Basil Oil: History, Benefits, and More

Basil Oil: History, Benefits, and More

Basil Oil: History, Benefits, and More

Basil’s benefits can help you optimize your mental and physical wellness. 

Introduction

When you hear the word “basil”, besides an herb garden, the first place you probably think of is the kitchen. That, or the tasty pesto you had last month. 

And it’s true. Basil is a great culinary ingredient, but it’s also so much more. 

Basil is a nervous system stimulant, great for kicking the brain into gear, while simultaneously helping you kick out distractions, like migraines and anxious feelings. And It’s semi-famous as an herbal treatment for hair loss and ear infections. 

(Fun fact: “Basil” hit the peak of its popularity as a baby name in the 1910s. Do you have any grandfathers named Basil?)

Likely because of its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, the ancients used basil for even more medicinal purposes than we use it today. 

But which of these benefits is backed by modern research? What is the true history behind basil?

Follow us as we explore basil beyond the kitchen and decide whether it deserves a place in the medicine cabinet as well as the spice cupboard. 

Best Uses for Basil Oil

Migraines

Mental fatigue

History of Basil Oil

It seems likely that basil began in India more than 4,000 years ago, where it was associated with the gods and used in Ayurvedic medicine.

Some varieties, like “Holy Basil” stayed in India, but other varieties traveled and became a part of medicinal traditions in Egypt, China, the Middle East, and Europe.

In Europe especially, basil became an herb of many symbolic associations, and herbalists like Nicholas Culpeper, John Gerard, and John Parkinson would recommend it for medicinal use. 

Today, basil is a staple culinary ingredient in both Italian and various Asian cuisines.

Basil Essential Oil Uses

Mental & Emotional Benefits

Can basil oil help reduce anxiety and depression?

Maybe. There is only one very small human study on the subject, and that one used a mix of essential oils (Okamoto 2005) as well as a small number of animal studies (Suryani 2019, Sentari 2019, Hirai 2019, Rabbani 2015). 

However, if you personally find the smell of basil particularly pleasant, that may increase its anxiolytic effectiveness for you.

Can basil oil help against mental fatigue and burnout?

Maybe. One randomized, controlled, double-blind pilot study (Varney 2012) tested a mixture of basil, helichrysum, and peppermint essential oils on a small convenience sample. The aromatherapy group reported a greater reduction in mental fatigue and burnout than the placebo group, but no other studies have yet been completed. 

One animal study even suggests that basil oil might be able to help with memory retrieval, (Sarahroodi 2012) but of course, much more research is needed. 

Is there a better oil out there for you to improve your alertness? How can you know which essential oils are best for you? Try an iTOVi Scan!


Physical Benefits

Can basil oil help against migraines?

Possibly. A 2020 triple-blind clinical trial human study (Ahmadifard 2020) tracked the effect of basil oil or a placebo on migraine-diagnosed patients over the course of several weeks. Those who were tested with the basil oil experienced a decrease in both pain intensity and the frequency of their migraines. 

Not enough evidence to call it definite, but it looks hopeful. 

Can basil oil help relieve pain?

Maybe. Two animal studies have been done on the subject, one testing for antinociceptive effects (Venancio 2010) and the other for analgesic effects against sciatic pain (Kaur 2015). Again, promising, but by no means definite. 

Can basil oil support hair growth?

This is a fairly common traditional use for basil or basil plant roots. However, there isn’t any evidence for this benefit yet published in available scholarly journals. 

Can basil oil help against ear infections?

It’s a popular folk use for basil—but not tested with basil oil enough to know if it is safe for human use. The only current research is a single animal study (Kristinsson 2005), so we’ll just have to wait for researchers to build on that foundation.  

What other properties does basil oil have?

Various in vitro studies on basil oil suggest that it may also have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant properties (Faur 2020, Eftekhar 2019,  Li 2017

El-Soud 2015, Kubica 2014, Joshi 2014, Gaio 2015, Sienkiewicz 2013, Oxenham 2005, Chiang 2005, Opalchenova 2003).

Is basil oil safe for pregnancy?

Various popular, non-scholarly sources on the web recommend avoiding basil oil wholly throughout pregnancy. And others say a limited amount of basil oil is okay. At this point, the best thing to do is to ask your doctor’s advice and let them guide you before attempting to use basil oil during pregnancy.  

Manufacturing Basil Oil

Over the centuries, basil has spread across the globe longitudinally, but like so many plants it doesn’t like to get too far away from the Equator in order to avoid cold-temperature injuries. 

Water stress is a real risk for basil crops too, so drip irrigation is the preferred watering method. 

As a general rule, basil is cultivated in climates that sit between 45 ̊ and 80 ̊F and grows best in sunny areas and well-drained, nitrate-N-rich soil. (Note that over-fertilization can curtail the essential oil quantity). If grown in ideal conditions, basil can yield up to five cutting per year! This is lucky because it can take more than a hundred pounds of plant material to produce a single pound of essential oil. 

Every spring, once all risk of frost has passed, basil is usually either directly seeded or transplanted into the field where it can grow and be harvested until the frost returns. 

In order to get the best quantity and quality of oil, basil growers follow a few guidelines during the harvest. First of all, irrigation should be left off for a few days before the harvest because this brief lack of water will boost the plant’s resin production. Also, the harvest should be done in warm, sunny weather if possible, when the flowers are in full bloom. 

During the harvest, many basil growers recommend cutting the plant about 4-6 inches above the ground, leaving just enough for growth and a subsequent crop. When the harvesting and planting dates are appropriately staggered, the basil crop can maintain a high, consistent yield throughout the season.

After being cut, the basil leaves and flowering tops are dried at a low temperature for a few days before they are placed in the distillation vats. The resultant oil is strong in aroma and tinted green in color. 

Basil Oil Varieties

Worldwide, over 150 basil varieties are grown and used for culinary, medicinal, and other purposes. The varieties in this table are the species most used to make basil essential oil. 

Botanical Name

Common Name

Description

Ocimum sanctum

Holy Basil

Astringent, warm, and sweet

Ocimum basilicum

French Basil

Sweet, dark.

Egyptian Basil (aka Reunion Basil or African Basil)

Camphoraceous.

Typically less expensive. 

Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflorum

Thai basil

Purplish.

Anise- and licorice-like, and slightly spicy,

Ocimum americanum

American Basil

Rich, uniform, and sweet.

O. gratissimum

Tree Basil

Bitter. 

Hints of clove and thyme.

O. citriodorum 

Lemon basil

Narrow leaves

Anise and Lemon-like flavoring.

 

Cautions

Any essential oil can be dangerous if used incorrectly. 

Basil in particular contains a significant amount of methyl chavicol (Estragole), which can be toxic if overdone. Various essential oil experts suggest a dermal maximum of 15% if the estragole content does not exceed 0.8%.

As with any oil, you must always dilute your basil oil and follow all the safety instructions provided by your supplier. 

ALWAYS apply a patch test before using any new essential oil. 


Those who are pregnant, suffering from bleeding disorders or low blood pressure should double-check with their doctors before using basil oil. 

Conclusion

Basil is a fascinating herb. 

Its history, delicious taste, and promising research profile are sure to keep it and its essential oil in business for centuries to come. 

And as the research continues, we’re sure basil will continue to surprise us with its versatility. It will be interesting to see which of the ancient uses of basil will make a comeback—we’d be excited to see any of them. 


Except maybe the basilisks, we’ll leave those in the past, thanks.



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