A Guide to Basil: Types, Benefits, Uses & More

by Echo Store on April 30, 2022

We know basil as an aromatic and flavorful culinary herb used as a seasoning for a variety of dishes like salads, pasta, and pizza. Since growing basil is easy, many people grow it in their gardens or even in pots on their windowsills. But besides being flavorful, versatile, and widely available, did you know that basil also provides health benefits?

Types of Basil

An herb from the mint family, basil grows whole year-round in its native tropical regions of Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. In temperate regions, it grows only in the summer.

In the Philippines, basil is widespread and bears different regional names like sulasi in Tagalog, bidai in Iloko, and kamangi in Bisaya.

Depending on the variety, basil could grow up to five feet with stems and leaves that vary from shades of green and purple. It is estimated that the number of varieties ranges from 50 to 150 — just one proof of how versatile and unique this herb is. But not all of these are culinary basils, and you really don’t have to know them all. Here are just some of the common types of basil that you have to know.

  • Sweet basil – This is the basil variety that’s most widely grown and most popular. With a strong clove scent (especially when fresh), this is often used for pizza, pasta, and other Italian dishes.
  • Lettuce leaf basil – Has large, wrinkled, soft leaves and is often used in salads.
  • Thai basil – Because of its anise- and licorice-like and slightly spicy flavor, Thai basil is used in many Thai and Southeast Asian dishes. Compared to sweet basil, it has smaller but sturdier leaves and purple stems. It’s also more stable under high or extended cooking temperatures.
  • Spicy bush basil – This basil variety forms a compact bush with small leaves, making it ideal for pots. It has a strong aroma.
  • Lemon basil – Contains citral and limonene, making the leaves smell like lemons. This basil also tastes sweeter and is popular in Indonesia.
  • Cinnamon basil – Native to Mexico, this basil has a cinnamon-like flavor and scent. It’s commonly served with stir-fried vegetables.
  • Holy basil – Also called tulsi, this type of basil is commonly used in Thai dishes as well as supplements and herbal tea.

Health benefits of basil

One of the oldest herbs in the world, basil has long been associated with potential medicinal benefits. In traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic, and other holistic medicine systems, this herb is used to treat colds, nausea, bug bites (it makes for a great insect repellent, too), and even snakebites.


Because basil leaves are often used in small quantities, the nutritional benefits are not as substantial, except for vitamin K, which basil has lots of. That said, the plant compounds found in basil leaves, tea, or essential oils offer plenty of health benefits. Here are some of them:

1. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties

Basil contains a compound called eugenol, as well as anthocyanins, beta-carotene, and water-soluble flavonoid antioxidants such as orientin and vicenin. These potent antioxidants help eliminate free radicals from the body. By doing this, basil helps strengthen the immune system and protect the cells’ structure.

The same antioxidants give basil anti-inflammatory properties, which prove to be beneficial in fighting a variety of disorders such as heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and bowel issues.

2. Boosts digestion

Thanks to the eugenol in basil leaves, this herb is said to facilitate optimal digestion. Eugenol promotes anti-inflammatory action in the digestive tract, helping restore the body’s correct pH level and feeding healthy bacteria to the gut microflora.

3. May help prevent cancer

Scientific studies concluded that holy basil contains phytochemicals that may help prevent chemical-induced cancers such as skin, liver, oral, and lung cancers by increasing the antioxidant activity in the body.

These phytochemicals are also shown to prevent radiation-induced DNA damage.

4. Good for the skin

Owing to its antioxidant and anti-bacterial properties, basil can be an excellent addition to your skincare.

According to a scientific study, basil’s phenolics and flavonoids can counter skin aging and skin damage caused by exposure to UV rays. In the study, basil extract was applied topically to achieve anti-aging effects and promote skin hydration.

In India, basil is also turned into juice or paste and applied to the skin as a face mask to help reduce pimples and acne.

5. Good for the liver

Basil has strong detoxifying properties that can do wonders for your liver. Powdered basil leaf is used in a study to help prevent fat build-up in the liver.

6. Regulates blood sugar

For diabetes patients, basil can be a good supplement to your diet.

Pre-clinical studies found that an extract of sweet basil leaves can reduce high blood sugar levels. Scoring low on the glycemic index, basil has chemicals that help decrease triglyceride and cholesterol levels as well. Although not recommended as a sole treatment for diabetes, it can prove useful.

7. Improved mental health

Basil’s immune-boosting and antioxidant properties can also affect your mental health.

In Ayurvedic medicine, holy basil is considered effective in managing both physical and psychological stress because of its free radical-fighting antioxidants. It has compounds known to help alleviate anxiety and depression, boost mental alertness, and lower the risk of age-related memory loss.

Basil extract may be more helpful for this purpose and a cup of holy basil tea may not make a substantial difference. But it won’t hurt to pause and relax during tea time, right?

Uses of Basil

This fragrant herb can give life to so many dishes, whether it’s in dried or fresh form. You can try the following:

  • Use crushed basil leaves to make pesto for pasta, dip, or sandwich spread.
  • Sprinkle fresh, chopped basil over pizza.
  • Toss basil leaves into your tomato or cucumber salad and drizzle the dish with olive oil.
  • Add chopped basil into your vegetable soups.
  • Infuse olive oil with garlic and chopped basil.
  • Mix basil into juices, cocktails, and frozen desserts.
  • Brew herbal tea with holy basil.

When using fresh basil, it’s best to add it at the last stage of cooking as the heat can quickly diminish its flavor and color.

Recipes that call for dried basil also typically require smaller quantities as dried basil is more concentrated.

Basil is a versatile herb that can make wonders for your kitchen and your health. It can boost your immune system, improve your mood, and spice up your meals… what’s not to like?

You can even try growing basil in your own backyard with the Sow and Gro Plant Kit! This is a quick way to get access to the wonderful benefits of basil.