Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle

Updated at 2021-01-30 07:27:32 UTC

The Incredible Health Benefits Of Basil

National Center for Biotechnology Information

  Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a culinary herb prominently featured in Italian and Southeast Asian cuisines. While many varieties of basil exist, sweet basil is one of the most predominant and most frequently examined herbs for its health benefits. Basil is originally native to Iran and other tropical regions of Asia, but now it is widely available throughout the world. Basil’s antioxidant, antimutagenic, antitumorigenic, antiviral, and antibacterial properties likely arise from a variety of components including linalool, 1,8-cineole, estragole, and eugenol (Muller et al. 1994; Chiang et al. 2005; Makri and Kintzios 2007). Similar to most culinary spices, far more information is needed about the variation in content of constituents as a function of plant varietal, growing conditions, and processing.

The essential oil of basil possesses antimicrobial properties (Wannissorn et al. 2005). Moghaddam, Karamoddin, and Ramezani (2009) investigated the effect of basil on Helicobacter pylori and found that methanol, butanol, and n-hexane fractions of basil demonstrated antagonistic activity against the bacteria (MIC = 39-117 μg/disk). While not as potent as amoxicillin, its effectiveness raises possibilities of using individual or multiple spices as potent antimicrobials, especially in areas where commercial antibiotics are in limited supply (Moghaddam, Karamoddin, and Ramezani 2009).


Basil is originally native to Iran, but now it is widely available throughout the world.

The effects of basil are not limited to its antimicrobial properties because evidence indicates that it also can lower oxidative damage in animal models (Dasgupta, Rao, and Yadava 2004). Feeding mice 200 and 400 mg/kg body weight with a hydroalcoholic extract of basil leaves for 15 days markedly increased GPx (1.22-1.4 fold), glutathione (GSH) reductase (1.16-1.28 fold), catalase (1.56-1.58 fold), and superoxide dismutase (1.1-1.4 fold; Dasgupta, Rao, and Yadava 2004). The change in activity in one or more of these enzymes may explain the decrease in lipid peroxidation caused by basil in studies by Dasgupta, Rao, and Yadava (2004). Dr?gan et al. (2007) examined the effects of balsamic vinegar–enriched extracts from several herbs (rosemary, sage, and basil) in soups and salads on oxidative stress and quality of life measures in women with stage IIIB and IV breast cancer. While there was a decrease in oxidative stress, the complexity of the dietary intervention made it impossible to determine the component(s) that led to improvements.

Several studies provide evidence that basil is an antimutagenic spice (Kusamran, Tepsuwan, and Kupradinun 1998; Stajkovic et al. 2007). Stajkovic et al. (2007) studied the antimutagenic effects of basil on mutagenicity in Salmonella typhimurium TA98, TA100, and TA102 cells in the presence or absence of liver microsomal activation. The essential oil of basil, at concentrations ranging from 0.5 μL/plate to 2.0 μL/plate, inhibited mutations from ultraviolet irradiation (dose = 6 J/m2) by 22-76%. Mutations caused by 4-nitroquinoline-N-oxide (0.15 μg/plate) were decreased by 23-52%, and those from 2-nitropropane (14.9 mg/plate) by 8-30%. These findings are consistent with studies by Jeurissen et al. (2008), who demonstrated that 50 μg/mL basil largely blocked DNA adduct formation caused by 1′-hydroxyestragole in the human hepatoma (HepG2) cell line, possibly by promoting phase II enzymes and thereby conjugation and elimination of this carcinogen. These findings likely explain the ability of basil to decrease the mutagenicity of aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) and benzo(a)pyrene (B(a)P) (Stajkovic et al. 2007). The mutagenicity of AFB1was inhibited by >30% by the presence of 1-2 mg/plate of a hexane-based basil extract and 0.5-1 mg/ plate of chloroform- and methanol-based basil extracts. Because B(a)P mutagenicity was only inhibited by chloroform- and methanol-based basil extracts at doses of 2-5 mg/plate, multiple constituents might be responsible for basil’s antimutagenic activities.

The anticancer properties of basil in preclinical studies are mixed. In studies with Sprague-Dawley rats fed with an AIN-76 diet with or without high concentrations of basil (6.25% and 12.5%), there was no clear indication of a decrease in 9,10-dimethyl-1,2-benzathracene (DMBA)-induced mammary cancer. It is unclear whether the quantity of the procarcinogen examined, the simultaneous induction of both phase I and II enzymes, or some other factors accounted for the lack of protection by adding basil to the animals’ diet (Kusamran, Tepsuwan, and Kupradinun 1998). Nevertheless, there is evidence that basil can decrease DMBA-induced carcinogenesis. Providing Swiss mice with a diet containing 150 or 300 mg/kg body weight of basil extract decreased DMBA-induced skin tumors (12.5% reduction and 18.75% reduction for lower and higher doses, respectively), and lowered the tumor burden per mouse. Compared to the average number of tumors per mouse in the controls, the tumor burden was approximately 2.4 times lower (p < .01) in the low-dose basil group and 4.6 times lower (p < .001) in the high-dose basil group (Dasgupta, Rao, and Yadava 2004). It is unclear whether differences in the response between mice and rats reflect the species, the cancer site, or the dietary or procarcinogen exposures.

DNA methyltransferase (MGMT) is a critical repair protein in the cellular defense against alkylation damage. MGMT is highly expressed in human cancers and in tumors resistant to many anticancer alkylating agents. Niture, Rao, and Srivenugopal (2006) examined the ability of several medicinal plants to upregulate O6-methylguanine adducts. Both ethanol and aqueous extracts of basil increased MGMT protein levels in HT29 human colon carcinoma cell lines 1.25-fold compared to controls after 72-hours incubation. Compared to the control, basil increased glutathione-S-transferase (GST) protein activity 1.33-fold after 12 hours of incubation; after 24 hours, GST activity increased 1.68-fold compared to the control, which declined to 1.47-fold after 72 hours incubation. Because MGMT is one of the body’s first lines of defense against alkylation DNA damage, a small increase (two- to threefold) in this enzyme may protect against mutagenic lesions (Niture, Rao, and Srivenugopal 2006).

The anticancer properties of basil may also relate to its ability to influence viral infections. Individuals with hepatitis B are recognized to be at increased risk for hepatocellular carcinoma (Fung, Lai, and Yuen 2009; Ishikawa 2010). Chiang et al. (2005) evaluated the antiviral activities of basil extract and selected basil constituents in a human skin basal cell carcinoma cell line (BCC-1/ KMC) and a cell line derived from hepatoblastoma HepG2 cells (2.2.15) against several viruses, including hepatitis B. Impressively, Chiang et al. (2005) found that the aqueous extract of basil, along with apigenin and ursolic acid, displayed greater anti-hepatitis B activity than two commercially available drugs, glycyrrhizin and lamivudine (3TC). Overall, these studies raise intriguing questions about the merits of using commercially available spices to retard viruses and potentially cancer. Undeniably, much more information is needed to clarify the amounts and durations needed to bring about a desired viral response and the mechanism by which a response occurs.

It should be noted that there are concerns about excess basil exposure. Estragole, a suspect procarcinogen/mutagenic found in basil, raises questions about the balance between benefits and risks with the use of this and other spices (Muller et al. 1994). Now, the majority of evidence points to the antimutagenic effects of basil outweighing the potential adverse effects associated with estragole-induced cell damage (Jeurissen et al. 2008).