Sweet basil

Ocimum basilicum (Lamiaceae)

Characteristics

Annual, sometimes perennial herb, 30-150 cm tall. Many varieties of the species. Used for its leaves (culinary, folk medicine), which contain a number of essential oils and are richly green and ovate, 3-11 cm long and 1-6 cm wide. Basil grows a thick, central taproot. Flowers are small and white. They grow from a central inflorescence that emerges from the central stem at the top of the plant.

Distribution

Native to India and other tropical regions stretching from Central Africa to Southeast Asia. Has become globalized due to human cultivation (more than 5000 years ago).

Natural Medical Properties

Sweet basil has been used for thousands of years as a culinary and medicinal herb. It acts principally on the digestive and nervous systems, easing flatulence, stomach cramps, colic and indigestion.
The leaves and flowering tops are antispasmodic, aromatic, carminative, digestive, galactagogue, stomachic and tonic.
They are taken internally in the treatment of feverish illnesses (especially colds and influenza), poor digestion, nausea, abdominal cramps, gastro-enteritis, migraine, insomnia, depression and exhaustion.
Externally, they are used to treat acne, loss of smell, insect stings, snake bites and skin infections.
The leaves can be harvested throughout the growing season and are used fresh or dried.
The mucilaginous seed is given in infusion in the treatment of gonorrhoea, dysentery and chronic diarrhoea.
It is said to remove film and opacity from the eyes.
The root is used in the treatment of bowel complaints in children.
Extracts from the plant are bactericidal and are also effective against internal parasites.
The essential oil is used in aromatherapy. Its keyword is ‘Clearing’.

Did you know?

Basil was found in mummies in Egypt because the ancient Egyptians used this herb for embalming.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species