Basil is used in cooking on a regular basis, but what many people do not know is that the oil extracted from basil has many surprising health benefits. Basil oil has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for illness and disease. While never becoming a major healing herb in North America, basil oil is still used all over the world as a supplement. Read on to find out more about the health benefits of basil oil.
What Is Basil Oil?
Cooking, teas, aromatherapy, and topical applications are common uses for basil oil. It is a natural supplement that has many health benefits. Basil oil has been used to treat diseases since ancient times .
Components and Mechanisms
The major components of basil oil can vary depending on genetic factors, geographic origins, the plant parts used (stem, leaf, and flower), and the method of extraction. Generally, the main components of basil oil are linalool, estragole, and geraniol [3, 2].
At all doses, these components suppress the central nervous system. They decreased spontaneous activity and also caused drooping of the eyelid, decreased muscle control, and sedation .
Basil oil interacts with GABA, a neurotransmitter in the brain that is thought to be responsible for stress, anxiety, pain, and epilepsy. However, more research is required to determine exactly how the two interact .
Health Benefits of Basil Oil
1) Can Help Reduce Headaches
In a study of 19 middle-aged women, the participants used basil oil aromatherapy. After 5 days of aromatherapy, the women receiving basil oil showed a greater improvement in headache symptoms than those in the control group .
2) Fights Plaque and Gingivitis
Basil oil as a herbal mouth rinse is an effective way to defend against plaque and gingivitis. In one 21-day study of 40 people, one group used commercially available mouth rinse while the other used one that contained basil oil. Both mouth rinses decreased the gingivitis and plaque that was present in the patients. However, the basil mouth rinse decreased the number of bacteria that could reproduce .
Basil oil contains thymol, which killed microorganisms within 30 seconds by disturbing their cell wall and slowing their enzyme activity .
3) Helps Reduce Acne
Basil oil can help fight acne because of its ability to kill bacteria. In one study of 28 subjects, the patients treated with basil oil showed improvement in their acne with little discomfort or side effects .
Basil oil also helped kill Propionibacterium acne bacteria. The linalool content in basil oil made it effective at killing this type of bacteria (gram-positive). The study used thickened and non-thickened versions of basil oil. The thickened basil oil showed more positive results [7, 8].
4) Helps Fight Infections
- Aspergillus niger
- A. fumigatus
- Penicillium italicum
- Rhizopus stolonifer
Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem. Scientists are working to discover more effective antimicrobial agents with different modes of action.
One study was performed on E. coli. They tested 1 standard strain and 60 clinical strains taken from patients with infections of the respiratory tracts, stomach, urinary tract and skin. Disks soaked in basil oil prevented the bacterial growth of all these strains .
Basil oil is effective in clinical strains of both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria .
As linalool is one of basil oil’s main components, its status as an antimicrobial agent makes basil oil effective against many strains of bacteria .
5) May Decrease Stress and Anxiety
In one study, mice were exposed to stress and altered living conditions. Basil oil treatment helped decrease memory impairment, brain (hippocampus) degeneration, and depression caused by chronic unpredictable stress .
Basil oil decreased the corticosterone levels in the mice, which controls mood in rodents. One study suggests that the positive results on mood and brain function may mean that basil oil could help treat depression and Alzheimer’s disease in humans .
6) May Decrease Pain
Basil leaves produce essential oils that are rich in monoterpenes, which helps manage pain in humans. Many mouse studies show that basil oil decreases the excitability of pain nerves, which reduces pain [13, 14].
Another study induced chronic muscle pain in mice as a simulation of fibromyalgia. Basil oil supplements decreased pain in the mice .
7) Might Reduce Nausea
A study aimed to find a medication that could fight against the nauseating effects of epilepsy. Mice given basil oil showed suppressed central nervous system activity. All the dose levels of basil oil showed this result. It decreased the number of convulsions due to vomit-inducing drugs. The basil oil showed a positive impact on all the drugs, except strychnine .
Basil oil acts by interfering with GABA transmission, which causes the anti-nausea effect .
8) Helps Lower Blood Pressure
Basil oil can help the absorption of labetalol hydrochloride through the skin. Labetalol hydrochloride is a medication used to combat hypertension. When the medication was applied to the skin (of rats) with basil oil, it enhanced drug delivery .
9) May Help Relieve Asthma
Basil oil is a common use for respiratory diseases. Many studies have shown that basil oil is beneficial for shortness of breath.
In particular, one study used guinea pigs to test the effects of basil oil on the lung’s ability to take in the air. Basil oil showed a powerful relaxing effect on the lungs. An inhaler has the ability to relax lungs and slow coughing, and basil oil is able to work in the same way .
10) May Help Type 2 Diabetes
One study was able to conclude that basil oil slows down amylase and glucosidase activities because of its phytochemical properties, Amylase and glucosidase are enzymes that type 2 diabetes correlates with. The slowing of these enzymes suggests that basil oil can help manage type 2 diabetes. Researchers are currently working on packaging basil oil into capsules for ingestion with meals to help control type 2 diabetes .
11) May Treat Ear Infections
In rats, basil oil treatment caused a 56% to 81% cure rate of ear infections in the rats infected by the flu virus and a 6% to 75% cure rate for those infected by pneumonia .
Basil oil had a higher cure rate than other essential oils and may be an effective alternative to antibiotics .
12) May Increase Blood Circulation
Sixteen mice received basil oil to test the effects on the size of brain infarcts (area of dead tissue in the brain). Basil oil decreased the lack of blood and the size of the brain infarct. Basil oil has the ability to increase blood flow and reduce the risk of a stroke in human patients .
Although basil has shown promising effects in mice, further testing needs to confirm the positive response in humans .
13) Basil Oil May Promote Hair Growth
Basil oil has soothing and tonic properties. Because of this, it is a beneficial component of hair treatments. Basil oil also stimulates and promotes hair growth .
Side Effects of Basil Oil
Basil oil contains both pro- and anti-cancer substances. The antioxidant properties help prevent cell damage that is believed to contribute to cancer. But, basil oil also contains estragole. In one study performed on rats, this chemical produced liver tumors [22, 23, 24].
In one study, rats had reduced platelet count after basil oil treatment. Basil oil may reduce blood count, which could be harmful to some people. Do not take basil oil in excess, because it can cause problems and side effects, some of which are unknown .
Basil oil is very concentrated, which means it may cause irritation if applied to the skin .
Limitations and Caveats
One study shows that pregnant women or women trying to get pregnant should avoid taking basil oil as a medicinal supplement. When tested on female rats, basil oil disrupted the menstrual cycle, which affected ovulation. Basil oil also decreased the weight of the ovaries and increased the cholesterol levels of the uterus .
The monoterpenes and essential oils in basil oil cause poor chemical stability, poor water solubility, and very quick decomposition rate. This limits the pharmaceutical applications and clinical abilities of basil oil. [23, 15].
Natural Sources and Forms of Supplementation
Basil oil is extracted from the leaf, stem, or flower. Extraction occurs through distillation, fermentation, crushing, extraction, hydrolysis, airing, and steam distillation. Steam distillation is by far the most common method of extraction .
To apply to the skin, one study applied the oil with a cotton ball after washing the face. In large quantities, essential oils can be harmful, so it is important that you follow the directions on the bottle [27, 28].
Some have said that immediately after consuming basil oil, they felt invigorated. They praised the oil for being refreshing and it helped decrease their stress.
Another user said that during massage therapy, undiluted essential oils were used on her back, which resulted in a headache and a rash.