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© CAB International 2016. Leafy Medicinal Herbs: Botany, Chemistry,
Postharvest Technology and Uses (eds D.C.P. Ambrose et al.) 27
Basil (Ocimum basilicum L.) is an annual
herb belonging to the mint family (Lamiaceae).
It has been utilized for millennia and is an
essential ingredient in many cooking tradi-
tions and practices (Agarwal et al., 2013).
The genus Ocimum contains a range of some
50 to 150 species and varieties that are native
to the tropical regions of Asia and Central
and South Africa (Ghosh, 1995). The uncer-
tainty in the exact number of species within
the genus is largely attributed to the enor-
mous variation that is found among the con-
stituent species. The variability is prevalent
in the morphology, growth habit, ower col-
our, leaves, stems and chemical composition
(Svecova and Neugebauerova, 2010). Basil
cross- pollinates readily, and the resulting
diversity and variation has led some authors
to reclassify sections of the genus (Paton, 1992).
There are a number of plants outside the genus
Ocimum with the common name basil, in-
cluding ‘basil thyme’ (Acinos arvensis (Lam.)
Dandy) and ‘wild basil’ (Clinopodium vulgare L.),
which can sometimes lead to confusion and
O. basilicum is known by different names
depending on the location. In the English
language, it is typically called basil, common
basil or sweet basil. In India, specically in
Hindi and Bengali, it called babui tulsi. Other
common names of basil are basilica (in French),
basilikum or basilienkraut (in German), ba-
silico (in Italian), rehan (in Arabic) and alba-
haca (in Spanish). In Arabic, it is known as
hebak as well as rihan (Kirtikar and Basu,
2003, cited by Bilal et al., 2012). Probably the
most familiar basil is sweet basil (O. basilicum);
however, this has a large number of cultivars,
varying in avour, scent and uses. There are
more than 160 named cultivars in existence
today. Popular examples include, O. basili-
cum ‘Cinnamon’, O. basilicum ‘Dark Opal’
and holy basil (the species O. tenuiorum L.,
previously known as O. sanctum L.) (Fig. 3.1).
Scents and avours can range from cinnamon,
liquorice and lemon to anise. The plants can
be shrubby or herbaceous, and vary in size
from 20 cm to 3 m tall, depending on the spe-
cies (and the literature source used). The
leaves can be smooth, shiny, hairy or curly,
and they can be green to blue/purple. The
ower colour ranges from white to purple to
lavender (Meyers, 2003). Most of the regular
varieties of basil are considered annuals;
D. Lupton,1 M. Mumtaz Khan,2 R.A. Al-Yahyai2* and M. Asif Hanif3
1Oman Botanic Garden, Muscat, Oman; 2Sultan Qaboos University,
Muscat, Oman; 3University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan
*Corresponding author, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
0002713920.INDD 27 4/20/2016 4:04:33 PM
28 D. Lupton et al.
however, in warm tropical regions many
perennial varieties exist, e.g. O. tenuiorum
(Simon et al. 1999; Tilebeni, 2011) (Fig. 3.1).
Their wide range of forms, colours and sizes
has elevated the ornamental importance of
basil in recent years (Svecova and Neugebau-
erova, 2010) and has increased the plants
economic value globally. It is not uncommon
to see basil grown as an ornamental plant in
public parks and home gardens (Fig. 3.1).
The essential oil content of basil is show
a similar variability between species and
cultivars and is thought to be the result of
varying ecological factors, geographic ori-
gins, genetic patterns, different chemotypes
and differences in the nutritional status of
plants. In Finland, 17 different collections,
all called sweet basil, were analysed for
their morphological traits and chemical
make-up. A large amount of variation was
recorded for both characteristics. A similar
variability was found when ten Italian com-
mercially available basil cultivars were
studied. The chemical analyses of the var-
ieties showed correlations with their morpho-
logical characters. Two varieties with violet
leaves were linalool chemotypes and three of
the large-leaved varieties were linalool and
methyl chavicol (estragole or p-methoxyallyl
benzene) chemotypes (Galambosi, 1995, cited
by Putievsky and Galambosi, 1999). The bulk
of the essential oil of basil plants is concen-
trated in the leaves and owers; there are trace
quantities of essential oils in the branches
and stems, but the amounts are not commer-
cially important (Svecova and Neugebauerova,
2010). Basil is highly variable both morpho-
logically and chemically, and the variations
appear to be strongly inuenced by eco-
logical factors. The origin, source and grow-
ing conditions of basil therefore have an
impact on plant uses, and in particular upon
its avours, aromas and medical uses. This
variability of basil is reected in its broad
array of uses, which will be discussed in
more detail later in the chapter.
O. basilicum is indigenous to India and other
areas in tropical Asia, where it has been
grown for 5000 years. The generic name,
Ocimum, originates from the ancient Greek
word okimon, which means smell (Tucker
and DeBaggio, 2000). There are a numerous
suggestions for the origins for the word basil.
One is that it stems from the Greek word
basileus, meaning king, as it is believed to
have grown close to the area where St Con-
stantine and his mother St Helen discovered
the Holy Cross (Jacqueline, 2001). According
to Parkinson, basil’s scent was ‘t for a king’s
house’ (Grieve, 1931). Other less fanciful specu-
lation suggests that the origin of the name
basil stems from the similarity of the species
name, basilicum, to the name of the basilisk,
the fabled serpent with the deadly gaze
The history of basil is steeped in legend
and mystery. Many believe it was Alexander
the Great (356–323
) who brought it to
Greece. Basil is thought to have been brought
to England from India in the 1500s, eventu-
ally arriving in the USA in the early 1600s
(Darrah, 1980). Culpeper, Gerard and Dios-
cordes mention basil in their respective
herbals (Meyers, 2003).
Gerard praised basil as a remedy for mel-
ancholy but also repeated Dioscorides’ warn-
ing that too much basil ‘dulleth the sight …
and is of a hard digestion’ (Gerard, 1975, cited
by Meyers, 2003). Basil was also alleged to
cause the spontaneous generation of scorpions
and to cause scorpions to develop in the brain.
The link with scorpions is evident today in
basil’s depiction with the astrological sign of
Scorpio (Reppert, 1984, cited by Meyers, 2003).
Fig. 3.1. A basil plant in flower. Basil is usually
cultivated as an ornamental in Middle Eastern
countries due to its attractive flowers and aroma.
0002713920.INDD 28 4/20/2016 4:04:33 PM
Although basil is grown in a variety of cli-
matic and environmental conditions, the
optimum conditions are found in countries
with a warm climate. Warmth, light and
moisture are the key ecological requirements
for basil cultivation. The herb is susceptible
to frost so outdoor cultivation is restricted to
frost-free regions of the world. Basil is grown
widely in the following countries: India,
Pakistan, Comores Islands, Madagascar, Haiti,
Guatemala, Réunion, Thailand, Indonesia,
Russia (Georgia, East Caucasus) and South
Africa, Egypt, Morocco, France, Israel, Bulgar ia,
the USA (Arizona, California, New Mexico),
Italy, Hungary, Poland, Germany, Greece,
Turkey, other Balkan countries and Slovakia
(Putievsky and Galambosi, 1999).
Absolute gures for basil oil production
are difcult to acquire. There are numerous
small-scale growers working in local oper-
ations whose production gures are not in-
tegrated into national statistics. However,
there are some gross gures available from
the 1990s, when gross world production of
basil oils was approximately 93–95 tons/year
of which 55 tons was from O. gratissimum L.
and 43 tons from O. basilicum. About 100 kg
of oils were produced from O. canum
(Simms) (preferred name O. americanum L.).
Basil oils were then produced in the follow-
ing countries (the quantities that follow in
parentheses are tons): India (15), Bulgaria (7),
Egypt (5), Pakistan (4.5), the Comoros (4.5),
Israel (2), the former Yugoslavia (1), the USA
(1), Madagascar (1), Réunion and Albania
(each 0.5), Hungary (0.3) and Argentina (0.2)
(Lawrence, 1993, cited by Hiltunen and
Holm, 1999). The USA is probably the lar-
gest market for basil oil, followed by the
European countries of Germany, France, the
UK and the Netherlands (Robbins and Green-
halg, 1979, cited by Hiltunen and Holm,
Global statistics for the production of
dried basil are also hard to obtain. A large
portion of the world production, chiey in
the Mediterranean region, and in India and
California, is not sold internationally; most of
the basil in these areas is consumed locally.
Import statistics also show that the USA is
one of the world’s biggest users of dried basil
(Putievsky and Galambosi, 1999).
Other important areas for basil import-
ation are the European countries. In the 1990s,
the total amount of basil herb imported to
Europe was about 830–880 t/year. France is the
largest importer at 300–350 t/year, followed
by the UK (250 t/year), Germany (200 t/year)
and the Netherlands (80 t/year). The largest
supplier of the Western European countries
was Egypt (Putievsky and Galambosi, 1999).
O. basilicum is an upright, branching herb,
0.6–0.9 m high with square, glabrous stems
and branches, usually green but sometimes
purple in colour. The leaves are simple and
oppositely arranged on the stem. They are
2.5–5 cm or more long and are ovate with an
acute tip; the margins are entire, more or
less toothed or lobed (Jayaweera, 1981, cit-
ed by Bilal et al., 2012). The petiole is 1.3–
2.5 cm long. The leaves have numerous oil
glands which exude strongly scented vola-
tile oil. The inorescence is usually racem-
ose, and the terminal raceme is usually
much longer than the lateral ones. The
bracts are stalked, shorter than the calyx,
ovate and acute. The calyx is 5 mm long,
enlarging on the fruit. The fruit has a short
pedicel. The calyx lower lip has two central
teeth and is longer than the rounded upper
lip. The corolla is 8–13 mm long, white,
pink or purplish in colour, and glabrous or
slightly pubescent. The nutlets (seeds) are
about 2 mm long, ellipsoid, black and pit-
ted. There are ve ower sepals that remain
fused into a two-lipped calyx. The ovary is
superior and the fruit consists of four achenes
(Jayaweera, 1981, cited by Bilal et al., 2012).
Basil requires warm temperate or Medi-
terranean conditions. The optimum tem-
perature for germination is 20°C, with
growing temperatures of 7 to 27°C (Simon,
1995). The plant develops best in long-day,
full-sun conditions. It cannot tolerate
drought as the plant tissue is very tender.
Basil requires well-drained, fertile soils
with a high organic matter content. It grows
well in soils with a pH ranging from 4.3 to
0002713920.INDD 29 4/20/2016 4:04:33 PM
30 D. Lupton et al.
8.2 and has an optimum pH of 6.4. Basil has
medium, deep roots and a high water re-
quirement (Simon, 1995).
Basil is an impressively aromatic plant and
is used as a sweet-smelling herb. Different
phenotypic characters, including taste,
aroma and many others, are used to de-
scribe a variety of basil ecotypes. The height
of plants varies from 30 to 300 cm and leaf
colour from green to blue/purple; this de-
pends on the type of species (Hiltunen and
Holm, 1999). The name of each basil type
often represents its particular avour, with
the exception of the sweet basil, whose taste
is bright and pungent; anise basil, lemon
basil and cinnamon basil offer unique a-
vours as indicated by their names. The es-
sential oil present in the leaves and other
parts of a number of basil species/cultivars
is responsible for its distinctive fragrance
and aroma. In most species of basil, methyl
chavicol, eugenol and linalool are major
components. Different species or cultivars
have different amounts of each of these
chemical constituents, which hence are re-
sponsible for the different taste and aroma
of each basil cultivar. As an example, the
sweet aroma of methyl chavicol has been
compared with that of French tarragon and
anise, while a oral scent is produced by
linalool and eugenol is reminiscent of cloves.
The major component present in sweet
basils is methyl chavicol while eugenol is
present in large amount in spicy basils.
Other chemical components responsible for
avour include geranial (a rose avour),
thymol (a thyme avour), camphor, trans-
methyl cinnamate (a cinnamon avour) and
citral (lemon) (DeBaggio and Belsinger, 1996;
Al-Maskri et al., 2011).
3.2.1 Chemical composition
In sweet basil, the fat content and caloric
value is low while high amount of minerals
and vitamin A are present. In 2.5 g of basil
leaves (ve fresh leaves), there are 96.6 IU
vitamin A, 3.85 mg calcium, less than 1 cal-
orie, 11.55 mg potassium, and smaller pro-
portions of vitamin C and other vitamins,
protein, bre and minerals. The GRAS (gen-
erally recognized as safe) list of the US De-
partment of Agriculture includes sweet
basil leaf to be used in the range of 2–680
ppm and 0.01–50 ppm for the essential oil.
The use of exceedingly large quantities of
oil is suggested to have a health risk due to
the occurrence of carcinogenic compounds.
The GRAS-suggested amount of basil essen-
tial oil is very minute, and internal use of a
large amount of this oil should be avoided
(Hanif et al., 2011; Hosseini-Parvar et al.,
O. tenuiorum has essential oils mostly con-
ned to the green leaves and thus has a par-
ticular aroma. This leaf scented volatile oil
chiey comprises phenols, terpenes and al-
dehydes. Besides its essential or xed oils,
the plant also includes alkaloids, glyco-
sides, saponins and tannins. The leaves
also contain particular amounts of carotene
and ascorbic acid. The reported chemical
properties of basil leaves are based on nu-
merous worldwide studies, and hence ed-
aphic and geographic factors are expected
to inuence different chemical ingredients.
The difference in aroma between different
varieties of O. basilicum is due to the vari-
ous compositions of their essential oils.
In various parts of the world, basil cultivars
are present in large diversity, indicating a
diverse range of chemical composition.
The essential oil of basil usually contains
α-terpineol, eucalyptol, eugenol, methyl eu-
genol, linalool, β-elemene, germacrene D, α-
bergamotene, α-guaiene, cubenol, τ-cadinol,
camphor, bornylacetate, α-caryophyllene, β-
caryophyllene, elixen, β-cadinene, α-copaene,
α-bisabolol, β-farnesene, epibiciclosesqui-
phelandrene, τ-muralol, δ-gurjunene and
δ-cadinene (Hanif et al., 2011). The various
types of fatty acids present in three Ocimum
species are presented in Table 3.1. The presence
of cardiac glycosides, saponins and tannins in
0002713920.INDD 30 4/20/2016 4:04:33 PM
the aqueous extract of O. basilicum plants
has been shown by phytochemical analysis.
3.3 Postharvest Technology
Conventionally, the best harvesting time
for basil is early in the morning just after
the evaporation of the dew and before the
day temperature starts increasing. The
strongest activity of basil essential oil has
been observed in the morning. No diffe-
rence in avour contents has been reported
in some ndings between fresh and dried
basil, but the avour complexity and inten-
sity that has been observed in fresh leaves
is lost to a large extent in the dried leaves.
Fresh basil, when placed in an airtight bag
after it is wrapped in numerous paper
towels, can be stored for a week (or less) in
This herb cannot be stored easily for a
longer time unless it is dried, so appropriate
drying of leaves is recommended for long- term
storage. The leaves should not be shredded or
broken during drying because the essential
oil content will be lost and the aroma will be
reduced in such leaves. For basil leaves,
shade drying is more appropriate than sun
drying in order to avoid the loss of fragrance
due to volatility of the essential oils. If dried
basil is kept in closed jars and away from
heat and light, it can be stored for a year.
The leaves of basil can also be maintained
for some time by salt layering. Another type
of preferred long-term handling could be
the freeze storage. If the leaves are chopped
and tightly wrapped in plastic sheets for
freezing, then they will remain green and
blackening of the leaves during freezing can
be avoided. The leaves can also be frozen in
ice cube trays after mixing with olive oil in
a food processor. For domestic use, basil
leaves can also be preserved by adding olive
oil and salt to the storage jar and keeping in
a refrigerator. Bacterial growth during such
storage may be a possible problem, and even
under refrigerated storage, infection with
Clostridium botulinum may cause botulism.
To avoid food-borne botulism, it is import-
ant to strictly follow food safety/sanitation
instructions for product receipt, handling,
processing and storage. For culinary pur-
poses, single or multiple fresh leaves can
be removed and used (Pushpangadan and
Basil, like other herbal plants, is consumed
in a variety of ways and for various purposes.
In addition to the use of fresh leaves, other
common processed forms of basil include
whole dry leaves, frozen or powdered leaves,
and extracted essential oils. Whole plants or
chopped leaves can be stored frozen, with
and without oils, to be used for extended
periods of time beyond the fresh shelf life.
Alternative traditional methods for preserv-
ing basil leaves include storage in salt and in
the form of oil concentrates (Meyers, 2003).
Table 3.1. Fatty acid composition in Basil species (O. album, O. basilicum and
O.tenuiflorum). From Malik et al., 1987, 1979.
Fatty acid O. albumaO. basilicumaO. tenuiflorumb
Arachidonic acid (C20:4) 2.73 – –
Capric acid (C10:0) 1.30 – –
Lauric acid (C12:0) 0.78 0.85 2.84
Linoleic acid (C18:2) 36.36 21.18 59.10
α-Linolenic acid (C18:3) – 48.50 21.27
Myristic acid (C14:0) 0.68 0.36 1.90
Oleic acid (C18:1) 44.16 13.33 6.00
Palmitic acid (C16:0) 11.68 9.70 5.54
Stearic acid (C18:0) 2.33 5.45 3.12
aMalik et al., 1987; bMalik et al., 1989.
0002713920.INDD 31 4/20/2016 4:04:34 PM
32 D. Lupton et al.
The herb is traditionally dried by hang-
ing washed bundles inverted in a dry and
shaded place or placing whole spread leaves
between two sheets of paper to prevent oxi-
dation and discoloration. Forced warm air
drying is used for industrial production.
Basil leaves should be dried immediately
after harvest because they darken if exposed
to the open air for an extended period of
time. Drying should be done at a temperature
not exceeding 40°C to minimize the evapor-
ation of volatile compounds (Putievsky and
Galambosi, 1999). Dried basil can be pre-
served for a year when it is protected from
heat, light and moisture (Meyers, 2003).
Essential oil can be extracted from basil
in two forms, as herbal oil that originates
from the leaves (0.1–0.25%) or as a superior-
quality oral oil that is collected from the
owers (0.4%) (Srivastava, 1980; Putievsky
and Galambosi, 1999). In India, owers are
harvested four times during the season and
produce 12–13 kg/ha oil yield compared to
18–22 kg/ha from one harvest from the
much higher fresh yield of whole plants
(Srivastava, 1980). In Israel, plants are har-
vested when half of them have owers and
the fresh annual yield is 75 tons/ha, which
produces an essential oil yield 120–140 kg/ha
(Putievsky and Galambosi, 1999). A similar
distillation process is used for basil oil ex-
traction to the one that is commercially used
for other herbs; this takes about an hour us-
ing freshly harvested leaves (Wijesekera, 1986;
3.3.2 Value addition
Basil leaves can be mixed with a variety of
other herbs, including juniper, garlic, mar-
joram, oregano, paprika, mustard, parsley,
pepper, sage, rosemary and thyme, and can be
used in stufngs, soups, stews and rice, and
also with sh, vegetables, chicken and meats.
They can be a key ingredient in vinegars,
jams, teas, cheeses, drinks, oils and liqueurs
too. Purple basil vinegars can be produced
with a good colour, and according to personal
taste, cinnamon and lemon basils are used to
make delicious desserts and may increase
their taste. Larger leaves can be minced, torn
or chopped and consumed. Small leaves are
good to add to vegetarian dishes, salads, rice
and pasta. For maximum avour, basil is
added at the end of cooking. It is used fresh as
well as dried, but the drying reduces the pre-
dominant avours. The uses of basil are diverse
and plenteous; it is used with meat, vegetables,
sh, dressings, sauces, stews, herbal teas, li-
queurs and mixed drinks. It is universally
used by both the domestic and the industrial-
ized producer in the preparation of pesto,
a varying combination of basil, cheese, garlic,
oil and nuts. Basil is often used as an add-
itional avour with tomatoes. Garden- fresh
basil is preserved in vinegar or oil, or frozen.
Chilling of basil preserves the avour of the
herb more effectively than does drying. The
length of storage of dried basil is far more than
that of fresh basil, which lasts for only a short
time in the refrigerator.
Despite being consumed at relatively low
amounts, the high levels of antioxidants and
minerals in herbs means that many of them
have signicant health benets. It is not fully
understood what quantities of basil should
be ingested to achieve its health benets,
There are no standards or recommendations
as to the precise amounts to use. Neverthe-
less, basil is almost completely calorie free
and contains high quantities of dietary bre
and minerals. Even though there appears to
be no logical evidence for its usefulness to
human health, basil tea and oil are readily
available in many health food stores. Having
said that, basil is a popular food additive and
provides a distinctive avour and aroma.
Basil is a great addition to any kitchen, it adds
both avour and personality to many dishes
(Hosseini-Parvar et al., 2015).
3.4.1 General uses
Basil has many uses ranging from culinary
to religious, and these are often steeped in
0002713920.INDD 32 4/20/2016 4:04:34 PM
ritual. There are a number of interesting
beliefs linked with the historical use of basil.
In Europe, it was associated with death and it
was considered to be unlucky to dream of it.
In contrast, in Italy, women wore it in their
hair and young men wore it behind their
ears when they went courting (Dymock et al.,
2005). Hindus in India believe that if you
are buried with basil, it is a guaranteed
ticket to heaven. The English used it in food
and to repel pests, e.g. ies, and evil spirits.
Basil is often called l’herbe royale (the royal
herb) by the French. Jewish folklore implies
that while fasting, basil gives you strength
(Miele et al., 2001). In Portugal, potted basil
is presented to a loved one on the religious
holidays of St John and St Antony. Holy basil
has religious worth across a range of belief
systems; the Greek, Bulgarian, Romanian and
Serbian Orthodox churches utilize basil in the
preparation of holy water, in some instances
a pot of basil is placed under the church
altar (Tilebeni, 2011).
Basil has been incorporated into culinary
preparations for thousands of years, and it
is a very useful gastronomic herb found in
a wealth of dishes, sauces and condiments,
soups, stews and stufng, and also in sh,
meats and vegetables. It is easily blended
with other herbs, including, garlic, oregano,
mustard, parsley, pepper, rosemary and thyme
(Hemphill, 2000, cited by Meyers, 2003). It
is also an important constituent in teas, oils,
cheeses and liqueurs (Darrah, 1980; Simon,
1995). Basil is an important component of
many alcoholic beverages, including bitters,
liquors and spirits. By adding a blend of
mixed essential oils of fennel, basil and cori-
ander to a salt solution of whey, Russian re-
searchers found a method to enhance the
storage of a carbonated fermented milk bever-
age (Askerova et al., 1993). Fresh, frozen or
dried basil (1–40 g/1) is also used in spirits,
garlic or lemon alcoholic beverages, which
may be sweet or dry, according to a German
patent (Meier, 1990, cited by Hiltunen and
Holm, 1999). Basil essential oil has signicant
commercial value. It is utilized in a range of
industrial products, including beverages,
prepared foods, dental products, fragrances
and soaps (Darrah, 1980). O. gratissimum and
O. basilicum essential oils are considered eco-
nomic materials in their own right (Lawless,
Many synthetic insecticides have signicant
negative side effects and are expensive to
produce. Efforts to develop alternative more
environmentally friendly insect repellents
are high on the environmental agenda. Some
evidence suggests that basil has powerful in-
secticidal properties. A number of studies
have been carried out in this respect on
Ocimum spp. One hundred per cent repel-
lence of O. gratissimum essential oil (2% in
acetone) has been observed against Musca
domestica (the housey) (Singh et al., 1985).
Another study demonstrated that O. basilicum
essential oil repelled the red our beetle,
Tribolium castaneum (Mohiuddin et al., 1987,
cited by Nahak et al., 2011).
Traditional medical uses
Basil has an extensive list of traditional
medical uses. O. basilicum has more than
50 medicinal uses, from analgesic to anthel-
mintic, and is supposed to treat fungal infec-
tions, acne, headaches and over 100 such
conditions (Duke, 2002, cited by Meyers,
2003). The following are just a small sample
of the traditional medicinal uses. The trad-
itional Chinese medicine system involves the
use of O.basilicum for treatment of gum ul-
cers, kidney problems and as a haemostyptic
in childbirth. In India, it is used for problems
as diverse as earache, menstrual irregular-
ities, arthritis, anorexia and malaria (Medical
Economics Company, 2000, cited by Meyers,
2003). Rihan (O. basilicum in Arabic) is used
in treatment of colds, cataract and diarrhoea
in northern and central Oman (Ghazanfar and
Al Sabahi, 1993). Reyhan (the Persian name)
is used to treat urinary tract infection, chest
and lung problems, ulcers and inuenza, and
in Iran, basil is employed as a tonic, appetizer
and expectorant (Naghibi et al., 2005, cited in
Rivera Núñez et al., 2012). In Jordan, an infu-
sion of basil is considered to be anthelmintic,
0002713920.INDD 33 4/20/2016 4:04:34 PM
34 D. Lupton et al.
anti-emetic and antidiarrhoeal (Kirtikar and
Basu, 2003, cited by Bilal et al., 2012). In Guinea,
the leaves and stems are used to treat fever,
neuralgia, catarrh and renal troubles (Kirtikar
and Basu, 2003, cited in Bilal et al., 2012). In
Ethiopia, the leaves are used against malaria,
headache and diarrhoea. In homeopathy, the
fresh mature leaves are used to treat blood dys-
entery, inammation and congestion of the
kidney. The roots and the leaves are used to
trea t bowel complaints in children (Jayaweera,
1981, cited by Bilal et al., 2012; Kirtikar and
Basu, 2003, cited by Bilal et al., 2012). There
is a long list of traditional basil remedies in
the literature and according to folklore. As is
seen from this account, the uses of basil are
medically and geographically diverse.
There is considerable interest in study-
ing the properties and benets of basil.
The following paragraphs and Section 3.4.2
(Pharmacological uses) examine a number of
the pharmacological characteristics of basil
and explore some of the current research.
Basil has been found to show effective-
ness against many fungal, viral, bacterial and
protozoal infections. Current studies suggest
that basil is helpful in inhibiting the growth of
carcinogenic cells and in HIV. Basil leaves
are used specically to treat many fevers and
coughs, u, asthma, inuenza, bronchitis,
colds, chicken pox and diarrhoea, and they
can lower the cholesterol level in blood and
act as anti-stress agents. Basil juice is an ef-
fective medicine for inamed eyes and night-
blindness, which is often caused by vitamin
A deciency (Grieve and Marshall, 1982;
Boggia et al., 2015; Hosseini-Parvaret al., 2015).
There are frequent studies on the anti-
fungal activity of Ocimum leaves, essential
oils and their components and extracts.
Fresh ripe tomato fruits were treated before
and after inoculation with Aspergillus niger
in the presence of Drosophila busckii by an
ethanolic extract of O. tenuiorum. The
fruits did not show signs of rotting for 5 to
7 days after this treatment (Sinha and Saxena,
1989, cited by Nahak et al., 2011). The es-
sential oil of O. canum was successful against
the fungi causing damping-off disease, Pyth-
ium aphanidermatum, P. debaryanum and
Rhizoctonia solani. O. canum gave a 50%
reduction in damping-off disease of tomato
plants in P. aphanidermatum-infected soil
and up to 43% reduction in P. debaryanum-
infected soil. Phytotoxicity of this essential
oil was not observed and it was superior to
common synthetic fungicides such as captan
(Pandey and Dubey, 1992, 1994). O. basilicum
essential oil displayed antifungal properties
against an Aspergillus avus strain producing
aatoxin and against A. parasiticus. The fun-
gistatic properties of the oil were observed at a
dose of 1.5 ml/1 and the fungicidal properties
at 6.0 ml/1. These doses are much lower than
those of industrial synthetic fungicides and
fumigants, and effect of the oil treatment is not
altered by storage, temperature or increased
inocula (Nahak et al., 2011). Antimicrobial ac-
tivity of sweet basil has been found against
such organisms as Lactobacillus acidophilus,
Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Mycoderma sp.,
A. niger and Bacillus cereus (Meena and Vijay,
1994, cited by Hiltunen and Holm, 1999).
3.4.2 Pharmacological uses
Basil oil is known to have strong antioxidant
properties. Research has shown the oil contains
potent anticancer, antiviral and antimicrobial
properties (Tilebeni, 2011). Antioxidants are
an important part of maintaining a healthy
and balanced lifestyle, and basil maybe a very
important source of these essential compounds
(Baritaux et al., 1992, cited by Tilebeni, 2011).
However, despite these reputed properties, it
is important to be aware that basil contains
estragole, which may be carcinogenic. In Ger-
many, for example, basil is not considered safe
for pregnant women or children (Aruna and
Sivaramakrishnan, 1992, cited by Meyers, 2003).
There is extensive diversity in the
phytochemical constituents of basil; these
constituents vary signicantly with time,
cultivation processes and storage. The nutri-
tional and pharmacological properties of
the whole herb in natural form, as it has been
traditionally used, results from the inter-
action of many different active phytochemi-
cals, and consequently, the overall benets
of basil cannot be completely duplicated us-
ing single isolated constituents (Tewari et al.,
2012). There is very little data relating to a
standardized dosage available from traditional
0002713920.INDD 34 4/20/2016 4:04:34 PM
practitioners, which is problematic for chem-
ists and pharmacists. This raises the issue
that there needs to be a greater communica-
tion between traditional and orthodox medi-
cine in order to improve our understanding
of the interactions and properties of basil
(Tewari et al., 2012).
Research into the medicinal properties
and effects of basil has been conducted
at various levels. A methanolic extract of
O. basilicum was assessed for it analgesic
activity in mice. Choudary et al. (2010, cited
by Bilal et al., 2012) demonstrated that anal-
gesic activity at a concentration 200 mg/kg
was similar to that of the drug aspirin. Bene-
dec et al. (2007) examined the effects of an
O. basilicum tincture in acute inammation
in male rats and showed a small but consid-
erably important inammatory effect. O. ba-
silicum oil was shown to contain signicant
anti-ulcer activity against aspirin, alcohol,
histamine, serotonin and stress-induced gas-
tric ulceration (Singh et al., 1999, cited by
Nahak et al., 2011). Zeggwagh et al. (2007,
cited by Bilal et al., 2012) studied the hypo-
glycaemic effect of aqueous extract of O. ba-
silicum in normal and diabetic rats. Their
results showed the extracts had high anti-
hypoglycaemic effects in diabetic rats.
In the last decade or two, an increased
methodical interest in the health benets of
plant phytochemicals (in herbs and spices,
vegetables and fruits) has gained prominence
in the wider study of plant-based nutritional
research. Although the study of plant com-
pounds is by no means a new area of research,
scientists have only recently started to char-
acterize bioactive compounds in order to
explore their effects on human health and
disease. In animal and cell culture studies,
basil has displayed anti-inammatory, antidi-
abetic, antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-
cancer activity (Arfat et al., 2014).
Use as a prophylactic agent
A decoction of basil leaves is used against
hepatic and gastritis disorders. Basil leaf
juice is used to treat dysentery, night blind-
ness and conjunctivitis. The essential oils of
basil have 100% larvicidal properties. Basil
has excellent antimalarial properties and
eugenol is the main constituent responsible
for its mosquito-repellent properties. Basil
leaf paste is effective against ringworm in-
fection and to clear marks on the face. The
occurrence of urosolic acid in the leaves
helps to remove wrinkles and returns skin
elasticity. Basil is highly benecial in healing
wounds, cuts and ulcers, and in removing
parasites and worms (Bansod and Rai, 2008).
It supplies numerous antioxidants and offers
generous reinforcement against free radical-
induced damage. Oxygen free radicals are
naturally occurring physiological products
containing one or more unpaired electrons,
and along with reactive oxygen species (ROS),
are considered to be harmful to important
membrane lipids, proteins, carbohydrates
and DNA. This damage has been related to
several diseases, for example atheroscler-
osis, liver cirrhosis, cancer and diabetes, etc.
(Chiang et al., 2005; Bansod and Rai, 2008).
It has been well accepted that dietary antioxi-
dants have great prospects for curing these
disease processes. Antioxidants also enhance
the activity of superoxide dismutase (SOD) and
reduce lipid peroxidation (Rai et al., 1997;
Hannan et al., 2006). Basil antioxidants help
in maintaining good health and in prevent-
ing the chance occurrence of heart diseases,
as well as most of the other degenerative dis-
eases, because oxidative stress is the hall-
mark of such diseases (Hannan et al., 2006).
The anticancer activity of basil has been long
established and is mentioned by several
investigators (e.g. Karthikeyan et al., 1999;
Somkuwar, 2003). Protection against cancer
at the cellular level is provided by the
unique array of avonoids that are found in
basil. Water-soluble avonoids of basil, in-
cluding vicenin and orientin, have been
shown to defend cell structures and chromo-
somes against radiation and oxygen-based
damage in human white blood cell studies
(Madhuri, 2001). Basil leaf alcoholic extracts
have a modulatory impact on carcinogen-
metabolizing enzymes such as aryl hydrocarbon
hydroxylase and glutathione-S-transferase,
(GST) and the cytochromes P450 and b5.
They are important detoxicants of mutagens
0002713920.INDD 35 4/20/2016 4:04:34 PM
36 D. Lupton et al.
and carcinogens. Basil anticancer activity has
also been established against human brosar-
coma cell cultures, in which alcohol extracts
induced cytotoxicity at 50 mg/ml and above.
Morphologically, the cancer cells showed
condensed nuclei and shrunken cytoplasm
and the DNA was found to be fragmented on
agarose gel electrophoresis. Basil considerably
decreased the occurrence of 3′-methyl-4-
mas in rats and benzo(α)pyrene-induced neo-
plasia of the forestomach of mice. An alcohol
extract of basil leaves was shown to have an
inhibitory effect on chemically induced skin
papillomas in mice (Devi, 2001). A leaf ex-
tract of basil applied to 7,12-dimethylbenz(a)
anthracene (DMBA)-induced papillomas in
mice considerably reduced tumour incidence,
the average number of papillomas per mouse
and the cumulative number of papillomas.
Eugenol, a avonoid present in basil and other
plants showed similar activity. Oral treat-
ment with basil fresh leaf paste inhibits the
early events of DMBA-induced buccal pouch
carcinogenesis. Basil leaf extract suppresses
or blocks the events related to chemical
carcinogenesis by hindering the metabolic
activation of the carcinogen (Aggarwal and
The avonoids vicenin and orientin from
basil leaves exhibited a greater radioprotec-
tive effect than synthetic radioprotectors by
protecting human lymphocytes from the clas-
togenic effects of radiation at low, non-toxic
dilutions (Devi et al., 2000). Among three plant
extracts, viz. Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal,
O. tenuiorum and Plumbago rosea (preferred
name P. indica L.), tested on experimental
mice for bone marrow survival following 2
Gy γ-radiation, O. tenuiorum water extract
exhibited maximum radioprotection as meas-
ured by an exogenous spleen colony forming
unit (CFU-S) assay (Devi et al., 1998).
It is the volatile/essential oils of a hydro-
phobic nature that account for the biochem-
ical actions of spices and herbs (Pandey and
Madhuri, 2010). Basil contains many aro-
matic essential oil compounds that uctuate
in proportion and quality depending on the
cultivar. The important aromatic compounds
present include linalool, eugenol, citral, me-
thyl chavicol/estragole, limonene and me-
thyl cinnamate. These aromatic compounds
defend the herb from insects, bacteria and
fungi. In similar fashion, they can help in
protecting against diseases caused by fungi,
bacteria and insects.
In studies involving cell culture, the es-
sential oils of basil have demonstrated anti-
microbial activity by damaging bacterial cell
walls and triggering cell lysis. Linalool, me-
thyl chavicol and methyl cinnamate are also
very efcient in hindering the development
of pathogenic bacteria such as Escherichia
coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus
faecalis, Shigella spp., Mycobacterium spp.,
Salmonella spp. and Pseudomonas aerugi-
nosa. Pathogenic bacteria can cause illnesses
such as pneumonia, food poisoning, urinary
tract infections and dysentery.
Basil is also a well-recognized insecti-
cidal, antiviral and antifungal agent. Although
it has long been used to treat microbial infec-
tions, there is not sufcient data to fully sup-
port its efcacy and safety in humans. Basil has
potent antimicrobial activity against P. aerug-
inosa, Bacillus pumilus and B. megaterium,
S. aureus and S. albus, M. tuberculosis, Micro-
coccus pyogenes var. aureus, Helminthosporium
spp., H. oryzae, Alternaria tenuis, A. solani,
Curvularia spp. and C. penniseli, Candida
guillermondii, Pseudomonas spp., S. aureus,
Fusarium solani, Colletotricum capsici, Ar-
throbacter globiformis, E. coli and Vibrio chol-
erae. The high concentrations of linolenic
acid in basil oil are considered to be largely
responsible for its antimicrobial activity
(Phadke and Kulkarni, 1989; Mondal et al.,
The active role of acute inammation is a
normal and protective process in helping
the body to deal with infections, tissue injury
and immune reactions. It is not un expected
that basil has been used for centuries as a
traditional method of curing inammatory
0002713920.INDD 36 4/20/2016 4:04:34 PM
disorders. The anti-inammatory activity of
basil is largely credited to the presence of
eugenol, which can block the activity of the
enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX). Basil ex-
tracts diminish inammation by stopping
the release of pro-inammatory cytokines
and mediators (most notably nitric oxide).
Cytokines are proteins that are passed from
one cell to another that sanction direct cell-to-
cell communication (Singh and Majumdar,
1997; Singh, 1998).
Steam-distilled basil essential oil altered
the humoral immune response in albino
rats. This response could be attributed to
the discharge of mediators of hypersensi-
tivity reactions, antibody production and
tissue responses to these mediators in the
target organs. Basil bolsters the immune re-
action by improving both cellular and hu-
moral immunity (Mukherjee et al., 2005).
The immunostimulant capacity of basil ac-
counts for its adaptogenic action. Basil ale
enhanced the survival time of swimming
mice and prevented milk-induced leucocyt-
osis in mice and stress-induced ulcers in
rats. Stress is ‘non-specic result of any de-
mand upon the body’ and is experienced by
every individual. It can be either psycho-
logical or physical. Extreme stress is harm-
ful for the body and its immediate treatment
is required. Stress is also involved in the
pathogenesis of a variety of diseases, in-
cluding psychiatric disorders such as im-
munosuppression, depression and anxiety,
endocrine disorders such as diabetes melli-
tus, cognitive dysfunction, male impotence,
hypertension, peptic ulcers and ulcerative
colitis. Basil has good rejuvenating activity
and helps to reduce stress, assist the body
by improving memory and relax the mind.
The anti-hypoxic effect of basil increases
the survival time in anoxic stress. Basil re-
duced oxidative stress in a study conducted
with rabbits (Chattopadhyay et al., 1992).
One of the most important capabilities of
basil found in recent times is its antidia-
betic activity. The anti-glycaemic proper-
ties of basil have been reported by various
researchers but the mechanism of this ac-
tion has not yet been explained. A study
with neem (Azadirachta indica) and basil
leaves blended together showed that this
blend signicantly lowered the sugar level
in diabetic patients. Basil extract also
caused a noticeable drop of blood sugar in
normal, streptozotocin (STZ)-induced and
glucose- fed hyperglycaemic and diabetic
rats. A completely randomized, placebo-
controlled, cross-over single blind trial of
holy basil leaves in humans showed a no-
ticeable drop in postprandial and fasting
blood glucose levels of 7.3 and 17.6%, re-
spectively. A similar trend was noted in
urine glucose levels. The aldose reductase
activity of basil assists in reducing the
complications of diabetes, such as retinop-
athy, cataract, etc. (Mandal et al., 1993;
Halder et al., 2003; Kochhar et al., 2009;
Nair et al., 2009).
The antipyretic action of basil xed oil ex-
tracted from the seeds was examined in rats
against typhoid-paratyphoid A/B vaccine-
induced pyrexia. The intraperitoneal (ip)
administration of basil xed oil signicantly
decreased the febrile response, thereby dem-
onstrating its antipyretic activity. The oil
showed comparable antipyretic activity to
aspirin at a dose of 3 ml/kg. Additionally, it
has prostaglandin inhibitory activity which
can be explained by its antipyretic activity
(Singh et al., 2007).
Formaldehyde-induced arthritis in rats was
studied to evaluate the anti-arthritic activity
of basil xed oil. The xed oil signicantly
reduced inamed paw diameter. There was
conspicuous progress in the improvement
in the arthritic conditions of rats on ip dos-
age of the oil for 10 days. The anti-arthritic
effect of the basil xed oil at 3 ml/kg dose
0002713920.INDD 37 4/20/2016 4:04:34 PM
38 D. Lupton et al.
was analogous to that of aspirin at 100 mg/kg.
The oil inhibited inammatory mediators
(e.g. histamine, serotonin, prostaglandin-2
(PGE-2) and bradykinin) and carrageenan-
induced inammation. The end result sug-
gests possibly useful anti-arthritic properties
of basil oil in these inammation models
(Singh and Majumdar, 1996; Singh et al.,
Use in cardiovascular disease
The cholesterol and triglyceride-lowering
properties of basil offer potential for inhibit-
ing cardiovascular disease. The combination
of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) choles-
terol (which clogs blood vessels) and high
levels of circulating triglycerides (a fat form
in the blood) are risk factors for heart attack,
stroke and atherosclerosis. Basil extracts
slowed down platelet aggregation and throm-
bosis, suggesting their potential for stroke
prevention and heart attack (Sharma et al.,
The unique health benets of basil are pri-
marily due to its very high antioxidant con-
tent, and the antioxidants (e.g. phytochemicals
such as phenolics and vitamins) that it con-
tains contribute to disease prevention. The
principal subtype of basil phenolics is its a-
vonoids, which include orientin and vicenin;
and the plant also contains eugenol and an-
thocyanins. The presence of anthocyanins in
purple basils is responsible for their deep
red–violet pigmentation. All of the cultivars
of purple basils contain very high antioxidant
activity due to their anthocyanin content
(Khan et al., 2008).
Basil (Ocimum basilicum L.) is an annual to
perennial herb that is grown around the world
for use as a food avouring, in essential oil ap-
plications and in traditional medicinal prac-
tices. Basil contains mostly methyl chavicol
(estragole), eugenol and linalool. The amount
of each of these chemical constituents differs
depending on the type of species or cultivar
and the cultivation, such as soil type, weather,
irrigation, pruning and other horticultural
practices. Basil is a vital component of several
industrial applications, ranging from food to
cosmetics to pharmaceuticals. More uses and
applications of basil by-products are continu-
ously being added.
Basil is a key ingredient in vinegars,
oils, cheeses, jams, teas, drinks and li-
queurs. It has an extensive list of traditional
medicinal uses. The unique health benets
of basil are primarily due to its very high
antioxidant content. O. basilicum has been
utilized to treat kidney problems, gum ul-
cers, as a haemostyptic in childbirth and for
problems as diverse as malaria, arthritis, an-
orexia, menstrual irregularities and earache.
Further research on maximizing the
yield per hectare and on the optimum preser-
vation and oil extraction methods are needed,
particularly in the developing world, where
basil leaf and ower harvesting and posthar-
vest processing methods are very traditional.
The authors acknowledge Sultan Qaboos
University and The Research Council of
Oman for partially funding this work.
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