By Michael A. Smith, MDBasil is more than just an herb. It’s an herbal medicine that’s been used for thousands of years and is becoming a formidable opponent against some of today’s most prevalent health problems. This power “medicine” is indigenous to Asia and Africa and is actually part of the mint family.
Today, it’s grown in regions throughout the world, but primarily in France, Greece, Egypt, and the United States. There are over 60 varieties of this potent herb, each differentiated by its leaf appearance and pungency. The most common form is sweet basil, which is most often used in cooking.
With its wealth of nutrients — from hefty amounts of vitamin K and calcium, to high antioxidant oils — basil offers an array of health-enhancing benefits such as protection against DNA damage and reduction of stress.
Additionally, the peppermint-like leaves of basil are loaded with beta-caryophyllene, an anti-inflammatory compound showing promise for use in inflammatory conditions.
Basil Preserves DNA IntegrityAmong basil’s most prized benefits is its ability to protect your genetic make-up. Your DNA is packaged in units called chromosomes, which can be damaged by exposure to radiation. The damage can result in free radicals known as reactive oxygen species that alter the genetic material inside cells and cause DNA mutations linked to the growth of cancer.1
Two water-soluble antioxidants found in high concentrations in basil might provide protection against radiation at the cellular level. In a study published in the journal Radiation Research, mice received orientin or vicenin, the water-soluble antioxidants, before being exposed to radiation. Scientists concluded that both of the antioxidants significantly reduced chromosomal damage.2 Awesome!
Basil Kills BacteriaBasil inhibits the growth of disease-causing bacteria. The medicinal effects are attributed to the essential oils found in basil, including rosmarinic acid, linalool and oleanolic acid.3 In a study done by Iranian scientists, basil’s essential oils were shown in laboratory tests to be effective in preventing the growth of Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli.4
This really is important. As many bacteria become resistant to common antibiotics, we need to find alternatives. So searching for natural bacteria fighters, Bulgarian researchers discovered that Basil’s essential oils could kill drug resistant bacteria like Enterococcus, Pseudomonas and Staphylococcus.5
Basil Reduces Arthritis PainBasil’s essential oils contain multiple compounds; however, eugenol shows the greatest potential for helping people with arthritis. It decreases the activity of cyclooxygenase or COX, an enzyme that increases the production of pro-inflammatory cells and proteins.6
A study performed by the University of Science Malaysia demonstrated how eugenol helps with people with arthritis. Researchers induced arthritis in the right paw and knee of rats, resulting in increased swelling. After 26 days of administering ginger and eugenol oil to the rats, researchers observed significant decreases in both paw and knee joint swelling.7
Picking the Right the BasilHere are some points for picking the right basil:
- Choose fresh basil over the dried form for better flavor.
- Pick fresh-looking, bright green basil leaves.
- Avoid fresh basil leaves with dark spots, cuts, tears, or yellowing.
- Store fresh basil in the refrigerator or freezer.
- Nature. 2007 Mar;446(1732):153-8.
- Radiat Res. 2005 Feb;163(2):165-71.
- J Med Plant Res. 2011 Aug;5(15):3453-6.
- J Microbiol Methods. 2003 Jul;54(1):105-10.
- Phytomedicine. 2000 Mar;7(1):7-13.
- Pharmacology. 1994 Nov;49(5):314-8.
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