Strongly aromatic annual growing to 20 in (50 cm). Has shiny oval leaves, a square stem, and small white flowers in whorls.
Habitat & Cultivation
Sweet basil, also known as basil, is probably native to India. Over 150 varieties are now grown around the world for their distinctive flavor and essential oil. The leaves and flowering tops are gathered as the plant comes into flower.
Leaves, flowering tops, essential oil.
Sweet basil contains a volatile oil (about 1%), which consists principally of linalool and methylchavicol, along with small quantities of methyl cinnamate, cineole, and other terpenes.
History & Folklore
In his 1st-century CE Materia Medica, the Greek physician Dioscorides described the African belief that eating sweet basil stopped the pain caused by a scorpion’s sting. The herb was used in Roman times to relieve flatulence, to counteract poisoning, as a diuretic, and to stimulate breast-milk production. Basil also has a history of use in Ayurvedic medicine.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Sweet basil acts principally on the digestive and nervous systems, easing flatulence, stomach cramps, colic, and indigestion. It can be used to prevent or relieve nausea and vomiting, and helps to kill intestinal worms.
Sweet basil has a mildly sedative action, proving useful in treating nervous irritability, depression, anxiety, and difficulty in sleeping. It may also be taken for epilepsy, migraine, and whooping cough. The herb has been traditionally taken to increase breast-milk production. Applied externally, sweet basil leaves act as an insect repellent. The juice from the leaves brings relief to insect bites and stings. Sweet basil has an established antibacterial action.
See also holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum). Bush basil (O. basilicum var. minimum) has a much milder action than sweet basil, and is used to relieve cramping pain and flatulence.
Sweet basil essential oil should not be taken internally.