Ocimum basilicum belonging to the Family Labiatae or Lamiaceae, is an annual herb that grows to a height of around 0.5 meters. It is thought to be native to Africa and tropical Asia and it is cultivated worldwide today. There are many different varieties and the plant is also strongly affected by environmental factors such as temperature, geographic location, soil and the amount of rainfall. The name Basil is thought to be derived from the Greek ‘Basilokos’ and the Latin ‘Basileum‘ both meaning royal. Another theory is that the name was shortened from basilisk, a fabulous creature that could kill with a look. This theory may be based on a strange old superstition that connected the plant with scorpions. Parkinson tells us that ‘being gently handled it gave a pleasant smell but being hardly wrung and bruised would breed scorpions. It is also observed that scorpions doe much rest and abide under these pots and vessells wherein Basil is planted.’ It was generally believed that if a sprig of Basil were left under a pot it would in time turn to a scorpion. Superstition went so far as to affirm that even smelling the plant might bring a scorpion into the brain. In India Basil is considered to be sacred to the deities Krishna and Vishnu. Hindus used to place sprigs of basil on the chests of deceased loved ones to protect them from evil and provide safe passage into the next life.
The essential oil is obtained by steam distillation from the dried leaves and flowering tops. There are two major types of commercial basil oil available, the true sweet basil and the exotic or Reunion basil oil. True sweet basil is distilled in Europe and the United States while exotic basil is produced in the Comoro Islands, the Seychelles and the Malagasy Republic. The two differ mainly in their contents of d-camphor, linalool and methyl carvicol (estragole). Generally sweet basil does not contain camphor and exotic basil contains little or no linalool. Basil yields around 0.08% oil with d-linalool and methyl chavicol as the major components. Sweet basil will have a higher ratio of d-linalool while exotic basil will have a higher ratio of methyl chavicol. Other components include methyl cinnamate, reported to be around 28% in sweet basil, 1,8-cineoole, eugenol, borneol, ocimene, geraniol, anethrole, 10-cadinols, b-caryophyllene, a-terpineol, camphor, 3-octanone, methyleugenol. Safrole, sesquithujene and 1-3pibicyclosesquiphellandrene.
Basil has an aniseed with a touch of mint type aroma and blends well with bergamot, clary sage, frankincense, geranium, neroli, lime and oakmoss.
The volatile oil of a variety of sweet basil was shown to have antiwormal activities. This study was prompted by the reported use of the fresh juice of this plant to treat a maggots-infested nasal disease in India. It is used as a fragrance ingredient in perfumes, soaps, hair dressings, dental creams and mouth washes. It is also used as a spice and in chartreuse liqueur. The oil and oleoresin are extensively used as a flavor ingredient in all major food products, usually in rather low use levels — mostly below 0.005%. Traditionally it has been reportedly used for head colds and a cure for warts and worms, as an appetite stimulant, carminative and diuretic. More widely used as a medicinal herb in the Far East, especially in China and India. It was first described in a major Chinese herbal around A.D.1060 and has since been in use in China for spasms of the stomach and kidney ailments among others.
Psychologically, basil has antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, stimulant and tonic properties. Useful for anxiety, hysteria, nervous depression, mental fatigue, mild depression or general lethargy, being generally ‘run down’, insomnia due to nervous tension and stress. Try basil if you are suffering from a hangover.
On the physiological level basil has antifungal, antispasmodic, antiviral, bactericidal and stimulant properties and has been used for colds and flu, muscle aches and pains, digestive complaints, arthritis and rheumatism.
Basil lifts the mind and clears mental fatigue. It can be helpful in enhancing creative awareness. Basil helps to raise issues of low self-esteem and low self-worth. Basil can also be worn to avoid major clashes as its aroma causes sympathy between two people Basil has long been associated with money in folk magic. To attract increased money, inhale the aroma and visualize your bank balance increasing or any or image you associate with money.
Contraindications:. Use in low concentrations and avoid on sensitive skins. Do not use in pregnancy.
Ernest Guenther, The Essential Oils, Krieger Publishing Company, 1952, reprint 1976
Leung and Foster, Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients, John Wiley & Sons, 1996
Beverley Hawkins, Aromatherapy 201 Course 1999 revised 2000, 2001,2002, 2003, 2004
Mrs. M. Grieves, A Modern Herbalwww.botanical.com