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| What is it?
The leaves of the very familiar kitchen herb, Basil, without which any good pesto or pasta sauce would be mere shadows of their rightful selves! There are many strains of Basil around the world but their similarities far outweigh their differences.
How has it been used?
Basil has historically been used to treat nervous irritability and to help with stomach cramps (it is still used for this in Chinese medicine). It also has a rich history of use to help increase the production of milk in nursing mothers.
In Thailand, amongst other places in the East, Basil is used as an antidote to the sluggish stupor of a hashish overdose and they also use it as part of the withdrawal from mind-altering and addictive drugs.
Maurice Messegue, the renowned French folk-healer highly rated Basil 'for restlessness and migraines'.
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Science on Basil
~ Recently there has been renewed scientific interest in Basil as investigation has shown that its essential oils (the ingredients that give Basil its distinctive scent) have exceptionally high antioxidant and antimicrobial actions (Wannissorn, B., Jarikasem, S., Siriwangchai, T., and Thubthimthed, S. Antibacterial properties of essential oils from Thai medicinal plants. Fitoterapia 2005;76(2):233-236)
~ In a study of patients with chronic bronchitis, exposure to essential oils of basil caused lowering of plasma levels of dienic conjugates and ketons and activation of catalase in red cells characteristic of antioxidant effects Siurin, S. A. (Effects of essential oil on lipid peroxidation and lipid metabolism in patients with chronic bronchitis]. Klin Med (Mosk) 1997;75(10):43-45)
~ Rosmarinic acid is a natural phenolic compound contained in many Lamiaceae herbs, such as basil, that inhibits complement-dependent inflammatory processes. Based on in vitro study, rosmarinic acid was able to reduce radical oxygen species production, protein and DNA synthesis inhibition, and apoptosis caused by the two mycotoxins. Rosmarinic acid dose dependently attenuated radical oxygen species production and DNA and protein synthesis inhibition induced by both of the toxins. Similarly, apoptosis cell death was prevented, as demonstrated by reduction of DNA fragmentation and inhibition of caspase-3 activation (p<0.001) (Renzulli, C., Galvano, F., Pierdomenico, L., Speroni, E., and Guerra, M. C. Effects of rosmarinic acid against aflatoxin B1 and ochratoxin-A-induced cell damage in a human hepatoma cell line (Hep G2). J Appl Toxicol 2004;24(4):289-296)
Safety of Basil
There are no reports in the medical literature of toxicity associated to Basil and, as this is a herb that is used in large amounts in food, I think we can confidently assume it is safe for all ages, pregnancy, breastfeeding etc. All that said I think that this is not a herb to over-use any more in medicine than as you would in food where too much would overpower everything else. Basil is a potent, aromatic, insistent remedy with which less is frequently more!
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Basil is a great herb to get to know in clinical practice. In small doses it can have a marvellously stimulating effect on the mind and nerves, relieving fatigue and aiding insight. In large doses Basil brings has a kind of detoxicant effect, helping to bring clarity to a clouded mind in a rather robust manner.
A good way to get to appreciate the power of Basil to use it as a compress to rapidly clear the head when someone has a heavy, congestive headache, the kind where people say 'they just can't think' This is done by soaking a cloth in a strong tea of Basil (one heaped tsp of the dried herb soaked for 10 minutes in a covered cup of freshly boiled water) and then placing the cloth wringing wet over the sore head. See what happens next, in a matter of minutes the fog will clear and the headache should go with it (or at least significantly subside)
Note that a 'cool' constitution should use the compress as hot as is comfortable, a 'hot' constitution will be better to chill the tea down, even to the point of putting ice in it or straining it after it has infused and putting the tea in the fridge until very cool. More about constitutional types here.
Basil has been revered by spiritual traditions around the world because its presence aids calmness. I will often add just a small amount to a tincture (e.g. 10 mls in a 200 mls bottle) to help a patient who I see is suffering from confusion or a clouded mind. Of course people have to work through their problems but there is a great strength in knowing how to let Nature help us along our way and in this regard Basil has shown that it amply deserves its ancient reputation as a 'wisdom remedy'.
Basil combines particularly well with Wood Betony when we want to increase the flow of energy to the mind and it works perfectly with Withania when we want a restorative tonic to brain and nervous system.
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Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Basil is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B.
There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth!
Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Basil can particularly offer its benefits when an activation is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Religious history of Basil
| The religious history of Basil is quite remarkable. It was thought to be found around Christ’s tomb after his resurrection and many old churches including the Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian and Macedonian Orthodox all use Basil to prepare their holy waters to this very day.
Hinduism also reveres Basil (where it is called Tulsi) and it will always be found planted around their temples. Basil is considered sacred to the gods Vishnu and Krishna and believed to be a protector in life and death. It is an old tradition in India to place Basil in the mouth of the dying to ensure that they reach God.
Likewise in some of the ancient civilisations of Greece and Egypt Basil was placed in the hands of the dead to ensure a safe journey in the afterlife.
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas
on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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