17 Interesting Facts About Basil You Probably Didn’t Know

Interesting Facts About Basil

With its sweet yet subtly spicy flavor and fragrant aroma, basil is one of the most popular and beloved herbs worldwide. But there’s much more to this aromatic plant than meets the nose!

From its ancient origins to its many health benefits, basil has a rich history and a plethora of intriguing secrets. Read on to uncover 17 fascinating facts about basil that will give you a new appreciation for this culinary wonder.

1. Basil is Native to Asia and Africa

Caprese salad with fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese
Caprese salad with fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese

While basil is now grown globally and associated strongly with Mediterranean cuisine, it actually originated in Asia and Africa. The name ‘basil’ derives from the Greek word basilikohn, meaning ‘royal’ or ‘kingly’—a nod to its noble heritage.

Specific varieties like holy basil are native to India, where they were first cultivated around 500 BC. Sweet basil is thought to come from central Africa. Over centuries, basil spread across the world following trade routes.

Today it is cultivated in warm climates on every continent thanks to its popularity and versatility.

2. There Are Over 60 Varieties of Basil

Medicinal plant - Holy basil or Tulsi
Medicinal plant – Holy basil or Tulsi

From standard sweet Genoese basil to spicy Thai basil and citrusy lemon basil, there are over 60 known types of basil today.

Each variety has its own unique scent, flavor, appearance and ideal culinary uses. Popular varieties beyond sweet basil include:

  • Cinnamon basil – Has a spicy, cinnamon flavor
  • Licorice basil – Mildly anise-scented
  • Lettuce leaf basil – Ruffled leaves, mild flavor
  • African blue basil – Spicy flavor with purple stems
  • Holy basil – Used in Thai cuisine and Ayurvedic medicine
  • Lime basil – Bright green leaves with lime fragrance

The diversity of basil varieties means cooks have an aromatic world of flavors at their fingertips!

3. Basil is Part of the Mint Family

Gardening concept. mint and basil herbs in metal pot
Gardening concept. mint and basil herbs in metal pot

Perhaps its refreshing scent gives it away—basil is actually related to mint! It belongs to the Lamiaceae plant family along with other aromatic herbs like oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage and lavender.

Thanks to compounds like eugenol, linalool and methyl chavicol, basil shares the trademark minty, herbal scent profile of its cousins in the mint family.

4. Basil Has Been Used Medicinally for Centuries

In many ancient medicinal traditions, including Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine, basil was revered for its healing properties.

Historically, basil was used to help treat:

  • Headaches
  • Coughs
  • Poisonous insect bites
  • Inflammation
  • Anxiety
  • Poor digestion
  • Insomnia

Today, these traditional uses are being investigated scientifically. Basil contains antioxidant, antiviral and antibacterial compounds as well as essential oils with biological effects.

While more research is still needed, studies suggest basil may help fight cancer, viruses and bacteria in addition to reducing inflammation and stress.

5. Basil Features Prominently in Italian Cuisine

Typical Italian pesto

It’s hard to think of classic Italian food without basil. From Margherita pizza to pasta al pesto, basil is a staple ingredient.

Legend has it that basil represents love in Italian culture, which is why many dishes revolve around fresh Genovese basil. Basil brings its sweet, peppery flavor and fragrance to:

  • Pesto
  • Caprese salad
  • Pasta sauces
  • Soups
  • Paninis
  • Bruschetta
  • Meat and fish dishes

So next time you’re cooking Italian, don’t forget the basil!

6. You Can Grow Basil Indoors or Out

A perennial herb in warm climates, basil is easy to grow at home. The key things to know are that basil needs:

  • Lots of sun (at least 6 hours a day)
  • Rich, well-draining soil
  • Consistent moisture
  • Temperatures above 50°F

While traditionally grown outdoors in gardens, basil also thrives in indoor herb gardens or on sunny windowsills.

Trim basil regularly to encourage bushy growth, and pinch off any flowers to keep the leaves flavorful. Having fresh homegrown basil makes all your cooking taste incredible!

7. Eating Basil May Offer Health Benefits

Fragrant Basil
Fragrant Basil

In addition to historical medicinal uses, modern research indicates that eating basil regularly may boost overall health.

Potential benefits of basil include:

  • Lowering blood sugar and cholesterol
  • Providing antioxidants like flavonoids
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Supporting brain and heart health
  • Acting as an adaptogen to improve stress response
  • Fighting bacteria and viruses
  • Protecting liver function

More human studies are needed, but adding more basil as a seasoning appears to be an easy way to sneak in nutrients and plant compounds!

8. Basil Has Anti-Bacterial Properties

Traditionally, basil was used to help fight infections. Today, lab research suggests that basil contains antibacterial compounds that may inhibit the growth of certain bacteria.

In studies, basil extracts have shown activity against potentially harmful bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Yersinia enterocolitica.

The antibacterial effects come from active compounds like linalool, 1,8-cineole, and eugenol found in basil’s oils.

Adding more basil to your diet won’t treat an existing infection. But regularly consuming basil may help promote overall health by fighting problematic bacteria.

9. It Contains Essential Nutrients Like Vitamin K

Don’t underestimate this small green herb! Ounce for ounce, basil packs a nutritious punch.

It’s an excellent source of:

  • Vitamin K – Essential for blood clotting and heart health
  • Vitamin A – Key for eye and skin health
  • Iron – Needed for energy and red blood cell production
  • Calcium – Vital for bones, muscles and nerves

Basil also provides trace amounts of nutrients like magnesium, potassium, vitamin C and more. Adding just a few fresh basil leaves to your meals is an easy way to add nutrients!

10. Holy Basil Has Adaptogenic Properties

Green fresh Basil.
Green fresh Basil.

Not all basil varieties are the same. Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) stands out for its use in Ayurvedic medicine.

Compared to more common sweet basil, holy basil contains extra compounds called triterpenes. These unique compounds give holy basil adaptogenic properties.

Adaptogens like holy basil help your body cope with stress and anxiety. Consuming holy basil may improve the way your body responds to both mental and physical strain.

11. It Repels Mosquitoes and Other Pests Naturally

If you grow basil in your garden, you’ll notice far fewer mosquitoes and flies. Why?

Basil contains aromatic compounds like eugenol, citronellol, and linalool that act as natural bug repellents. Many commercial bug sprays actually try to mimic these repellent chemicals found in basil!

Growing potted basil plants near doors or windows can help deter pesky mosquitoes and flies without the need for DEET or other harsh chemicals.

12. Basil Has Antioxidant Properties

Antioxidants are compounds that help counter the damage done by oxidative stress in your body’s cells. Eating antioxidant-rich foods is linked to better health.

The powerful antioxidants found in basil include:

  • Flavonoids like orientin and vicenin
  • Phenolic acids like rosmarinic acid and caftaric acid
  • Carotenoids like beta carotene

These antioxidants are concentrated in fresh basil leaves and may be responsible for some of basil’s observed health benefits.

13. You Can Preserve Basil By Freezing

Like most herbs, fresh basil has a relatively short shelf life. So how do you keep basil on hand if you can’t use it all right away?

Freezing is an easy solution! To freeze basil leaves, you can:

  • Place whole leaves in an airtight freezer bag
  • Purée leaves into pesto, then freeze in ice cube trays
  • Blend torn leaves with olive oil and freeze into cubes

Frozen basil won’t be quite as flavorful as fresh, but it does a good job preserving the aroma and taste. Thaw cubes to add bold basil flavor to dishes all winter long!

14. Basil Essential Oil Has Therapeutic Uses

basil oil

In addition to using fresh basil, another way to harness its benefits is through basil essential oil.

Extracted through steam distillation, basil oil contains concentrated aromatic compounds from the leaves and flowers. Basil oil can be used aromatically or topically.

Potential therapeutic uses of basil oil include:

  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Boosting alertness and focus
  • Soothe headaches and migraines
  • Improving digestion
  • Adding flavor to dishes

High-quality organic basil oils should be diluted before applying to the skin.

15. Sweet Basil is Beloved in Thai Cuisine

When you think of Thai food, fragrant basil should come to mind. Sweet basil plays a major role in Thai cuisine.

Commonly used in Thai stir-fries, curries, and noodle dishes, basil adds its distinctive sweet anise-like aroma. It stands up to bold Thai flavors like chili peppers, garlic, and galangal.

In Thailand, freshly picked homegrown Thai basil is preferred. But regular Genovese basil can be substituted.

16. Basil May Help Lower Blood Sugar


Diabetes is an epidemic affecting nearly 10% of the US population. While basil shouldn’t replace diabetes medication, initial research shows it may help control blood sugar.

In studies on rats with diabetes, basil extracts lowered fasting blood glucose levels and improved other markers of diabetic health. The beneficial compounds appear to be triterpenes like oleanolic acid.

More human research is needed. But the findings suggest basil’s role as a medicinal “sugar regulator” may have some validity.

17. Egyptians Used Basil in Mummification

Basil plant  Egyptians  Mummification

Have a morbid fascination with mummies? Here’s a fun ancient fact about basil.

In Ancient Egypt, basil was used during mummification ceremonies. It was either placed directly on the body or integrated into embalming oils.

This tradition may stem from basil’s antimicrobial effects, which would slow decomposition. The ancient Egyptians clearly recognized basil’s preserving properties!

Some accounts even state that basil was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, although archeologists dispute this. Either way, basil’s role in ancient Egyptian rituals is undisputed.

Basil Leaves You Fascinated and Hungry for More

From its storied history to its many health benefits, basil clearly deserves its royally derived name. It’s equally at home in ancient medical texts and on modern menus.

With such diversity and charm, there is always more to explore when it comes to basil. Let these 17 fascinating facts leave you intrigued and hungry to discover more about this aromatic wonder herb.

The next time you pass by basil at the market, use it in a favorite dish or catch a whiff of its scent, remember just how special this herb truly is. Let basil add a touch of delight – and royalty – to your kitchen and your mealtimes.


A: Basil is an herb that is commonly used in cooking and has a long history. Here are some interesting facts about basil:

A: Basil originated in Southeast Asia and has been cultivated for thousands of years.

A: There are several different varieties of basil, including sweet basil, purple basil, and lemon basil.

A: It is best to store fresh basil in a glass of water on the windowsill or in the refrigerator with the stems in water and covered loosely with a plastic bag.

A: Basil is commonly used in cooking, particularly in Italian dishes like pesto. It can also be used to make tea or added to cocktails.

A: Basil can be grown from seeds or transplants and typically takes about 2-3 weeks to germinate and 4-6 weeks to reach maturity.

A: Basil has a long history dating back to ancient Greece, where it was considered the “king of herbs” and used in various religious ceremonies.

A: Basil is rich in vitamins and minerals and has antimicrobial properties. It is also believed to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

A: While dried basil can be used as a substitute for fresh basil in some recipes, it does not have the same flavor and aroma as fresh basil.

A: Basil is an annual plant, meaning it completes its life cycle in one growing season. However, it can self-seed and re-grow in mild climates.

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