This week, I want to do a mini-series of posts about herbs that you would find in your garden this summer or in your kitchen cabinet. Herbal medicine can be so accessible and I just want to bring so awareness to the fact that you can help yourself in times of need, sometimes with things that are already present in your home. Today we will talk about basil.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is such a lovely culinary herb with a detailed history of use. It is considered an herb of protection, attracting luck and good fortune. This thought of protection extended to the afterlife, as the Egyptians used basil as an embalming herb and in ancient India, basil water was used to wash the dead. Known as a "royal herb" basil was a requirement in the diets of royalty, helping to bring about good fortune. The Jewish people use a basil spray to give them strength during their times of fasting. Presently, basil is a very popular herb in the culinary arts and for good reasons. Not only is it very tasty but basil's essential oil helps to prevent the spread of food borne bacteria. Basil has also been used medicinally as well.
The leaf of basil is pungent, bitter and aromatic and it is warm and dry. The reason I find the energetics of the herb (ie taste, temperature and moisture) to be so important, is so we can match the qualities of the illness to the qualities of the herb. For example, basil is warm and dry making it helpful for cold, damp conditions, especially of the respiratory system, the digestive system and the reproductive system.
In the respiratory system, cold and damp manifestations are ones that we often see in the winter as colds and flus (so don't get rid of all your basil at the end of the summer). Cold in the respiratory system is seen as a cough with thin white sputum or nasal congestion with white discharge. Basil helps to warm up the lungs and expectorate (to cough up) any lingering gunk in the chest. A steam bath of fresh basil leaves can be a big relief to these respiratory issues.
In the digestive system, cold causes dull pain and slow digestion. Basil can promote digestion and help combat pain and indigestion. It also helps to quell spasms in the gut including hiccoughs and can relieve nausea and vomiting.
Cold in the reproductive system results in slow, late periods with dull, aching cramps. Basil is a good choice for this sort of symptom picture. Basil tea, when served to a woman that has just given birth, can be helpful to expel the placenta.
Externally, basil leaves can be crushed directly on to the skin to help get rid of warts and ringworm and to repel against bugs, snakes, scorpions and poisonous spiders. In the garden, the whole plant repels insects from its neighboring plants and when put in a pot on the dinner table, the basil helps to keep the flies away. It also makes a tasty gargle for fight against plaque and tooth decay and when added to the bath, basil leaves provide an amazing aroma and an energizing effect.
Basil is generally regarded as safe although I would avoid therapeutic doses during pregnancy (use in food is ok). Tierra suggests making a therapeutic infusion using 3-9 grams of herb and a tincture of 2-4ml @ 1:3 in 45% alcohol is what Holmes recommends.
Overall, basil is a wonderful herb with a long standing history. Presently, it is used more in the kitchen than for medicinal purposes; however, hopefully with more awareness will come more use. So before you give away or get rid of all your basil at the end of the summer, you may want to save some and dry it for any issues you may encounter down the road.
Duke, J. A. (2000). The green pharmacy herbal handbook: your comprehensive reference to the best herbs for healing. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Reach.
Holmes, P. (2007) The energetics of western herbs: a materia medica integrating Western and Chinese herbal therapeutics (Rev. &enl. 4th ed.). Cotati, CA: Snow Lotus Perss.
Levy, J. d. ( 1997). Common herbs for natural health (Rev, expanded ed.) Woodstock, NY: Ash Tree Pub.
Mars, B. (2007). The desktop guide for natural medicine. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications.
Tierra, M. (1988). Planetary herbology: an integration of Western herbs into the traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic systems. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.