Family: Lamiaceae. Distilled from leaf / whole plant.
Sources: Europe, India, Vietnam, Madagascar, Africa, Mexico
Price: low - medium
Colour: pale clear to hint of green, watery. Top note
Ocimum Basilicum or Basil is a commonly used essential oil but one which is insufficiently understood and poorly identified. Basil produces chemotypes within the Ocimum basilicum group. There are also ‘other’ basils available such as Ocimum gratissimum, Ocimum sanctum (the Ayurvedic Tulsi), and Ocimum canum (up to 40% linalool). Ocimum gratissimum as it is found in Guinea, Africa contains between 33 & 65% thymol, so buyer beware!
A chemotype describes chemical specificity in a plant that is caused by the geography, weather, soil and other natural parameters. In this case chemotypes are important as some basils can contain up to 85%+ of the Phenol Methyl-Ether, ‘ methyl chavicol’also known as estragole - which is considered to have both hepatotoxic and carcinogenic possibilities in high doses. (Tisserand & Balacs - Essential Oil Safety) Basils also contain eugenol and as mentioned thymol, so a reliable source correct latin nomencalture and chemical specificity is critical for safety.
Even the pollen grains of basil can tell us about it’s chemotype!
For instance if the pollen has 3 striations it means that the essential
oil will be high in sesquiterpenes but the overall yield of oil from the
plant will be low. If the pollen grain has 6 striations the distilled
oil will be rich in monoterpenols or alcohols and high in overall yield
of essential oil. This is a prime example of the steps
in E/O research that are being taken in the scientific world and obviously
this information could have a significant impact for distillers and for
consumers in the way it affects
price. Looking at pollen under a microscope is much cheaper than distilling tons of plant material and running tests on the resulting essential oil.
Methyl chavicol is found in it’s highest levels in the exotic basils Ocimum basilicum var basilicum. Make sure your supplier can tell you which chemotype of Basil you’re buying. Also watch the use of Basil M.C. on people with alcohol in their blood stream. Even after 24hrs it can cause dermal reactions.
The Sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum var. “grand vert” that is grown in much of Europe contains around 50% methyl-chavicol and around 10% linalool making it more popular for Aromatherapy use and with a markedly different, more liqourice odour.
Finally there is the third chemotype of Basil, the Ocimum basilicum var. “european” sometimes called “lettuce leaf”. With it’s large,
crinkly, bright green leaf it really does resemble lettuce.
This is Basil linalool where the methyl-chavicol dips to 10-15% and the linalool level jumps to around the 40%+ mark.
Therapeutic properties are many and wide ranging.... Basil deals with more than just stress! The following list comes from L'Aromatherapie Exactemente by Franchomme & Penoel.
Regulates the sympathetic nervous system ++
General tonic, stimulant and neurotonic++
Decongestant for the uterus and prostate++
Nervous tension, anxiety ++
Mental fatigue and asthenia +++
Rheumatoid polyarthritis +++
Depression, asthenia, fatigue +++
Viral encephalitis, polio-myelitis+++
Tropical viral infections++
Venous decongestant, varicose veins, circulatory problems+
Powerful antispasmodic ++++
Digestive problems of all sorts +++
Viral Hepatitis A & B, and non A & non B +++
Travel sickness +++
No known contra-indications in therapeutic use.(see text of profile for details on cautions)
As an anti-bacterial agent Basil either works totally or not at all dependant on the specific bacteria. For anti-fungal properties choose Basil linalool as the high ester content enhances the actions of the oil.
Basil offers us so much scope and a little time and effort in selecting which Basil oil you buy can really pay off. It also helps to understand why one book can say one thing about basil and another book present a vastly different picture with different properties and indications. We must really learn about our oils, they are the tools of our trade and the more knowledgable we are the more effective we can be as Aromatherapists.
I relish the Basil oil I get from Provence which is both therapeutic
and delicious. I use it on pasta, in salad dressings and on mosquito
bites to take the sting out, among other applications. I keep all
the Basils on hand but Provencal Basil has my heart and stimulates my mind.
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