Health & Wellness / Home & Family

Fragrant Basil: Delicious Friend or Enemy?


Basil is a beloved spice of many cultures. The herb has been widely used for over 4,000 years and served different purposes historically, including those which are medicinal. Among its unique previous purposes was its use as an embalming agent for early Egyptians who considered it a “royal” herb. In India, basil was planted around temples to protect the dead in the afterlife. And, in Crete, it was used to ward away evil. During the Medieval period, the herb was thought to provide cheer or clarity. However, perhaps no culture has embraced basil more wonderfully than the Italians who incorporate this tasty spice into their homemade tomato and pesto sauces and other culinary delights – and do so to this very day as a fine art.

Per WebMD, a leading source of medical information, basil is commonly medically used to treat stomach problems, though there is no scientific evidence to support its use. However, there are special chemicals in basil that are thought to possibly reduce some gastrointestinal issues. Basil is a rich source of Vitamin K and manganese. Though basil is likely safe when consumed in foods, there is evidence that perhaps the basil herb and oil used medicinally might possibly be unsafe due to containing estragole, a chemical that might increase the risk of getting liver cancer. More studies are greatly needed to make an accurate conclusion. Unfortunately, there also isn’t enough reliable information regarding the herbs use when inhaled during aromatherapy. WebMD cautions that though it is a natural product, when taking basil extract, be aware that it might decrease blood pressure in some people and cause blood pressure to go too low.

Okay, so it’s confusing. Is basil our friend or enemy? Basil is likely safe to consume in foods. Not only is it rich in nutrients, but it is also super tasty. However, for medicinal use, we must look to the experts for their summary. WebMD explains, the appropriate dose of basil depends on factors like the user’s age, health, and several other conditions. We must bear in mind that basil-based medicines and supplements should be reviewed by healthcare professionals and pharmacists before use to minimize risks, maximize safety, and weigh out health risks.

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7 months ago

I’ve grown dozens of varieties of basil for myself and for customers over the past 49 years. Never do I recommend any herb as medicine, and especially one that would be inhaled. Our air should be pure and free of particulates and scents, which are tiny particles floating in the air. My insurance agent early on cautioned me about making medical recommendations, so I never do.

Used in cooking, though, a “normal dose” of fresh basil is considered safe. I’ve known a couple of people who are allergic to it and can’t consume it. I pity them! But summertime without fresh tomato-basil salads? Never!!

The salad: vine-ripened tomatoes (any color), cucumber, thinly sliced onion, mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, some Italian oregano, S&P, and lots of fresh basil. My favorite varieties for this salad are ‘Genovese’ and one of the lettuce-leaf varieties, such as ‘Tuscany’. And garlic bread…yeah…

7 months ago
Reply to  Kim

Yum thanks for sharing!

7 months ago
Reply to  Beth

You’re welcome. I hope you tried it! I just finished a large bowl of the salad for dinner. Yum is right!

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