health

Consuming Basil Leaves Can Affect Your Health In 14 Surprising Ways

by Laura Caseley
Laura is a writer, illustrator, and artist living in New York City.

It’s no secret that if you want to add some oomph to your cooking, a surefire way to do that is to add some flavorful, aromatic herbs and spices. They add flavor and personality to any dish, and even make it look beautiful with their splashes of color.

But even the more humble of herbs have hidden benefits that make them so much more than simply an added flavoring.

Take basil for instance. Basil is an herb found in almost every kitchen, and in plenty of gardens, as well. The broad, bright green leaves have a distinctly savory flavor that’s become a staple in both Mediterranean and Southeast Asian cooking, like in pasta dishes, curries, soups, pizza, and loaded savory breads that are a meal all on their own. Different varieties of basil can also be found all over the world.

But basil isn’t just popular for its delicious flavor. These unassuming leaves are actually packing a number of surprising health benefits that you might have never even imagined. It turns out basil can help everything from your eyes to your sleep patterns.

Luckily, there is no shortage of recipes that call for basil, and for the best results, use fresh leaves, which are more flavorful anyway. If you have a sunny windowsill, you can even get a basil plant of your very own to have some fresh leaves on hand! Read on to discover how this favorite herb can have a huge health impact!

Cover photo via Flickr

Basil Benefit #1: Soothes Headaches

Basil Benefit #1: Soothes Headaches
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Basil works as a low-level muscle relaxant, so it’s great for soothing headaches.

The simplest way to calm an aching head is to steep some fresh basil leaves in boiling water for a few minutes and sip.

You can also just pop a leave into your mouth and chew if you like a stronger flavor!

Basil Benefit #2: Strengthens Kidney Function

Basil Benefit #2: Strengthens Kidney Function
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Basil has been shown to improve kidney function if eaten regularly. To boost your kidneys’ health and function, munch on five or six fresh basil leaves every day on an empty stomach.

People with kidney stones have also reported that drinking basil juice and honey regularly can help with the passing of stones.

Basil Benefit #3: Fights Blemishes

Basil Benefit #3: Fights Blemishes
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Basil oil is great for combatting breakouts and blemishes, and you can use basil to make a skin toner right at home. The herb is rich in antiseptic and disinfectant properties that kill off acne-causing bacteria.

Simply boil a handful of fresh basil leaves in a cup of water for about 10 minutes, and then skim out the leaves and let the liquid cool.

Dip a cotton ball into the cooled liquid and dab on your breakout areas. Wait about 10 minutes, and gently rinse. Repeat every day for clear skin.

Basil Benefit #4: Relieves PMS Symptoms

Basil Benefit #4: Relieves PMS Symptoms
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

If you suffer from cramps, bloating, or other menstruation-related discomforts, add a bit more basil to your diet during that time of the month.

Why? Basil is rich in iron, which is important during PMS. Add chopped fresh basil to salads, sandwiches, and pasta. It even works well with sweet flavors.

Try adding some slivers to pineapple slices, which help reduce bloating.

Basil Benefit #5: Improves Eyesight

Basil Benefit #5: Improves Eyesight
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Basil is also rich in vitamin A, which is crucial in eye health. One hundred grams of fresh basil is enough to cover your recommended daily dose of vitamin A, in fact.

Fresh basil juice can ease eye soreness and night blindness, both of which are usually caused by vitamin A deficiencies.

Basil Benefit #6: Reduces Overall Inflammation

Basil Benefit #6: Reduces Overall Inflammation
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Inflammation of the body’s tissues is the source of many, many ailments, aches, and pains.

Basil’s oil is full of eugenol, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Eugenol is also found in cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, and celery.

Eating basil regularly can help with inflammation issues, including rheumatoid arthritis and some bowel conditions.

Basil Benefit #7: It's Great For Cold Season

Basil Benefit #7: It's Great For Cold Season
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Basil is great for boosting your immune system, which is a must when the weather starts changing.

Studies have shown that basil’s chemical makeup boosts your body’s production of antibodies, which fight off infection, by up to 20 percent.

Basil Benefit #8: Clears Up A Congested Throat

Basil Benefit #8: Clears Up A Congested Throat
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Many cough syrups include basil, or the chemicals found in basil, in their ingredients. Its chemical makeup helps mucus in your body move more easily, clearing up congestion in the respiratory system and throat.

Try boiling five cloves and eight fresh basil leaves in a cup of water for 10 minutes, then sipping the liquid to relieve coughs and sore throats.

Basil Benefit #9: Soothes An Upset Stomach

Basil Benefit #9: Soothes An Upset Stomach
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

If your stomach is feeling off, try adding some basil to your next dish. It’ll soothe your stomach and help you not feel that heavy, over-full feeling.

If your stomach is upset to the point of not wanting to eat anything, try drinking half a teaspoon of dried basil in water.

Basil Benefit #10: Helps Reduce Fever

Basil Benefit #10: Helps Reduce Fever
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

In Southeast Asia, basil teas were traditionally used to treat malaria and dengue fever.

The leaves’ germicidal and disinfectant properties are great for killing bacteria throughout the body, and can help reduce fevers.

Basil Benefit #11: Keeps The Circulatory System Strong

Basil Benefit #11: Keeps The Circulatory System Strong
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Basil is rich in vitamin A, iron, and magnesium, among many other nutrients, that are great for circulation, reducing cholesterol oxidation, and preventing free radical damage.

Its properties as a mild muscle relaxer also facilitate blood flow, which helps with the relief of minor aches and pains, too.

Basil Benefit #12: It's Full Of Antioxidants

Basil Benefit #12: It's Full Of Antioxidants
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Antioxidants help pretty much everything in your body, but their effects are most clearly seen on the outside.

Making sure your body gets enough antioxidants means you’ll get to appreciate glowing skin and bright eyes, among other things, and after a long enough time, you might notice that signs of aging slow, too!

Basil Benefit #13: Soothes An Itchy Scalp

Basil Benefit #13: Soothes An Itchy Scalp
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Basil is great for alleviating an itchy scalp, as well as keeping the skin and hair healthy. Basil oil can be used as a scalp rub (dilute it with some olive or coconut oil), or you can add mashed-up fresh basil leaves to a hair oil you may already own.

It has a cooling effect on the scalp, reduces itchiness, and can even promote hair growth.

Basil Benefit #14: It's All-Around Calming

Basil Benefit #14: It's All-Around Calming
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Basil, especially holy basil (the kind used in Southeast Asian cooking) is full of phytochemicals that, studies suggest, lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

To calm yourself, try sipping basil tea, hot or iced. You can use basil alone, or try adding it to other flavors of herbal tea for some interesting combinations. We recommend combining basil and rose!

What’s your favorite basil recipe? Let us know in the comments, and SHARE these secret benefits with anyone who loves basil, and help them love it even more!