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African Basil

Scientific Name(s): Ocimum gratissimum L.
Common Name(s): African basil, Clove basil, East Indian basil, Nchanwu leaf, Russian basil, Shrubby basil, Tree basil, Wild basil (Hawaii)

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 1, 2022.

Clinical Overview


Antimicrobial, antioxidant, cardiovascular, glucose-lowering, and anti-inflammatory activities have been demonstrated with O. gratissimum in vitro and/or in animal models. However, clinical data are lacking to support use for any indication.


Clinical trials are lacking to provide dosing recommendations for African basil.


Contraindications have not been identified. Hypersensitivity to any components of the plant species should be considered a contraindication.


Avoid use. Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. O. gratissimum may have abortifacient effects. Emmenagogue and abortifacient effects have been reported with the related species Ocimum basilicum (sweet basil).


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

None documented.


No data.

Scientific Family

  • Lamiaceae (mint)


Nearly 4,000 species worldwide belong to the Lamiaceae family, and there are approximately 200 species of the genus Ocimum.(Vieira 2014) O. gratissimum is an aromatic, perennial plant native to Africa, Madagascar, and southern Asia. It grows up to 1 m in height, with multiple branches arising from its base. It has elliptic-lanceolate leaves that taper at both ends, and long, pale, white to pinkish flower spikes. Recognized synonyms for African basil include Ocimum suave and Ocimum viride Willd.(Nweze 2009, USDA 2021a, USDA 2021b)

Related plants include O. basilicum (sweet basil), Ocimum canum (African mint, hoary basil), Ocimum campechianum (Amazonian basil), and Ocimum tenuiflorum or Ocimum sanctum (holy basil).


Dried African basil leaves are used for flavoring food and have traditionally been used to alleviate headache and fever, among other uses.(Nweze 2009) Plant preparations or extracts have traditionally been used in some African countries to induce abortion,(Nikolajsen 2011) facilitate childbirth, and reduce associated pain.(Attah 2012) A decoction of the fresh leaves has also been used in the management of diabetes.(Ejike 2013)


Similar to other members of the Ocimum genus, O. gratissimum contains an essential oil, alkaloids, glycosides, tannins, and other chemical constituents. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry has been used to elucidate the constituents of the essential oil: eugenol and methyl eugenol, alpha- and beta-caryophyllene, 1,8 cineole, methyl chavicol, carvacrol, linalool, thymol, limonene, gamma-terpinene, camphor, germacrene A, beta-ocimene, and cinnamyl acetate. Chemical composition varies with geographical location and environmental and genetic factors.(Mahajan 2013, Pandey 2014)

Uses and Pharmacology

Anti-inflammatory activity

Animal and in vitro data

In models of respiratory allergy (in vitro experiments evaluating effects on airway epithelial cells, in vivo studies in rodents), O. gratissimum demonstrated effects on markers of inflammation, including interleukins, protein kinases, and leukocytes/eosinophils.(Costa 2012, Jiao 2013)

In mouse paw edema studies, ethanol and aqueous extracts of O. suave demonstrated anti-inflammatory activity.(Masresha 2012) Limited studies in rodents suggest antinociceptive activity of O. gratissimum extracts and essential oil, which may be mediated through the opioid and endocannabinoid systems.(Paula-Freire 2013, Paula-Freire 2014) A study in mice found that antinociceptive activity of a flavonoid-rich ethylacetate fraction of O. gratissimum was not reversed by naloxone or atropine, but was reversed by yohimbine and L-NAME, indicating a mechanism involving adrenergic and nitric oxide pathways.(Ajayi 2021)

Antimicrobial activity

Animal and in vitro data

Antimicrobial activity against relevant human pathogens (eg, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus faecalis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Enterobacter spp., Vibrio spp., periodontopathic organisms) has been demonstrated.(Adesina 2015, Igbinosa 2016, Nweze 2009, Ocheng 2015, Tibyangye 2015) Antifungal activity of the essential oil has also been observed in vitro.(Nweze 2009, Prakash 2011)

Clinical data

A small clinical study evaluated the effect of an O. gratissimum mouthwash in reducing gingivitis. Plaque and bleeding were reduced in both the test and control groups, with O. gratissimum demonstrating equivalence to the chlorhexidine used in control subjects.(Pereira 2011)


In vitro data

Activity against certain cancer cell lines(Nangia-Makker 2013, Pandey 2015) and antisickling activity of ursolic acid isolated from O. gratissimum have been demonstrated.(Tshilanda 2015) In human hepatocellular carcinoma cell lines, an aqueous O. gratissimum extract increased tumor apoptosis in a dose-dependent manner, with little to no effect on noncancerous Chang liver cells.(Huang 2020)

Cardiovascular effects

Animal data

In a study in rats, O. gratissimum essential oil demonstrated endothelium-dependent, vasorelaxant effects and decreased perfusion pressure in isolated mesenteric vascular beds.(Pires 2012)

An extract of O. gratissimum attenuated induced cardiac abnormalities associated with liver fibrosis in rats, possibly by influencing the interleukin-6 signaling pathway(Li 2012) or by inducing antioxidant effects.(Chiu 2014)

In Wistar rats, O. gratissimum extracts reversed toxicity and blood pressure changes associated with cobalt chloride exposure, indicating a protective effect.(Akinrinde 2016)

Controlled drug delivery

In vitro data

O. gratissimum seeds have been used in the development of orally disintegrating tablets and films and may have usefulness for controlled delivery of solid lipid particles.(Dang 2020, Mai 2020)


Animal and in vitro data

Limited reports in rodents suggest glucose-lowering effects of O. gratissimum extracts, indicating a propensity of O. gratissimum to reverse impairment of nutrient digestion and absorption in diabetes mellitus.(Okon 2015, Shittu 2016) In vivo and in vitro studies evaluating the constituent eugenol showed reductions in blood glucose levels, possibly due to the inhibition of alpha-glucosidase; insulin and glycated hemoglobin levels remained unchanged.(Singh 2016) In Wistar rats with dexamethasone-induced insulin resistance, O. gratissimum extract increased insulin sensitivity, resulting in decreased body weight, fasting blood glucose, and insulin.(Shittu 2021)

Clinical data

A small study in normoglycemic subjects (N=27) evaluated the effect of O. gratissimum decoctions, given alone or as part of a combination decoction, on oral glucose tolerance. The O. gratissimum decoction alone did not alter peak time for the oral glucose tolerance test and did not significantly reduce blood glucose concentrations at any time point on the test curves relative to baseline.(Ejike 2013)

Gastric ulcers

Animal data

In rats with induced gastric ulcers, an aqueous leaf extract of O. gratissimum decreased gastric acid secretion and ulceration.(Ofem 2012b)

Pesticidal/Insecticidal activity

In vitro data

O. gratissimum extracts have been used in topical preparations as a mosquito repellent.(Keziah 2015)

O. gratissimum essential oil exhibited larvicidal activity against the Aedes albopictus mosquito, an important and proven viral disease vector.(Sumitha 2016)


Clinical trials are lacking to provide dosing recommendations for African basil.

Pregnancy / Lactation

Avoid use. Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Women in Africa have reportedly used O. gratissimum plant preparations or extracts to induce abortion,(Nikolajsen 2011) facilitate childbirth, and reduce associated pain.(Attah 2012) Emmenagogue and abortifacient effects have been reported with the related species O. basilicum (sweet basil).(Ernst 2002)


None well documented. An in vitro study described inhibitory activity of African basil extracted by various methods (ie, aqueous, ethanolic, methanolic) on CYP2B6 as well as on rifampicin metabolism. Aqueous and methanolic extracts have demonstrated reversible and time-dependent inhibition of CYP2B6. The ethanolic extract inhibited rifampicin metabolism, with the lowest half maximal inhibitory concentration (IC50) value being 8.94 mcg/mL, which was similar to that of the positive control nelfinavir (IC50=5.44 mcg/mL). In vivo, the aqueous extract had the highest predicted percentile of inhibition of 96.7%.(Kumar 2020)

Eugenol was observed to be hepatotoxic in glutathione-depleted mice, leading to a cautionary note by the World Health Organization on concomitant use with acetaminophen.(WHO 2002)

Adverse Reactions

None documented.


Equivocal findings regarding toxic effects of orally administered O. gratissimum on hematological parameters (eg, red blood cell count, hemoglobin, platelet and neutrophil counts) have been reported in animal studies; the effects on human blood are unknown.(Obianime 2011, Ofem 2012a)

The essential oil was reportedly nontoxic in mice, with a high acute median lethal dose of 11,622.67 mcL/kg.(Prakash 2011)

Index Terms

  • Ocimum basilicum (sweet basil)
  • Ocimum campechianum (Amazonian basil)
  • Ocimum canum (African mint, hoary basil)
  • Ocimum sanctum (holy basil)
  • Ocimum suave
  • Ocimum tenuiflorum (holy basil)
  • Ocimum viride Willd.



This information relates to an herbal, vitamin, mineral or other dietary supplement. This product has not been reviewed by the FDA to determine whether it is safe or effective and is not subject to the quality standards and safety information collection standards that are applicable to most prescription drugs. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to take this product. This information does not endorse this product as safe, effective, or approved for treating any patient or health condition. This is only a brief summary of general information about this product. It does NOT include all information about the possible uses, directions, warnings, precautions, interactions, adverse effects, or risks that may apply to this product. This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your health care provider. You should talk with your health care provider for complete information about the risks and benefits of using this product.

This product may adversely interact with certain health and medical conditions, other prescription and over-the-counter drugs, foods, or other dietary supplements. This product may be unsafe when used before surgery or other medical procedures. It is important to fully inform your doctor about the herbal, vitamins, mineral or any other supplements you are taking before any kind of surgery or medical procedure. With the exception of certain products that are generally recognized as safe in normal quantities, including use of folic acid and prenatal vitamins during pregnancy, this product has not been sufficiently studied to determine whether it is safe to use during pregnancy or nursing or by persons younger than 2 years of age.

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Akinrinde AS, Oyagbemi AA, Omobowale TO, Asenuga ER, Ajibade TO. Alterations in blood pressure, antioxidant status and caspase 8 expression in cobalt chloride-induced cardio-renal dysfunction are reversed by Ocimum gratissimum and gallic acid in Wistar rats. J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2016;36:27-37. doi:10.1016/j.jtemb.2016.03.01527259349
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Further information

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