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Sweet Basil

Scientific Name(s): Ocimum basilicum L.
Common Name(s): Basil, Common basil, Genovese basil, Great basil, Saint-Joseph's-wort, Sweet basil

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Dec 3, 2018.

Clinical Overview

Use

Animal studies of sweet basil suggest use as an antimicrobial agent, insect repellant, and anti-inflammatory agent, as well as in cardiovascular and CNS diseases and diabetes; however, clinical studies are lacking to support use in any condition.

Dosing

Clinical studies are lacking to provide dosing recommendations for sweet basil. Traditionally, doses of 5 to 10 mL of the herb per cup of water or 2.5 to 5 mL of a tincture, taken up to 3 times daily, have been used.

Contraindications

Contraindications have not been identified.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Avoid use. Avoid amounts larger than are usually found in cooking. Emmenagogue and abortifacient effects have been reported for O. basilicum.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Basil as an herb and sweet basil essential oil have Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status in the United States.

Toxicology

Information is limited; the chemical constituents estragole and linalool have been associated with toxicity.

Scientific Family

  • Lamiaceae (mint)

Botany

The sweet basil plant is cultivated worldwide; many varieties exist, differing in chemical composition and affected by multiple geographic factors. Basil is an annual herb that grows up to 1 m in height, depending on the climate, with characteristic opposite, light-green, smooth leaves that grow up to 6 cm in width and 11 cm in length. The plant bears small, white flowers arranged in a terminal spike.1, 2 Related plants include Ocimum sanctum (holy basil), Ocimum gratissimum (African basil), Ocimum campechianum (Amazonian basil), and Ocimum canum (hoary basil). A synonym of O. basilicum is Ocimum americanum L.

History

Traditionally, O. basilicum has been used as an appetite stimulant, carminative, diuretic, and anxiolytic, as well as in cardiovascular disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Medicinal use of basil among ancient Greek and Chinese healers for promoting circulation and treating snake and insect bites has been documented. Sweet basil also has widespread culinary applications.2, 3, 4

Chemistry

The major components of the volatile oil of sweet basil are linalool, cineole, and estragole (methyl chavicol), depending on the source.5, 6, 7, 8

Studies have elucidated the chemical composition of the essential oil and describe terpenic hydrocarbons (eg, cymene, limonene, myrecene, pinene, terpinene, phellandrene), aromatic phenols (carvacrol, eugenol, thymol, and safrol), ketones (menthone, pulegone, carvone and thujone, verbenone, and fenchone), alcohols (eg, borneol, carveol, geraniol, linalool, menthol, terpineol), aliphatic aldehydes (citral, citronellal, and perillaldehyde), acids (citronellic acid and cinnamic acid) and esters (linalyl acetate). However, concentrations of these components vary, depending on the source of the plant.6, 9, 10, 11

The seeds of the plant contain ursolic acid, rosmarinic acid, caffiec acid, vallinin, stigmasterol, apgenin, and luteolin, among other components.5, 10

Uses and Pharmacology

Anti-inflammatory activity

In vitro and animal data

Limited animal studies report anti-inflammatory activity of O. basilicum essential oil, including reductions in leukocytes in rats and mice with experimentally induced colitis and arthritis, respectively.12, 13 Both the essential oil and the single component estragole showed efficacy in reducing histamine- and arachidonic acid–induced paw edema in mouse models.14 Additionally, in vitro experimental studies suggest that extracts of O. basilicum or its fractions may exert an influence on COX enzyme activity and on prostaglandin and thromboxane production.15, 16

Clinical data

Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of sweet basil as an antithrombotic or anti-inflammatory agent.

Antimicrobial activity

In vitro and animal data

In vitro studies report activity of the essential oil against human and plant pathogens.7, 8, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23

Sweet basil essential oil was not active against fluconazole-resistant Candida spp.24

Laboratory experiments suggest that the oil may be an alternative to common synthetic repellents and/or acaricides, likely due to constituents such as alpha-pinene, limonene, citronellol, citronellal, camphor, and thymol.25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30

Antiprotozoal activity has also been demonstrated in vitro against Trichomonas vaginalis and Leishmania spp.2, 31

Clinical data

Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of sweet basil as an antimicrobial agent or as a repellant or acaricide.

Antioxidant activity

Animal data

Antioxidant activity has been documented.7, 32, 33, 34, 35 A study in rodents reported improvements in cerebral infarct size, memory impairment, and motor coordination with pre-treatment with O. basilicum extract. Antioxidant activity may contribute to these observed effects.3

Clinical data

Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of sweet basil as an antioxidant agent.

Cardiovascular disease

Animal data

In a study in hypercholesterolemic rodents, O. basilicum extract exerted a vasorelaxant effect.16 In another study in rats, O. basilicum leaf extract demonstrated protection against adverse outcomes of induced myocardial infarction (eg, ST-segment elevation, fibrosis of myocardial tissue), possibly due to its antioxidant effects.36 Additionally, experimental studies in rodents suggest that sweet basil extracts may influence thromboxane production.15, 16

Clinical data

Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of sweet basil in cardiovascular disease.

CNS

Animal data

In limited experiments in mice, extracts of O. basilicum demonstrated antianxiety and sedative effects,37 memory enhancement effects,38 and improvement in neuromuscular coordination.39

Clinical data

Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of sweet basil in diseases of the CNS.

Diabetes

In vitro and animal data

Limited in vitro and animal experiments suggest that the observed antidiabetic effects of O. basilicum may be due to alpha-glucosidase and alpha-amylase inhibitory activity.40, 41, 42

In a study evaluating the toxicity of linalool in poultry, increased serum glucose was observed; however, the researchers considered this effect to have no biological importance.43

Clinical data

Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of sweet basil in the management of diabetes.

Other uses

In vitro studies report activity of the essential oil against cancer cell lines, including breast and cervical cancer; however, clinical studies are lacking.7, 44, 45, 46, 47 Based on molecular docking studies performed with proteins from the Anopheles gambiae mosquito, 12 compounds in O. basilicum and other Ocimum spp. potentially have significant mosquito repellent activity.48

Dosing

Clinical studies are lacking to provide dosing recommendations for sweet basil.

Traditionally, doses of 5 to 10 mL of the herb per cup of water or 2.5 to 5 mL of a tincture, taken up to 3 times daily, have been used.4

Pregnancy / Lactation

Avoid use. Emmenagogue and abortifacient effects have been reported. Avoid amounts larger than are usually found in cooking.49

Excretion of cineole in breast milk has been documented, but no adverse effects were reported.50

Interactions

Case reports are lacking, and the relevance of findings from in vitro and animal studies is unclear. An aqueous extract of dried aerial plant parts inhibited platelet aggregation and reduced thrombin-induced platelet activation.16 An in vitro study reported cytochrome P450 inhibitory activity with sweet basil; however, the clinical relevance has not been established.51 Eugenol was observed to be hepatotoxic in glutathione-depleted mice; caution should be used with concomitant use of acetaminophen.52

Adverse Reactions

Basil as an herb and sweet basil essential oil both have GRAS status in the United States.53 Clinical studies are lacking regarding associated adverse effects.

Toxicology

Information is limited; basil herb and sweet basil essential oil have GRAS status in the United States.2, 53 Estragole, the major chemical component of sweet basil essential oil, has been associated with hepatocellular tumors in mice and with genotoxicity.2 In poultry administered linalool, serum AST increased, but serum gamma-glutamyl transferase did not.43 Hematological effects (reduced hematocrit, platelets, and red blood cells) have been observed in rats.54

Index Terms

  • Ocimum americanum L.
  • Ocimum campechianum
  • Ocimum canum
  • Ocimum gratissimum
  • Ocimum sanctum
  • African basil
  • Amazonian basil
  • Hoary basil
  • Holy basil

References

1. Ocimum basilicum L. USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 2016). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA. Accessed May 2016.
2. Khan I, Abourashed E. Leung's Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 3rd ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley; 2009.
3. Bora KS, Arora S, Shri R. Role of Ocimum basilicum L. in prevention of ischemia and reperfusion-induced cerebral damage, and motor dysfunctions in mice brain. J Ethnopharmacol. 2011;137(3):1360-1365.21843615
4. Duke JA, Bogenschutz-Godwin M, duCellier J, Duke P. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. 2nd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2002.
5. Duke J. Handbook of Biologically Active Phytochemicals and Their Activities. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1992.
6. Vieira PRN, de Morais SM, Bezerra FHQ, Travassos Ferreira PA, Oliveira, Silva MGV. Chemical composition and antifungal activity of essential oils from Ocimum species. Industrial Crops and Products. 2014;55:267-271.
7. Shirazi MT, Gholami H, Kavoosi G, Rowshan V, Tafsiry A. Chemical composition, antioxidant, antimicrobial and cytotoxic activities of Tagetes minuta and Ocimum basilicum essential oils. Food Sci Nutr. 2014;2(2):146-155.24804073
8. Scazzocchio F, Garzoli S, Conti C, et al. Properties and limits of some essential oils: chemical characterisation, antimicrobial activity, interaction with antibiotics and cytotoxicity. Nat Prod Res. 2016;30(17):1909-1918.26395247
9. Pandey AK, Singh P, Tripathi NN. Chemistry and bioactivities of essential oils of some Ocimum species: an overview. Asian Pac J Trop Biomed. 2014;4(9):682-694.
10. Mahajan N, Rawal S, Verma M, Poddar M, Alok S. A phytopharmacological overview on Ocimum species with special emphasis on Ocimum sanctum. Biomed Prevent Nutr. 2013;3(2):185-192.
11. Bhuvaneshwari K, Gokulanathan A, Jayanthi M, et al. Can Ocimum basilicum L. and Ocimum tenuiflorum L. in vitro culture be a potential source of secondary metabolites? Food Chem. 2016;194:55-60.26471526
12. Rashidian A, Roohi P, Mehrzadi S, Ghannadi AR, Minaiyan M. Protective effect of Ocimum basilicum essential oil against acetic acid-induced colitis in rats. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2016;21(4):NP36-NP42.26620574
13. Yamada AN, Grespan R, Yamada AT, et al. Anti-inflammatory activity of Ocimum americanum L. essential oil in experimental model of zymosan-induced arthritis. Am J Chin Med. 2013;41(4):913-926.23895160
14. Rodrigues LB, Oliveira Brito Pereira Bezerra Martins A, Cesário FR, et al. Anti-inflammatory and antiedematogenic activity of the Ocimum basilicum essential oil and its main compound estragole: in vivo mouse models. Chem Biol Interact. 2016;257:14-25.27474066
15. Umar A, Zhou W, Abdusalam E, et al. Effect of Ocimum basilicum L. on cyclo-oxygenase isoforms and prostaglandins involved in thrombosis. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014;152(1):151-155.24412551
16. Amrani S, Harnafi H, Gadi D, et al. Vasorelaxant and anti-platelet aggregation effects of aqueous Ocimum basilicum extract. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009;125(1):157-162.19505553
17. Sienkiewicz M, Łysakowska M, Pastuszka M, Bienias W, Kowalczyk E. The potential of use basil and rosemary essential oils as effective antibacterial agents. Molecules. 2013;18(8):9334-9351.23921795
18. Snoussi M, Dehmani A, Noumi E, Flamini G, Papetti A. Chemical composition and antibiofilm activity of Petroselinum crispum and Ocimum basilicum essential oils against Vibrio spp. strains. Microb Pathog. 2016;90:13-21.26596707
19. Srivastava U, Ojha S, Tripathi NN, Singh P. In vitro antibacterial, antioxidant activity and total phenolic content of some essential oils. J Environ Biol. 2015;36(6):1329-1336.26688969
20. Siddiqui BS, Bhatti HA, Begum S, Perwaiz S. Evaluation of the antimycobacterium activity of the constituents from Ocimum basilicum against Mycobacterium tuberculosis. J Ethnopharmacol. 2012;144(1):220-222.22982011
21. Radaelli M, da Silva BP, Weidlich L, et al. Antimicrobial activities of six essential oils commonly used as condiments in Brazil against Clostridium perfringens. Braz J Microbiol. 2016;47(2):424-430.26991289
22. Freires IA, Denny C, Benso B, de Alencar SM, Rosalen PL. Antibacterial activity of essential oils and their isolated constituents against cariogenic bacteria: a systematic review. Molecules. 2015;20(4):7329-7358.25911964
23. Araújo Silva V, Pereira da Sousa J, de Luna Freire Pessôa H, et al. Ocimum basilicum: Antibacterial activity and association study with antibiotics against bacteria of clinical importance. Pharm Biol. 2016;54(5):863-867.26455352
24. Soares IH, Loreto ÉS, Rossato L, et al. In vitro activity of essential oils extracted from condiments against fluconazole-resistant and -sensitive Candida glabrata. J Mycol Med. 2015;25(3):213-217.26281965
25. Cisak E, Wójcik-Fatla A, Zajac V, Dutkiewicz J. Repellents and acaricides as personal protection measures in the prevention of tick-borne diseases. Ann Agric Environ Med. 2012;19(4):625-630.23311778
26. Nerio LS, Olivero-Verbel J, Stashenko E. Repellent activity of essential oils: a review. Bioresour Technol. 2010;101(1):372-378.19729299
27. Phasomkusolsil S, Soonwera M. Insect repellent activity of medicinal plant oils against Aedes aegypti (Linn.), Anopheles minimus (Theobald) and Culex quinquefasciatus Say based on protection time and biting rate. Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health. 2010;41(4):831-840.21073057
28. Perumalsamy H, Kim JY, Kim JR, Hwang KN, Ahn YJ. Toxicity of basil oil constituents and related compounds and the efficacy of spray formulations to Dermatophagoides farinae (Acari: Pyroglyphidae). J Med Entomol. 2014;51(3):650-657.24897858
29. Rehman JU, Ali A, Khan IA. Plant based products: use and development as repellents against mosquitoes: A review. Fitoterapia. 2014;95:65-74.24631763
30. Inbaneson SJ, Sundaram R, Suganthi P. In vitro antiplasmodial effect of ethanolic extracts of traditional medicinal plant Ocimum species against Plasmodium falciparum. Asian Pac J Trop Med. 2012;5(2):103-106.22221750
31. Ezz Eldin HM, Badawy AF. In vitro anti-Trichomonas vaginalis activity of Pistacia lentiscus mastic and Ocimum basilicum essential oil. J Parasit Dis. 2015;39(3):465-473.26345053
32. Sakr SA, Nooh HZ. Effect of Ocimum basilicum extract on cadmium-induced testicular histomorphometric and immunohistochemical alterations in albino rats. Anat Cell Biol. 2013;46(2):122-130.23869259
33. Saha S, Mukhopadhyay MK, Ghosh PD, Nath D. Effect of methanolic leaf extract of Ocimum basilicum L. on benzene-induced hematotoxicity in mice. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:176385.22988471
34. Ogaly HA, Eltablawy NA, El-Behairy AM, El-Hindi H, Abd-Elsalam RM. Hepatocyte growth factor mediates the antifibrogenic action of Ocimum bacilicum essential oil against CCl4-induced liver fibrosis in rats. Molecules. 2015;20(8):13518-1353526213907
35. Jadoon S, Karim S, Bin Asad MH, et al. Anti-aging potential of phytoextract loaded-pharmaceutical creams for human skin cell longetivity. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2015;2015:709628.26448818
36. Fathiazad F, Matlobi A, Khorrami A, et al. Phytochemical screening and evaluation of cardioprotective activity of ethanolic extract of Ocimum basilicum L. (basil) against isoproterenol induced myocardial infarction in rats. Daru. 2012;20(1):87.23351503
37. Rabbani M, Sajjadi SE, Vaezi A. Evaluation of anxiolytic and sedative effect of essential oil and hydroalcoholic extract of Ocimum basilicum L. and chemical composition of its essential oil. Res Pharm Sci. 2015;10(6):535-543.26779273
38. Sarahroodi S, Esmaeili S, Mikaili P, Hemmati Z, Saberi Y. The effects of green Ocimum basilicum hydroalcoholic extract on retention and retrieval of memory in mice. Anc Sci Life. 2012;31(4):185-189.23661866
39. Zahra K, Khan MA, Iqbal F. Oral supplementation of Ocimum basilicum has the potential to improve the locomotory, exploratory, anxiolytic behavior and learning in adult male albino mice. Neurol Sci. 2015;36(1):73-78.25082078
40. El-Beshbishy H, Bahashwan S. Hypoglycemic effect of basil (Ocimum basilicum) aqueous extract is mediated through inhibition of alpha-glucosidase and alpha-amylase activities: an in vitro study. Toxicol Ind Health. 2012;28(1):42-50.21636683
41. Kadan S, Saad B, Sasson Y, Zaid H. In vitro evaluation of anti-diabetic activity and cytotoxicity of chemically analysed Ocimum basilicum extracts. Food Chem. 2016;196:1066-1074.26593590
42. Singh P, Jayaramaiah RH, Agawane SB, et al. Potential dual role of eugenol in inhibiting advanced glycation end products in diabetes: proteomic and mechanistic insights. Sci Rep. 2016;6:18798.26739611
43. Beier RC, Byrd JA 2nd, Kubena LF, et al. Evaluation of linalool, a natural antimicrobial and insecticidal essential oil from basil: effects on poultry. Poult Sci. 2014;93(2):267-272.24570447
44. Al-Ali KH, El-Beshbishy HA, El-Badry AA, Alkhalaf M. Cytotoxic activity of methanolic extract of Mentha longifolia and Ocimum basilicum against human breast cancer. Pak J Biol Sci. 2013;16(23):1744-1750.24506042
45. Behbahani M. Evaluation of in vitro anticancer activity of Ocimum basilicum, Alhagi maurorum, Calendula officinalis and their parasite Cuscuta campestris. PLoS One. 2014;9(12):e116049.25548920
46. Kathirvel P, Ravi S. Chemical composition of the essential oil from basil (Ocimum basilicum Linn.) and its in vitro cytotoxicity against HeLa and HEp-2 human cancer cell lines and NIH 3T3 mouse embryonic fibroblasts. Nat Prod Res. 2012;26(12):1112-1118.21939371
47. Monga J, Sharma M, Tailor N, Ganesh N. Antimelanoma and radioprotective activity of alcoholic aqueous extract of different species of Ocimum in C(57)BL mice. Pharm Biol. 2011;49(4):428-436.21428866
48. Gaddaguti V, Rao TV, Rao AP. Potential mosquito repellent compounds of Ocimum species against 3N7H and 3Q8I of Anopheles gambiae. Biotech. 2016;6:26.
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54. Rasekh HR, Hosseinzadeh L, Mehri S, Kamli-Nejad M, Aslani M, Tanbakoosazan F. Safety assessment of Ocimum basilicum hydroalcoholic extract in wistar rats: acute and subchronic toxicity studies. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2012;15(1):645-653.23493182

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