Basil leaves certainly have their place as a garnish in many different global cuisines. You might not have considered it, but beyond their popularity in Italian, Greek, and Thai food, these flavorful leaves can add nutritional value to your dishes as well.
Ocimum basilicum, or sweet basil, is a member of the mint family that features in dishes as diverse as pesto sauces and thai basil-infused noodle bowls. There are several types of basil plants used by humans in food and medicine throughout the world.
The Health Benefits of Basil
The health benefits of basil are more extensive than you might think. With everything from anti-inflammatory properties to help reduce chronic inflammation, cancer-fighting compounds and antioxidants to help prevent heart disease, basil has distinct nutritional advantages. Basil leaves are also known to be strong in several vitamins and minerals including:
- vitamin C
- vitamin A
- vitamin K
Adding foods such as basil into your diet that can reduce inflammation can help lower your risk of several different diseases as you age. Chronic inflammation has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, liver disease, and several other forms of chronic illness. A diet full of anti-inflammatory foods may not prevent any of these diseases outright, but it can certainly help reduce the severity of many conditions.
As nutritious as they are, not all the benefits of basil come from eating these pungent leaves. In some traditional medicine practiced in South Asia such as the Indian Ayurveda tradition, holy basil (Ocimum Sanctum) is used as an herbal medicine. Globally, various traditional medicines use basil to help with everything from snakebites to colds to inflammation.
Many different plants have known benefits for cardiovascular health thanks to their levels of vitamins and minerals, but basil has a few extra tricks up its sleeve. Compounds such as eugenol have been shown to block calcium channels in the body, which can in turn lower blood pressure. Taking basil extract has also been linked to lowered cholesterol levels, which can have a significant impact on heart health.
Basil extract can be used to make basil essential oils, which are the modern-day update to the traditional medicinal uses for basil. Much like the Ayurvedic applications, contemporary uses for treating diabetes, reducing stress, lowering blood sugar.
Is Eating Fresh Basil Good for You?
It is a near-universally accepted rule that leafy greens like kale or spinach are going to be good for you, and basil is certainly no exception. Packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals such as flavonoids to provide a wide range of health benefits, basil shares much of its nutritional benefits with other vegetables. Everything from immune system issues to triglyceride levels in your blood have been linked to oxidative stress. While darker-colored vegetables like red cabbage are known as powerhouses of antioxidant compounds, leafy vegetables like basil can also help protect against the oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
Where basil excels is in areas of cancer prevention and liver health. Ingesting tulsi, or holy basil, has been shown to reduce the effect of ingested toxins that could cause liver damage. When it comes to cancers, the phytochemicals found in holy basil may reduce your risk of oral, lung, and liver cancers. It should be noted that more research is needed in this area, but in the meantime, the remaining health benefits, and the flavor make it worth adding basil to all kinds of dishes.
In addition to the antioxidant properties of basil, there are proven antimicrobial benefits to basil as well. Traditional medicine has long used basil for its antibacterial properties, and modern science has backed these uses in some instances. E. coli bacteria infections that can sometimes be picked up in hospital settings have been shown to respond positively to the application of basil extract.
Blood sugar levels are of concern to individuals who are at risk for heart disease, and those who are working towards weight loss goals or who struggle with insulin sensitivity should keep an eye on blood sugar as well. Basil has been shown to possibly help reduce blood glucose levels, which can help manage the insulin spike following a meal. By partially managing insulin levels through their diet, individuals with insulin sensitivity or type 2 diabetes can help manage their symptoms.
Is it OK to Eat Raw Basil Leaves?
It is absolutely fine to eat raw basil leaves, provided they are properly washed or rinsed to prevent any food-borne pathogens from sneaking onto your plate. As is the case with nearly every food, there are some people who should exercise caution with basil regardless of whether it is raw or fresh.
Just because basil can help lower blood pressure, it does not mean that everyone should start piling it on their plate or taking basil as a supplement. Women who are breastfeeding should exercise caution, as should individuals who are taking medication to manage blood clotting. Individuals who suffer from inflammatory bowel conditions such as IBS should also exercise caution when adding basil into their diets as they could be at risk for bloating, abdominal pain, and other side effects. In these cases, consulting with your healthcare provider can help you understand how much basil is safe to add to your diet.
Basil in Food Production
Whether it is the flavor or the health benefits that brought you to basil, you can only get the value you are after if your dried basil comes from a supplier who has paid attention to every possible detail in processing. The distinct flavor that anchors a good pesto sauce has to shine through, and that means taking care of every step in the process from start to finish to ensure the maximum amount of flavor and nutrition possible remains in the dried basil finding its way into your end product.
At Silva, we know that paying attention to the process is how good-for-you gets done. This is why we only work with the most trustworthy producers from around the world to source our ready-to-eat ingredients. We put these ingredients through industry-leading food safety and quality control processes to ensure every ingredient in your end product will be worthy of having your label on it.
If you are ready to learn more about how partnering with Silva can bring out the best in your products, you can request free samples of our ingredients to get started on your next great recipe.