(NaturalHealth365) Basil — a culinary herb with a refreshing, tart-yet-sweet flavor — is valued by chefs for its ability to add zest to sauces, salads, and stews. Its glossy, dark green leaves can also be used as a garnish to boost a recipe’s visual appeal.
But this fragrant member of the mint family shouldn’t be dismissed as mere window dressing. Laboratory studies have shown that basil leaves are packed with powerful constituents that can boost your health and help fight disease. With anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antispasmodic, analgesic and antibacterial properties, basil can help safeguard your arteries from stroke-causing atherosclerosis, slow the progression of degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis and inhibit the growth of disease-causing bacteria.
As if that weren’t impressive enough, versatile basil can also ease digestive problems, protect your vision, soothe headaches and help strengthen your bones.
The basics of basil history
Basil, botanically known as Ocimum basilicum, is an annual warm-weather herb that originated in Asia and the Middle East but now grows in a variety of regions. It is also called sweet basil and Mediterranean basil, and is frequently used in Italian, Thai, Middle Eastern and Vietnamese cuisines.
For centuries, natural healers have employed basil as a medicinal herb to treat a variety of conditions, including allergies, diabetes, breathing difficulties, digestive problems and infections.
How does basil neutralize free radicals?
Basil’s high content of polyphenolic flavonoids – natural antioxidants which help to protect the plant from ultraviolet radiation and insect predators – gives the herb its ability to neutralize cell-damaging free radicals. Free radicals also cause trouble by oxidizing cholesterol in your bloodstream, where it builds up in your arteries as atherosclerosis and raises your risk of stroke and heart trouble. By preventing cholesterol oxidation, basil helps prevent narrowing of the arteries.
In a 2011 study published in the “Journal of Advanced Pharmacy Education and Research,” researchers found that an ethanol extract of Ocimum basilicum had more antioxidant activity than a standard antioxidant used as a commercial food preservative.
Basil’s potent antioxidant properties can also help slow the progression of degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis, which are exacerbated by free radical damage.
What are the antibacterial properties of basil?
Basil, it turns out, packs a real one-two punch when it comes to fighting diseases. In addition to its high flavonoid content, it is also rich in bacteria-fighting volatile oils, including cineole, eugenol, myricene and limonene. According to The World’s Healthiest Foods, these potent oils slow the growth of a variety of harmful pathogens, including listeria, S. aureus, pseudomonas and E. coli.
The 2011 “Journal of Advanced Pharmacy Education and Research” study supports this assertion. Researchers noted that extracts from Ocimum basilicum showed “strong” inhibitory action against all bacterial strains tested, and some types of fungi as well.
The nutritional benefits of basil
Basil is a low-calorie, high-fiber food rich in beta-carotene – which your body uses to make vitamin A and vitamin K, which has also been found to strengthen bones and reduce osteoporosis risk.
Basil is also high in potassium – which helps to regulate blood pressure — and manganese, used by your body to make superoxide dismutase, a potent natural antioxidant enzyme.
Finally, basil contains high levels of cryptoxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin. According to Nutrition and You, these micronutrients protect the retina from harmful UV rays, and have been found to help prevent age-related macular degeneration.
Brew some basil – a natural relief by the cup
Make basil tea by placing two tablespoons of fresh basil in a pot of boiling water and steeping for 5 to 10 minutes, using a cover to prevent volatile oils from escaping. Strain, then cool. Many herbalists recommend basil tea for headaches and sore throats due to the mild analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of eugenol oil. In addition, basil’s antispasmodic properties may help alleviate stomach cramps, while its magnesium may ease constipation.
Keep in mind – some precautions
Basil is considered safe when eaten in the amounts found in food. However, allergic reactions have been reported. If you are allergic to mint, oregano, marjoram, sage or thyme, avoid basil as well.
For maximum disease-fighting benefits, buy organic basil which has not been irradiated, a process that can destroy basil’s vitamin C and beneficial carotenoids.
Basil may interact with prescription medications, vitamins and supplements. Naturally, consult your doctor before using basil, particularly if you have diabetes and are being treated with insulin-lowering medications.
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Journal of Advanced Pharmacy and Research, August 20, 2011 – www.japer.in/Issue/Issu%202%20august/18.pd
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