Basil, Sweet (Ocimum basilicum) Essential Oil
Note: Not the same as Holy Basil; several chemotypes
Color: Pale yellow
Method of Extraction: Steam distilled, CO2
Plant parts: Leaves, flowering tops
Countries: Europe, US, Madagascar, Thailand, Nepal
Scent: Fresh, sweet, spicy, green, anise
Odor Intensity: Moderate-High
Blending Note: Top
Blends well with: bergamot, geranium
Fragrance Family: Herbal
Chemical Notes: phenylpropane; terpene alcohols. There are several chemotypes.
Summary of Benefits & Cautions
Physical Uses: Fatigue, aches, sinus, bronchitis, colds, nausea, antimicrobial, menstruation, digestion, headaches, migraines, digestive issues especially intestinal
Generally, use in low dilutions (<1%) topically but maximum dermal dilution varies by chemotype.
Note: There are several chemotypes of basil. A chemotype refers to variations in the chemical makeup of an oil from the same species. Chemotypes are usually labelled for the chemical component that is prominent in them. Different chemotypes of basil include linalool, methyl chavicol, eugenol, methyl eugenol, and methyl cinnamate. The linalool chemotype is one of the gentlest and is not only the most commonly recommended, but also the most commonly available.
Exotic Basil (also called Reunion Basil) is high in methyl chavicol, which was found to be carcinogenic when given in high doses to rodents. As a measure of caution, most aromatherapists recommend limiting use of oils high in methyl chavicol.
Holy Basil is also known as Tulsi, and comes from a different species.
This profile refers to Sweet Basil (Ocinum basilicum) with a focus on the linalool chemotype.
History: Basil has been used in many parts of the world for centuries. In herbal form, it was used for headaches in both ancient India and Greece. In India it was also used for a host of digestive system complaints, something the Chinese also found it good for. (Quinessence, Lawless).
- Mental fatigue and exhaustion, clears the mind
- Coughs and respiratory complaints
- Muscle aches and pains
Chemical Families: Primarily monoterpenols and sesquiterpenes
In general, in order from least to greatest, the components are typically:
Linalool (roughly half), eugenol, 1,8 cineole, methyl chavicol. Some batches may have limonene and citronellol. There may also be traces of methyl eugenol, β-Caryophyllene, and fenchol. (Lis-Balchin, Peace-Rhind, Schnaubelt, Amrita, Lawless). Basil is a great example of why it is important to pay attention to chemotypes, and to have batch specific GC/MS test results so you know what specifically is in the oil you are getting.
Properties: analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, carminative, anti-depressant, cephalic, emmenagogue, neurotonic
Basil’s effectiveness for skin care is uncertain. Lis-Balchin states there is little evidence for its use in skin care. Yet, she and Rosemary Caddy both suggest it can help with acne. It should be used in a maximum dilution of 3%.
Basil oil may stimulate hair growth. To use, it should be diluted in a carrier oil. Both Jeanne Rose and Lora Cantele recommend blending basil with lavender and rosemary verbonene. This blend can then be diluted in jojoba oil and applied to the scalp.
Respiratory conditions that may benefit from sweet basil include sinusitis, bronchitis, and coughs. Its expectorant qualities can help to loosen mucus, allowing the body to clear it. Basil oils with 1,8 cineole are considered best for this clearing effect. (Lis-Balchin, Caddy, Cantele)
Muscles, Joints, and Pain
Basil is known for its ability to help reduce pain. Headaches of all types can benefit from basil, but it can be especially useful for migraines and tension headaches.
Basil can also be massaged (diluted in a carrier) into skin to ease sore muscles and bring some relief from muscle spasms. (Aromatics Intl, Plant Therapy, Lis-Balchin, Peace-Rhind)
As an herb, basil was traditionally used for digestive disorders. The essential oil may be useful for nausea, gas, and indigestion.
For stomach complaints, try basil diluted into a carrier oil and rub into the abdomen.
Rosemary Caddy finds Basil has quite some influence on the endocrine system. She states it is estrogen like, influences milk production, and stimulates the adrenal cortex.
Jeanne Rose quotes Robert Tisserand when she too claims that basil stimulates the adrenal cortex. The adrenal cortex is important in the body’s response to stress as well as regulation of blood pressure.
It is important to note that adrenal insufficiency can not be cured by aromatherapy. If you suspect adrenal insufficiency you should see your doctor.
One of the fascinating things about essential oils is how they can have two seemingly opposite effects on the body. Basil with a significant linalool content can be calming. This means it can be used for anxiety, insomnia, and nervous tension.
Yet, there is evidence that basil can be stimulating to the brain. This combination of easing tension yet stimulating is probably why almost every author extols its virtues in relieving mental fatigue and clearing the mind. (Lis-Balchin, Plant Therapy, Lawless, Caddy). Marcel Lavabre calls basil a nerve tonic, meaning it can help to strengthen the nervous system.
Basil may have some effectiveness against fungal infections. One study found that the combination of linalool and eugenol in basil oil had a synergistic effect against fungi. This effect was greater than either component alone. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/food.200390021/full
As previously mentioned, it is important to know what chemotype you have, as safety will depend on the chemical composition of the particular oil you are using. The linalool chemotype is generally safe, but should not be applied topically in dilutions above 3%. This is due to the eugenol content. Basil can be a skin sensitizer for some.
Basil oil can be stimulating in low doses, but may have an opposite effect in higher doses. High doses should be avoided.
Small children (under 6) and babies should not use basil oil. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid basil. This is in part due to the potential of passing methyl chavicol to the baby but also as a precaution since basil has caused spontaneous uterine contractions in rats.
Basil oils with methyl chavicol should be used with caution, as there is evidence in animal studies of it being a carcinogen. If applied to skin, it should only be used on intact skin. http://www.ema.europa.eu/docs/en_GB/document_library/Public_statement/2014/12/WC500179557.pdf
If you have an estrogenic cancer, you should avoid basil oil.
(Rose, Lis-Balchin, Aromatics Intl, Tisserand & Young)
Jeanne Rose. Aromatherapy: Applications and Inhalations
Kurt Schnaubelt. Advanced Aromatherapy
Marcel Lavabre. Aromatherapy Workbook
Julia Lawless. The Complete Essential Oils Sourcebook
Maria Lis-Balchin. Aromatherapy Science
Robert Tisserand & Rodney Young. Essential Oil Safety 2nd ed.
Jennifer Peace-Rhind. Aromatherapeutic Blending
Rosemary Caddy. Essential Oils in Colour and The Essential Blending Guide
Lora Cantele & Nerys Perchon. The Complete Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness
Aromatics International https://www.aromatics.com/products/basil-sweet-essential-oil
Journal Articles as linked in the text above.