GENERAL DESCRIPTION A tender annual herb, with very dark green, ovate leaves, greyish-green beneath, an erect square stem up to 60 cms high, bearing whorls of two-lipped greenish or pinky-white flowers. The whole plant has a powerful aromatic scent.
DISTRIBUTION Native to tropical Asia and Africa, it is now widely cultivated throughout Europe, the Mediterranean region, the Pacific Islands, North and South America. The European, French or ’true’ sweet basil oil is produced in France, Italy, Egypt, Bulgaria, Hungary and the USA.
HERBAL/FOLKS TRADITION Widely used in Far Eastern medicine especially in the Ayurvedic tradition, where it is called tulsi. It is used for respiratory problems such as bronchitis, coughs, colds, asthma, ’flu and emphysema but is also used as an antidote to poisonous insect or snake bites. It has also been used against epidemics and fever, such as malaria. It improves blood circulation and the digestive system and in China it is used for stomach and kidney ailments. In the West it is considered a ’cooling’ herb, and is used for rheumatic pain, irritable skin conditions and for those of a nervous disposition. It is a popular culinary herb, especially in Italy and France.
ACTIONS Antidepressant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, cephalic, digestive, emmenagogue, expectorant, febrifuge, galactagogue, nervine, prophylactic, restorative, stimulant of adrenal cortex, stomachic, tonic.
EXTRACTION Essential oil by steam distillation from the flowering herb.
CHARACTERISTICS ’True’ sweet basil oil is a colourless or pale yellow liquid with a light, fresh sweet-spicy scent and balsamic undertone. It blends well with bergamot, clary sage, lime opopanax, oakmoss, citronella, geranium, hyssop and other ’green’ notes.
PRINCIPAL CONSTITUENTS Linalol (40-45 per cent), methyl chavicol (23,8 per cent) and small amounts of eugenol, limonene and citronellol, among others.
SAFETY DATA Relatively non-tonic, non-irritant, possible sensitization in some individuals. Avoid during pregnancy.
SKIN CARE: Insect bites (mosquito, wasp) , insect repellent.
CIRCULATION, MUSCLES AND JOINTS: Gout, muscular aches and pains, rheumatism.
RESPIRATORY SYSTEM: Bronchitis, coughs, earache, sinusitis.
DIGESTIVE SYSTEM: Dyspepsia, flatulence, nausea.
GENITO-URINARY SYSTEM: Cramps, scanty periods.
IMMUNE SYSTEM: Colds, fever, ’flu, infectious disease.
NERVOUS SYSTEM: Anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia, migraine, nervous tension: ’Oil of Basil is an excellent, indeed perhaps the best, aromatic nerve tonic. It clears the head, relieves intellectual fatigue, and gives the mind strength and clarity.
The oil is used in soaps, cosmetics and perfumery; it is also used extensively in major food categories, especially savouries.