Basil belongs to the Lamiaceae (Labiatae) family of plants. The aromatic leaves and stems of the plant are a mainstay of many dishes in European cookery, adding a fresh, distinctively pungent taste to salads and sauces. Although basil originally comes from Africa, the plant is relatively easy to grow, flourishing in the area around the Mediterranean in particular. Even in the cooler temperatures of Great Britain it is a popular annual herb to grow, either in warm, sheltered gardens or in pots on the windowsill. There are several different varieties of the plant: French basil is the variety used in aromatherapy. Much of the basil that is grown for essential oil production comes from Egypt.
Whilst all cooks will be well aware of the versatility of basil as a cooking ingredient, not all of them will know of the beneficial properties of the plant when it is eaten. It is effective as an antispasmodic agent and thus its consumption is a particularly pleasant way to aid digestion. Basil has been used in herbal medicine for hundreds of years for the treatment of fever and stomach and digestive complaints.
The whole plant is used for extracting the essential oil of basil, which is obtained by steam distillation. The oil is either colorless or pale yellow and has a sweet, spicy herbal smell. Basil oil is used as a fragrance ingredient in the cosmetics industry and is also used extensively in food production.
Basil oil has many therapeutic effects. It is both soothing and uplifting when diluted in a base oil and used for massage; it has the effect of relieving gloom and fatigue, generally lifting the spirits and promoting a sense of well-being. Massage with a blend containing basil oil can thus be a wonderful tonic for stress at the end of a hard working day and will also improve circulatory function. Bath oils containing essential oil of basil can make a soak in a warm tub all the more beneficial as inhalation and absorption of the oil both work their magic. Steam inhalation of the oil is a favored treatment for many respiratory ailments, and basil is also known to be effective in soothing fever.
Basil oil will bring relief to insect bites and stings, applied in dilution, and also acts as an insect repellent.
Suitable methods of use
Avoid using neat. Dilute well to avoid skin irritation. Use with moderation.
Warning: Pregnant women should avoid the use of basil oil.