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What Are The Health Benefits Of Cooking With Basil?

Inflammation Circuit

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Carrie Lam, MD; Jeremy Lam, MD

Cooking with basil has many health benefits. It is also a plant that is very easy to grow. There are various types of basil to choose from, or you could even try all of them. Cooking with basil may be one of the best things you could do for yourself and your family. Let's explore how you can incorporate this herb into your diet.

Exploring the Different Types of Basil

An image of a cut bunch of fresh green basil laying on a brown clothPeople from the tropical areas of Central Africa to Southeast Asia have been cooking with basil for centuries. The basil is a herb that's indigenous to these tropical regions. From there, the use of the plant spread to the Mediterranean and other countries across the globe. There are several types of basil:

Sweet Basil

When cooking with basil, sweet basil may be the most commonly used option. Sweet basil is popular in salads, pesto sauce, and marinades. It is also known to repel mosquitoes.

Purple Basil

The strong burgundy color of purple basil gives a striking contrast to any herb garden. The taste is like cloves and is not as sweet as most basil varieties. Purple basil is usually used in oil and vinegar infusions or for garnishing.

Lime Basil

Lime basil adds a sweet yet slightly lemon taste to your dishes. It is also great for sauces and desserts. Adding fresh lime basil to your tea gives your drink an extra bit of flavor.

Thai Basil

Cooking with basil is synonymous with Thai cuisine. Thai basil (with its slight licorice flavor) is often used to enhance most Thai recipes. Thai basil is readily interchangeable with sweet basil in most recipes.

Lettuce Basil

Lettuce basil is an Italian basil. The large leaves and compact, short plant size make it a great herb garden addition. You can easily substitute this plant’s leaves for lettuce leaves when making lettuce wraps.

Ways of Cooking with Basil

Cooking with basil involves more than adding the herb to soups to enhance the taste. You could also:

  • Add basil and lemon to water for a cooling drink (or just add lemon basil)
  • Infuse olive oil or vinegar with purple basil
  • Add basil to your favorite pasta dish
  • Incorporate fresh, chopped basil leaves, or dried basil, into your favorite homemade salad dressing
  • Toss the freshly picked basil leaves together with other mixed greens and salad veggies
  • Make your homemade basil pesto by blending fresh basil leaves with pine nuts and olive oil to taste
  • Put basil on a freshly made pizza as an extra topping
  • Add basil to sandwiches
  • Toss fresh basil leaves together with grape tomatoes and mozzarella cheese with a good splash of olive oil to make a lovely Caprese salad
  • Add shredded basil leaves to bite-size watermelon pieces and crumbled feta cheese for a tasty salad to enjoy during the summer
  • Add fresh or dried basil to your soups or stews
  • Sauté fresh basil with your vegetables or add dried basil

When using dry basil, use one third the amount you would use in place of fresh leaves. Dry basil is more pungent and could overwhelm a dish.

How You Can Grow Basil

Cooking with basil is best if you can grow this herb organically. It is also an easy herb to grow and propagate.

Where to Grow Basil

Basil does equally well in your garden or a container. The container can be either inside or outside of the home. It also needs a lot of sunlight. So, if your basil is grown indoors, make sure you have it in a sunny position. Basil is fond of well-drained, moist soil with a neutral pH. Soil that is too rich results in the basil losing its flavor.

When Does Basil Grow?

Basil is sensitive to cold weather. It needs a sunny position that ideally gets about six hours of sunlight every day. This means planting it outdoors during late spring or early summer.

How to Propagate Basil

Buying a few basil plants from your local nursery is the easiest choice. But the herb grows equally well from seeds or cuttings.

If you decide on cuttings, take a small branch of basil, about four inches in length, and place them in a glass of water. Some roots should form in about a week. You can then transplant your new basil plant either directly in your garden or a container. Once planted, only water your basil plants when the soil is dry to the touch. Watering only around the base of the plant will help to preserve the leaves of this herb.

Which are Great Companion Plants for Basil?

Many plants pair very well with basil. This is true whether the basil is planted in a container or in your garden.  These complementary plants include tomatoes, lettuce, oregano, and peppers.

How to Dry Your Basil

An image of different types of basil tied to a string along a wood fence to dryCooking with basil is easy during the summer months, especially if homegrown. It is a healthy herb, especially if it is organic and no pesticides are used. You know exactly what has been added to your soil and sprayed on your plants. But you could ensure a steady supply of this herb throughout the year by drying your stock of basil.

There are two easy ways you can dry your basil. Both methods start with harvesting. This should be done early morning just after the dew has dissipated from the leaves.

The first method involves hanging your basil.

Ensure no leaves are on the bottom of the stems. Stems should ideally be six inches long. Tie your stems together, place a paper packet over the leaves, and hang your bunches with leaves facing downwards. They should ideally hang in a cool, dark area with low humidity.

A second, quick way of drying basil is to use your microwave oven.

Simply lay your basil leaves on a paper towel on your microwave oven’s tray and switch it on for about three minutes. Do open your microwave oven every minute during this time to ensure that no leaves are scorched.

Once your basil is dry, pack into glass jars and store in a cool, dark, dry place. A pantry is often the ideal location.

The Health Benefits of Cooking with Basil

Cooking with basil not only adds flavor to your dishes, but it provides many health benefits as well.

  • Basil may help balance your body’s acidity and restore pH levels.
  • The plant may help with digestive issues
  • It has strong anti-inflammatory properties that may support heart health and help address certain inflammatory conditions.
  • The herb may help soothe sore throats, coughing, fevers, and even headaches.
  • Basil contains viceninare and orientin, two natural antioxidants that fight free radicals, support the immune system, and protect the cellular structure.
  • When used externally, basil may help address skin issues like oily skin and acne.
  • Using basil may promote a slower release of sugar in the blood which may benefit persons with diabetes.
  • Basil also has strong detox properties, which makes it great at promoting liver health.

The Importance of Basil’s Inflammation-Fighting Abilities

Inflammation is an important process and a part of your body’s self-healing arsenal. It also features in your NeuroEndoMetabolic stress response, where it is influenced by the level of stress you experience. Cooking with basil may support your inflammatory response because of its anti-inflammatory properties.

Short-term inflammation is indicative of a healthy body repairing itself. But, constant, chronic inflammation is not desirable. This type of inflammation has many possible causes such as your diet.

Chronic inflammation may have many symptoms in the long run. Many of these symptoms may not even seem connected. The systems most affected by chronic inflammation include your immune system, gastrointestinal tract, and your microbiome.

Some of the health issues associated with chronic inflammation include:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Arthritis
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Susceptibility to fungal, viral, and bacterial infections
  • Chronic pain
  • Diabetes
  • Acid reflux
  • Signs of aging like wrinkles
  • Gastric issues like diarrhea, constipation, and bloating
  • Loss of mental acuity

Please note that while these health issues are reflective of inflammation, they are also reflective of adrenal fatigue. A dysfunction in your inflammatory response may have a devastating impact on adrenal function. This compromised adrenal function may, in turn, negatively affect your inflammatory response.

Causes of Chronic Inflammation

Chronic inflammation has many potential causes such as:

  • An imbalance in the gut microbiome
  • Too little sleep
  • Toxins (originating from the air and our food and water)
  • A sedentary lifestyle with little to no exercise
  • Chronic stress may cause excess cortisol production and inflammation
  • A diet high in processed foods, fats, and sugar
  • Allergies or food sensitivities


An image of a woman holding a basil plant close to her face smilingFighting inflammation may be a lengthy process. Following a healthy diet and making the necessary lifestyle changes is a great start.

Cooking with basil is one dietary change that may kickstart your healthy eating plan. This herb is easy to grow and it is easy to incorporate into your diet. You can also dry and store basil for use during the colder winter months.

This herb has many extraordinary health properties that may help you in your quest for health. Choosing to only use organic herbs and vegetables is a good dietary decision. They are free of all toxins and you have the benefit of fresh produce for daily use. Don’t you think you owe it to yourself to grow your basil, even if only on your kitchen windowsill? Choose to use your diet to fight diseases and support a healthy lifestyle.

© Copyright 2020 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam's Key Question

Arthritis is a condition associated with inflammation. Cooking with basil may very well benefit your arthritis. This is because basil has anti-inflammatory properties that actively fight against inflammation. Basil may even relieve cases of chronic inflammation as is experienced with arthritis.

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