Basil is one of the most unassuming foods. Ubiquitous but always able to elevate a dish, basil is so much more than just a garnish. This brightly flavoured green is good in just about every dish—even desserts. But in addition to its delicious flavour profile, basil is actually very good for you, too. Boasting a number of health benefits, including anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, basil is easy to fold into your daily diet.
Want to know why we’re such fans? Here are some of the many health benefits of basil.
What’s Basil Anyway?
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is an herb in the family Lamiaceae (mint), and is an important flavour in a number of cuisines, including Mediterranean, Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese.
The basil you see in grocery stores is usually sweet basil, but there are many other varieties that carry different flavour profiles. Some of these include: bush or greek basil (strong aroma, mild flavour), Thai basil (licorice flavour, common in Thai and Southeast Asian dishes), cinnamon basil (cinnamon-like flavour and scent, common in Mexican cuisine), lettuce basil (large leaves with a licorice flavour), and holy basil (commonly used in supplements and herbal tea).
Basil’s Many Health Benefits
Basil’s probably one of the more versatile herbs around, which means it won’t be hard to convince one to start eating more of it… but here’s a few more reasons—namely, the benefits of basil—just in case you need them!
An Antioxidant Powerhouse
Though blueberries and pomegranates get the most credit for being antioxidant powerhouses, basil—specifically holy basil—is actually also packed with antioxidants. Containing water-soluble flavonoids called rientin and viceninare, basil can help to protect your white blood cells. Basil also helps to fight free radical damage, which can lead to cardiovascular and inflammatory disease, cataract, and cancer. Antioxidants also help to strengthen the immune system, protect cellular structure, DNA, as well as delay effects of skin aging.
Fighter of Inflammation
Basil is also a powerful anti-inflammatory herb. Inflammation is the basis of many illnesses and diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and bowel diseases like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. The herb contains essential oils such as eugenol, citronellol, and linalool, which can lower inflammation thanks to their enzyme-inhibiting properties.
Staves Off Cancer
Because basil has antioxidants and can help to protect your body tissues against free radical damage, it also has the ability to protect you against cancers that are caused by free radical damage. Free radicals destabilize atoms, which can ultimately lead to oxidative stress in your body. And, as antioxidants are required to reduce oxidative stress, basil is a great food to include in your diet.
Of course, correlation does not mean causation; this connection between basil and cancer-fighting properties still needs to be studied further, and its effects will vary from person to person.
Say Bye-Bye to Bacteria
Thanks to its antibacterial properties, basil can actually help to fight bacteria in those who have urinary, respiratory, abdominal, and skin infections.
Handles Stress Well
Everyone needs to destress these days, which is why basil is a great option for those who want a little more rest and relaxation. Basil is an adaptogenic herb, which helps your body to deal with stress. Some studies have shown that the herb has the ability to help the body handle stress more efficiently.
Other studies have shown that basil can help regulate depression and anxiety as well, believed to help stimulate neurotransmitters that manage the hormones associated with inducing happiness. As with its effects on cancer, basil’s ability to decrease depression and anxiety needs to be studied further to prove causation.
Helps With Diabetes Management
Basil has shown to help slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream, which is crucial for diabetes management. It scores very low on the glycemic index chart—anything below 70 is considered low, and basil sits at 5. Basil also contains an essential oil that helps to cut down cholesterol and triglyceride levels, both of which are risk factors for diabetics.
Supports Liver Function
Your liver is very important for metabolism, so it’s crucial to help it function optimally. Basil’s strong antioxidant properties may actually help prevent fat build-up in the liver, keeping it healthy.
Good For Your Gut
We hear a lot about gut health, so in addition to your probiotics and yogurt, add basil to your list for good gut health. This herb can help restore your body’s natural pH levels, feeding the good bacteria within the gut microflora. Good gut health, as you may know, increases your immunity and promotes healthy, more regular digestion.
Basil is Simple to Cook With
Unsurprisingly due to its ubiquity, basil is versatile and distinct, and is a great addition to a number of dishes, whether it’s the star of the show, or simply a supporting act. Here are a few recipes to try out so you can experience all the benefits of basil!
Easy Vegan Pesto
From Minimalist Baker
Now, of course we’d have to include a pesto! Alongside pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice to brighten up the sauce, it’s great for pasta, pizza, salads, soups… and even by the spoonful—we won’t judge you.
Lemony Basil Creamy Vegan Pasta
From Plays Well With Butter
This quick weeknight pasta takes under half an hour to prepare. A creamy lemon basil sauce is made with a cashew base, and uses sauteed bell peppers, broccoli, and sun-dried tomatoes to create a veggie-packed, filling meal.
Soba with Green Chile Pesto
From Bon Appetit
Here’s another pesto recipe, but reimagined with chiles. Don’t be scared, though! The point isn’t to overwhelm your palate, but to be used as a building block of flavour. Basil takes a bit of a backseat here, but is still integral to the flavour profile.
Loaded Spinach Salad with Creamy Avocado Basil Dressing
From Happy Healthy Mama
Salads are so much more than limp greens and a sad dressing. This loaded spinach salad is hearty and filling, featuring quinoa and crispy chickpeas. The oomph of the salad comes from an assortment of greens, and the dressing is made with rich and mouth-watering avocado and basil.
Cantaloupe-Basil Agua Fresca
From Bon Appetit
We had to include a drink, since basil is one of the most popular herbs used in beverages. Bon Appetit’s Cantaloupe-Basil Agua Fresca is deletable and refreshing, simple to make, and perfect for one of those perfect summer days.
We at Planted Meals love basil, too! Some of our dishes, like our Tofu Ricotta and Broccoli Pesto Linguine, prominently feature basil and its many benefits. If life’s got your hands tied and you don’t have time to prepare food, we have your lunches and dinners covered. Find fully cooked healthy, plant-based meals either picked up or delivered to you.
Do you like basil? What do you usually use it in? Let us know in the comments below!