Sweet basil essential oil is obtained by distilling the flowering tops, namely leaves, of the tender annual plant known as Ocimum basilicum. The Ocimum genus is native to the tropics and sub-tropics of both “old” and “new” worlds, especially Africa (Arthur Tucker, 2000). There are at least 64 species accounted for—yet basils in general are notorious for freely cross breeding and hybridizing—keeping many botanists on their toes.
O. basilicum needs a lot of water to thrive compared to several other spicy cousins in the Lamiaceae family. The plant cannot tolerate water stress and responds by increasing its levels of linalool and methyl chavicol (Arthur Tucker, 2000). Methyl chavicol, also known as estragole, is a potent chemical component. For that reason, aromatherapists look to work with O. basiliicum where linalool is the dominant chemical type; as such, this article solely focuses on O. basilicum ct linalool. Sweet Basil is often called “Common Basil,” “French Basil” or “European Basil,” setting it apart from “Exotic,” “Tropical” or “Reunion” Basil which has a high representation of the potent methyl chavicol.
From an aromatherapist’s perspective, this is where we pay attention to chemical types (a.k.a., chemotypes) and more-so where a plant is grown as climate, elevation, soil type, country of origin and other factors matter a lot regarding any plant’s chemistry. To that end, some of the core geographical locations O. basilicum ct linalool essential oil comes from are Egypt and Nepal.
There appears to be conflicting information in the literature regarding the roots of Basil’s Latin binomial. One source says it is from the Greek “ocimum” (“I feel”) where another notes “okimon” (“smell”). The epithet “basilicum” comes from “basilikos” (“royal”)—which nicely aligns with Basil’s (notably “Tulsi,” Ocimum sanctum) noble place in India and a belief held by many cultures at different times that the Ocimum genus is noble, dispels evil, aids in amorous feelings and dispels bad energy from the dead. Regardless of nomenclature origin it is important to note how polarizing the herb is, which has played out in history and informs how one may work with the essential oil as it has some very potent components (more on that below).
In the Greek language, there are two words: “basilicon” (“kingly herb”—hence the sacred, elevated and royal connotations) and “basilicus” which is the opposite of the royal white knight: the king of serpents. Juxtaposing the word “basilica” (as in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, a representation of high spirituality and divine power) against the “basilisk” (a snake-creature from ancient to medieval times that destroyed and killed wherever it went) may shed light upon the mixed feelings the Ocimums elicited from Homo sapiens over time. This contrast of “good” (royal, holy, sacred) and “evil” (destruction, snakes) connotations may elucidate basil’s ability to elevate, dispel and destroy. Culpeper adroitly summarized the polarizing notions of basil: “…either makes enemies or gains lovers there is no in-between.”
Basil is an immediate burst of stimulating joy. Initial excitation rushes in through the throat down to the stomach: to the realms of creativity, catabolism and anabolism. The power of Basil is that it brings a veil of calm over the excitation of the mind and other internal (e.g., metabolic) processes over time.
After the initial vivacious activity it guides you to an inner sanctum, stirring up and dispelling all the “bad stuff” so peace may gently enter. Basil is a poet with the ability to enrapture even the grumpiest of fools. Its complex nature (i.e., chemistry) gives space for us to tune-out the external world and focus on our inner processes. There is something irresistibly enigmatic about Basil; a feeling of eternal return, creation and extinction that taps into the mythical symbol of ouroboros.
Sweet basil essential oil has an affinity for many bodily processes. Following are notable therapeutic actions and indications where the essential oil may be worked with:
Digestive system: antispasmodic and great to dispel gas and ease cramping, stomachic
Immune system: stimulant, sudorific, febrifuge, helpful to work with fevers, antifungal, antimicrobial
Musculoskeletal system: aches, pains, cramping
Nervous system: mental fatigue, irritability, stress, dispels excess thinking promotes joy, soothing, calming especially for those of weak constitutions
Reproductive system: emmenagogue, antispasmodic
Respiratory system: congestion, bronchitis, asthma (though I must note that as an individual with reactive airways I find basil often, not always, initially irritates/excites then smooths out)
Chemistry Highlights: Sweet basil essential oil (ct linalool) is abundant in the monoterpenol, linalool. The specimen I am currently working with has 110 identified components accounted for in the oil, where linolool is 51% of the entire composition of the oil. This essential oil is also rich in myriad sesquiterpenes bolstered by monoterpenes. Basil has such a complex chemistry—overall it has chemical components represented from every major chemical family—including the feisty phenylpropenoids.
Is Sweet Basil Essential Oil Safe? First and foremost this post highlights the virtues of Sweet Basil, which, generally speaking, has a small representation of the potent phenylpropenoids: estragole (the current oil I’m working with has 1.11%), methyl eugenol (0.12%) and eugenol (4.83%). When used appropriately (e.g., small dose, acute use) this essential oil is quite safe and effective. Yet as with most essential oils, avoid using O. basilicum (all chemotypes) during pregnancy or nursing and with young children.
Blending with Sweet Basil Essential Oil
Sweet basil essential oil covers you with a sweet, herbaceous blanket of heat. There is a faint layer of floral on a backdrop of spice. A near immediate, instinctual smile is brought forth by basil’s potent magic. There is a cleansing quality, mind-opening stillness—calm waters settle in as the heat and stimulation settle down. There are notes of lemongrass and lavender among the dry smoky embers—snake eyes—the energy is bristling, lying in wait. Mint comes forth from the spice as well. The dry down continues with a grassy, herbaceous quality and whispers of clove whilst its temperature changes and starts to cool the nose and entire body. This oil certainly shapeshifts from penetrating warmth to a cooling sigh—the polarization is apparent if time is taken to sit with the oil.
Sweet Basil essential oil blends well with: so many friends in the Lamiaceae family such as Rosmarinus officinalis (all chemotypes), Peppermint (Mentha x piperita), Clary sage (Salvia sclarea), Sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana) and Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). It also gets along nicely with allies in the Apiaceae family such as
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) and Sweet fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce) and friends in the citrus family like Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) and Lemon (Citrus limon).
Creating Wellness Products with Sweet Basil
Managing Stress and Discomfort with a Simple Body Oil
8 drops Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum ct linalool)
12 drops Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
5 drops Clary sage (Salvia sclarea)
5 drops Sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana)
8 drops Black pepper* (Piper nigrum)
*Swap out Black Pepper for 2 to 3 drops of Sweet Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce) for an even more supportive blend to help modulate premenstrual and menstrual discomfort.
How to make: Combine the essential oils into a 2 ounce bottle with a top (e.g., flip top or a dropper) of your choice. Swish the oils around to combine them. Add a base oil of your choice to the bottle such as sesame, sunflower or herbal infused oil such as arnica. Affix the top and shake to incorporate the essential oils into the fixed oil. Label the bottle with a special name, ingredients and the date.
Usage suggestion: Use daily, for 5 days, as a body oil when feeling overwhelmed and in need of support and brightening. If looking to address menstrual pain and discomfort, apply up to 3x daily onto your abdomen at the onset of pre-menstrual symptoms through the first days of menses.
Dispel and Uplift: Two Ideas for Stock Blends
Basil has inspired many a poet; may the words of Michael Drayton stir you to call upon the joy of basil to uplift your spirits: “With Basil then I will begin, Whose scent is wondrous pleasing.” Consider creating and using the following synergy to help modulate your mood and quiet the mind so you may focus inward.
35 drops Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum ct linalool)
50 drops Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
15 drops Geranium (Pelargonium x asperum)
30 drops Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
Are you looking for a little “pep” during the day? Instead of reaching for caffeine try spending a few minutes breathing in the fresh, clarifying and uplifting molecules of the following cephalic blend of essential oils.
30 drops Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum ct linalool)
70 drops Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)
30 drops Rosemary verbenone (Rosmarinus officinalis ct verbenone)
8 to 10 drops Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
How to use either synergy: Add 25-30 drops to blank personal inhaler. Add 10-15 drops in water diffuser, or 2ml in nebulizing diffuser. (Note: Bergamot is photosensitizing for many people—take caution if considering this synergy for topical application.)
Holistic aromatherapy looks to hone-in on the underlying cause whilst helping an individual manage their symptoms and support their body in its natural healing processes. Within this framework we may look to diet and nutrition to support an individual in their healing process. What a better way to deliver some of the properties of Basil to someone than eating the actual fresh herb? Basil lessens the acidic effects that tomatoes may have on our bodies, yet another compelling reason for including fresh and dried herbs like basil in our diets (Gladstar, 2001).
Check out some of the recipe ideas from Herb Society of America—basil is just not about Caprese salads and pesto!
Many sacred and holy plants are potent and verge on the threshold of being unsafe, especially when working with the concentrated essential oil! I believe Ocimums in general fall into this category. It takes awe and respect to work with these potent plants but there is no need to push them away, meaning, don’t be afraid to work with something if it is approached appropriately and wisely. Thank you for spending time with Sweet Basil and me.
Arthur O. Tucker, T. D. (2000). The Big Book of Herbs. Loveland: Interweave Press.
Gladstar, R. (2001). Family Herbal: A Guide to Living Life with Energy, Health and Vitality. North Adams: Storey Books.
Mailhebiau, P. (1995). Portraits in Oils. Editions Jakin.
Meyers, M. (2003). Basil: An Herb Society of America Guide. Retrieved from Herb Society of America: https://www.herbsociety.org/file_download/inline/c2cd2efa-f150-4aac-9c7b-f10a0ccaf889