a disease occurs caused by bacteria, it is usually treated with antibiotics. The matter is problematic when multi-resistant pathogens are involved since the majority of antibiotics against these bacteria are limited or no longer effective at all.

Since the development and spread of multi-resistant bacteria are constantly increasing, alternatives are required. Various studies have shown that essential basil oil can even successfully combat multi-resistant pathogens.

Bulgarian researchers at the Bulgarian Drug Agency have shown that essential basil oil can be used to combat multi-resistant strains of the bacteria Staphylococcus, Enterococcus, and Pseudomonas.

Basil helps with inflammation

Where there are bacteria, there is usually also inflammation. Practically, basil not only has an antibacterial effect, but also an anti-inflammatory effect, which is not only beneficial in the case of acute bacterial inflammation, but also in the case of chronic inflammatory diseases such as e.g. B. Crohn’s disease, diabetes, periodontitis, multiple sclerosis, arthritis or rheumatism can be advantageous.

Anti-inflammatory drugs such as the so-called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. ibuprofen) or COX-2 inhibitors are often used here, but these come with serious side effects such as e.g. B. bleeding gastric ulcers or impairment of kidney function.

Studies have shown that similar to COX-2 inhibitors, basil eugenol inhibits the pro-inflammatory enzyme cylooxygenase (COX).

How is basil essential oil used?

Basil essential oil can be taken internally, inhaled, and applied to the skin.

Basil Oil: External use

Since essential oils can irritate the skin, it is usually recommended for external use to mix the essential oil with a carrier oil (e.g. jojoba oil). A few drops of the essential oil in 50 ml of jojoba oil are sufficient.

Basil essential oil can B. help with insect bites, cracked skin, or skin diseases. In the case of acne, the inflamed skin areas can often be treated better with the help of essential oil than with standard treatment, as a study at the Universidad de Cartagena in Spain has shown.

To rub painful parts of the body, e.g. For example, for joint pain, the oil can also be used pure (1 to 4 drops), since the skin irritation can consciously stimulate the production of the body’s own anti-inflammatory and analgesic substances (counterirritant effect).

The oil can also be applied (in tiny amounts) to the temples to relieve migraines, calm nervousness, and sharpen the mind.

Basil oil: internal use

When used internally, essential basil oil has a strong anticonvulsant and anti-inflammatory effect but also has a relaxing and pain-relieving effect. The areas of application include B. Stomach and menstrual cramps, intestinal infections, and flatulence.

If essential oils are used internally, it is generally recommended to consult a naturopath. The dosage is usually 1 to 2 drops per dose.

In addition, the essential oil z. B. in the case of restlessness, depression, and sleep disorders as well as in terms of aromatherapy (scent lamp).

Important: When buying, always make sure that it is a 100 percent natural, high-quality essential oil. If the packaging contains neither the botanical name nor the reference to controlled organic cultivation but instead references such as “For the aromatization of living space”, the product is not suitable for medical treatment!

Basil tea

Basil tea is particularly easy to prepare and use. He helps e.g. B. for loss of appetite, flatulence, upset stomach, restlessness, and sleep disorders. It can also be used to gargle a sore throat.
Pour 150 ml of boiling water over 1 tablespoon of fresh basil and let the tea steep for 10 minutes. The tea can be sweetened with honey.

It is advisable to drink a cup of basil tea twice a day if necessary, but – as with any herbal tea – not to use it permanently, but to alternate it with other herbal teas.

Basil is also ideal as a component of a herbal tea mixture – and of course as a seductive spice in the kitchen.

Basil: The prima donna in the kitchen

Basil can be described as the epitome of Italian cuisine. The spice harmonizes extremely well with all dishes that contain garlic, peppers, tomatoes, and olive oil.

In relation to other spices, however, basil shows a very dominant character and prefers to appear as a prima donna. With oregano or marjoram, however, basil is quite ready to enter into a seductive liaison.

Among the most well-known basil dishes are the Caprese, a tomato and mozzarella salad, and of course the pesto alla Genovese, where basil clearly plays the leading role. The term pesto comes from the Italian word “pestare” (to crush). This indicates that the sauce used to be made in a mortar – today a hand blender or blender is often used.

A real delicacy is a pesto only when it is freshly prepared. Industrially produced pesto is usually made durable by preservatives and the aroma also leaves a lot to be desired in most cases.

Aside from the well-known basil recipes, however, there are countless other ways to get the most out of the distinctive spice.

Recipe: Basil risotto with pine nuts

This dish shows that basil does not need any frills and that you can make something very special from just a few ingredients.

Ingredients for 4 servings:

  • 450 g risotto rice
  • about 1 liter of vegetable broth
  • 36 basil leaves
  • 3 shallots
  • 20 grams of pine nuts
  • 8 tbsp olive oil
  • if desired: Parmesan cheese (also available vegan)
  • sea-salt
  • pepper from the grinder


Rinse the fresh basil leaves briefly with cold water and gently pat dry with a piece of kitchen paper.
Put 30 basil leaves, 4 to 5 tablespoons of olive oil, and some salt and pepper in the blender and make a homogeneous sauce. Of course, you can also use a hand blender or a mortar.
Finely slice the shallots. Fry them briefly in 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan.
Add the rice, stir and pour in the hot broth.
Let the risotto simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes and don’t forget to stir it from time to time so that it doesn’t burn.
If necessary, continuously top up with broth.
Stir in the pesto and 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese.
Remove the risotto from the heat and let it rest for about 5 minutes.
Then divide the risotto among the plates and garnish with the toasted pine nuts and the remaining basil leaves.

Tip: So that the basil can fully develop its fresh taste, you should either not cook it at all or only a part of it.

Preserve basil: basil oil

Compared to other Mediterranean herbs such as sage or rosemary, basil has the disadvantage that it loses its aroma when dried. For this reason, fresh leaves are usually used.

However, there are ways to preserve the basil and preserve aroma. You can either freeze the fresh herb, use it to make pesto, or make a tasty basil oil.

To do this, chop up a handful of basil leaves and put them in a dark, sealable bottle. Then fill the bottle with 500 ml extra virgin olive oil and leave the basil oil in a warm place, shaking it occasionally so that it can infuse.

It is crucial that the leaves are always completely covered with olive oil, otherwise, there is a risk of mold!

Then you can add the basil oil e.g. B. filter through a cloth, pour it back into a bottle, and conjure up summer feelings on the table even in the depths of winter.

Aside from the leaves, the small bluish-black basil seeds can also be enjoyed.

Basil seeds give power

Chia seeds are very trendy at the moment, but basil seeds also have a lot to offer. In Thailand this z. B. as a thickening agent application, as they develop a slimy consistency on contact with water.

When basil seeds are soaked in water, they expand to many times their original volume. Basil seeds are basically tasteless, but they are great for adding delicious desserts such as B. to produce pudding.

You can also nibble the crunchy seeds as a small snack between meals (drink plenty of water), mix them in smoothies or add a special touch to muesli, soups, or salads.

The small power packages are packed with many important vital substances and are also good for the intestines.

You can also use the basil seeds to grow sprouts. You should know that slime-forming seeds (e.g. basil or cress) should only be briefly watered once and then only wetted with a water sprayer if necessary.

Of course, you can also use the seeds to grow your own basil plants.

Basil in the garden and on the balcony

Perhaps you too have had the painful experience that the basil you bought in a pot died after just a week, despite care. This is because the plants are often sold when they are already very stressed (e.g. due to cold periods).

If you want to harvest fresh basil throughout the summer and into the fall, you shouldn’t buy the plants in the supermarket, but rather from your trusted gardener. If you want to sow basil seeds in a pot, keep in mind that they are so-called light germinators, which must not be covered with soil.

Basil plants do not require much care. If the sun children receive sufficient heat and light, the soil is rich in nutrients and is always kept slightly moist, you can look forward to healthy, lush growth and a rich harvest.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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