Basil is a culinary herb that belongs to the mint family. The scientific name of basil is Ocimum basilicum. It is native to warm, tropical regions of Asia, and is grown in large-scale in Iran, India, southern parts of Asia, etc. Basil leaves are light green in color with a soft texture and refreshing strong aroma. It is widely used for seasoning foods particularly in Italian cuisine. It also features in cuisines of Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Cambodia.
Fresh leaves of basil is a rich source of folic acid, which has a major role in various metabolic processes. It contains a good amount of essential vitamins like vitamin C and vitamin K, and important minerals such as magnesium, calcium, iron, and potassium. The leaves have a component named beta-carotene, which has amazing antioxidant properties. This antioxidant protects the body cells from the damage caused by free radicals. Thus, it prevents premature aging of the cells and reduces the risk of various diseases such as cancer and arthritis.
There are many different varieties of basil such as lemon basil, red basil, cinnamon basil, etc. The leaves of all these varieties contain essential oils in varying proportions. The basil essential oil has a component named eugenol, which acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. Swelling or inflammation in human body is triggered by a certain enzyme known as 'cyclooxygenase'. Eugenol helps suppress the activity of this enzyme, and thus reduce the inflammation.
Basil leaves are often used as a herbal medicine, and have an amazing effect on several health problems. Some of the major benefits of these leaves are as follows:
- The leaves are popularly used to treat the symptoms of common cold and flu. They can be safely given to small children without fear of any side effects. Simply chewing the fresh basil leaves can provide relief from cough. To treat sore throat, boil some leaves in water, and then use it for gargling. Fresh basil juice extracted from its leaves can bring down the fever. For this, boil 6-7 leaves of the herb, some cloves, and a pinch of common salt in a glass of water, and drink this decoction after a gap of every 2-3 hours.
- They are highly effective on chronic upper-respiratory disorders like asthma, bronchitis, and sinus infection. Boil some leaves with a small piece of ginger. Add some honey to the decoction and drink it. It should be taken daily in order to get best results.
- Magnesium present in basil leaves relaxes the muscles and blood vessels, and improves blood circulation. Thus, daily consumption of the leaves may help reduce the chances of various cardiovascular diseases.
- They help improve the functioning of the kidneys. Those who have kidney stones should take freshly extracted basil juice mixed with equal amount of honey, everyday for 6 months. This will facilitate the elimination of kidney stones through urinary tract.
- They are beneficial for the digestive system. The juice obtained from the leaves can be used for curing stomach ache or cramps. Mix one teaspoon of basil juice with equal amount of ginger juice and have it. It will ease off the pain almost instantly. Basil tea is beneficial for various common stomach problems like constipation, indigestion, acidity, etc.
- The herb provides excellent solution for various skin problems such as acne, ringworm, psoriasis, and insect bites. When fresh juice of basil is applied on the skin, its anti-inflammatory properties helps reduce the skin inflammation and provides relief. Moreover, it can have a hydrating effect on the dull, dry skin, and make it soft, supple, and healthy. This is possible because of the presence of vitamin C, beta carotene, and various minerals in it.
- Basil leaves are good for oral health too. Dry some leaves and make a powder out of it. Use it as a toothpaste by mixing a little mustard oil to this powder. It can fight off bad breath and various other periodontal diseases.
- The strong aroma of basil essential oil has a soothing effect on our senses. The consumption of leaves has an amazing effect on various problems associated with stress like headache, depression, etc. Those who have migraine problems can apply a thick paste of basil leaves and sandalwood powder on the forehead for faster relief.
It is difficult to keep the freshness of the leaves intact while storing them in refrigerator. Therefore, you should wrap them up in paper towels, and put them inside a plastic bag before placing it in the fridge. Store dry basil leaves by putting them in an air tight container. Make sure you use it up within one year. To yield maximum health benefits of basil, you may add the leaves in your daily cuisines. However, ensure that you add them only after removing the food from heat. This is because heat destroys the vitamins and minerals present in the leaves.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by an expert on the subject.