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Scientific Name(s): Ocimum basilicum L.
Common Name(s): Basil, Common basil, Genovese basil, Great basil, Saint-Joseph’s-wort, Sweet basil
Medically reviewed by Holevn.org. Last updated on Nov 21, 2019.
Animal studies of sweet basil suggest use as an antimicrobial agent, insect repellant, and anti-inflammatory agent, as well as in cardiovascular and CNS diseases and diabetes; however, clinical studies are lacking to support use in any condition.
Clinical studies are lacking to provide dosing recommendations for sweet basil. Traditionally, doses of 5 to 10 mL of the herb per cup of water or 2.5 to 5 mL of a tincture, taken up to 3 times daily, have been used.
Contraindications have not been identified.
Avoid use. Avoid amounts larger than are usually found in cooking. Emmenagogue and abortifacient effects have been reported for O. basilicum.
None well documented.
Basil as an herb and sweet basil essential oil have Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status in the United States.
Information is limited; the chemical constituents estragole and linalool have been associated with toxicity.
- Lamiaceae (mint)
The sweet basil plant is cultivated worldwide; many varieties exist, differing in chemical composition and affected by multiple geographic factors. Basil is an annual herb that grows up to 1 m in height, depending on the climate, with characteristic opposite, light-green, smooth leaves that grow up to 6 cm in width and 11 cm in length. The plant bears small, white flowers arranged in a terminal spike.1, 2 Related plants include Ocimum sanctum (holy basil), Ocimum gratissimum (African basil), Ocimum campechianum (Amazonian basil), and Ocimum canum (hoary basil). A synonym of O. basilicum is Ocimum americanum L.
Traditionally, O. basilicum has been used as an appetite stimulant, carminative, diuretic, and anxiolytic, as well as in cardiovascular disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Medicinal use of basil among ancient Greek and Chinese healers for promoting circulation and treating snake and insect bites has been documented. Sweet basil also has widespread culinary applications.2, 3, 4
The major components of the volatile oil of sweet basil are linalool, cineole, and estragole (methyl chavicol), depending on the source.5, 6, 7, 8
Studies have elucidated the chemical composition of the essential oil and describe terpenic hydrocarbons (eg, cymene, limonene, myrecene, pinene, terpinene, phellandrene), aromatic phenols (carvacrol, eugenol, thymol, and safrol), ketones (menthone, pulegone, carvone and thujone, verbenone, and fenchone), alcohols (eg, borneol, carveol, geraniol, linalool, menthol, terpineol), aliphatic aldehydes (citral, citronellal, and perillaldehyde), acids (citronellic acid and cinnamic acid) and esters (linalyl acetate). However, concentrations of these components vary, depending on the source of the plant.6, 9, 10, 11
The seeds of the plant contain ursolic acid, rosmarinic acid, caffiec acid, vallinin, stigmasterol, apgenin, and luteolin, among other components.5, 10
Uses and Pharmacology
In vitro and animal data
Limited animal studies report anti-inflammatory activity of O. basilicum essential oil, including reductions in leukocytes in rats and mice with experimentally induced colitis and arthritis, respectively.12, 13 Both the essential oil and the single component estragole showed efficacy in reducing histamine- and arachidonic acid–induced paw edema in mouse models.14 Additionally, in vitro experimental studies suggest that extracts of O. basilicum or its fractions may exert an influence on COX enzyme activity and on prostaglandin and thromboxane production.15, 16
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of sweet basil as an antithrombotic or anti-inflammatory agent.
In vitro and animal data
In vitro studies report activity of the essential oil against human and plant pathogens.7, 8, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23
Sweet basil essential oil was not active against fluconazole-resistant Candida spp.24
Laboratory experiments suggest that the oil may be an alternative to common synthetic repellents and/or acaricides, likely due to constituents such as alpha-pinene, limonene, citronellol, citronellal, camphor, and thymol.25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30
Antiprotozoal activity has also been demonstrated in vitro against Trichomonas vaginalis and Leishmania spp.2, 31
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of sweet basil as an antimicrobial agent or as a repellant or acaricide.
Antioxidant activity has been documented.7, 32, 33, 34, 35 A study in rodents reported improvements in cerebral infarct size, memory impairment, and motor coordination with pre-treatment with O. basilicum extract. Antioxidant activity may contribute to these observed effects.3
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of sweet basil as an antioxidant agent.
In a study in hypercholesterolemic rodents, O. basilicum extract exerted a vasorelaxant effect.16 In another study in rats, O. basilicum leaf extract demonstrated protection against adverse outcomes of induced myocardial infarction (eg, ST-segment elevation, fibrosis of myocardial tissue), possibly due to its antioxidant effects.36 Additionally, experimental studies in rodents suggest that sweet basil extracts may influence thromboxane production.15, 16
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of sweet basil in cardiovascular disease.
In limited experiments in mice, extracts of O. basilicum demonstrated antianxiety and sedative effects,37 memory enhancement effects,38 and improvement in neuromuscular coordination.39
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of sweet basil in diseases of the CNS.
In vitro and animal data
Limited in vitro and animal experiments suggest that the observed antidiabetic effects of O. basilicum may be due to alpha-glucosidase and alpha-amylase inhibitory activity.40, 41, 42
In a study evaluating the toxicity of linalool in poultry, increased serum glucose was observed; however, the researchers considered this effect to have no biological importance.43
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of sweet basil in the management of diabetes.
In vitro studies report activity of the essential oil against cancer cell lines, including breast and cervical cancer; however, clinical studies are lacking.7, 44, 45, 46, 47 Based on molecular docking studies performed with proteins from the Anopheles gambiae mosquito, 12 compounds in O. basilicum and other Ocimum spp. potentially have significant mosquito repellent activity.48
Clinical studies are lacking to provide dosing recommendations for sweet basil.
Traditionally, doses of 5 to 10 mL of the herb per cup of water or 2.5 to 5 mL of a tincture, taken up to 3 times daily, have been used.4
Pregnancy / Lactation
Avoid use. Emmenagogue and abortifacient effects have been reported. Avoid amounts larger than are usually found in cooking.49
Excretion of cineole in breast milk has been documented, but no adverse effects were reported.50
Case reports are lacking, and the relevance of findings from in vitro and animal studies is unclear. An aqueous extract of dried aerial plant parts inhibited platelet aggregation and reduced thrombin-induced platelet activation.16 An in vitro study reported cytochrome P450 inhibitory activity with sweet basil; however, the clinical relevance has not been established.51 Eugenol was observed to be hepatotoxic in glutathione-depleted mice; caution should be used with concomitant use of acetaminophen.52
Basil as an herb and sweet basil essential oil both have GRAS status in the United States.53 Clinical studies are lacking regarding associated adverse effects.
Information is limited; basil herb and sweet basil essential oil have GRAS status in the United States.2, 53 Estragole, the major chemical component of sweet basil essential oil, has been associated with hepatocellular tumors in mice and with genotoxicity.2 In poultry administered linalool, serum AST increased, but serum gamma-glutamyl transferase did not.43 Hematological effects (reduced hematocrit, platelets, and red blood cells) have been observed in rats.54
- Ocimum americanum L.
- Ocimum campechianum
- Ocimum canum
- Ocimum gratissimum
- Ocimum sanctum
- African basil
- Amazonian basil
- Hoary basil
- Holy basil
1. Ocimum basilicum L. USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 2016). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA. Accessed May 2016.2. Khan I, Abourashed E. Leung’s Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 3rd ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley; 2009.3. Bora KS, Arora S, Shri R. Role of Ocimum basilicum L. in prevention of ischemia and reperfusion-induced cerebral damage, and motor dysfunctions in mice brain. J Ethnopharmacol. 2011;137(3):1360-1365.218436154. Duke JA, Bogenschutz-Godwin M, duCellier J, Duke P. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. 2nd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2002.5. Duke J. Handbook of Biologically Active Phytochemicals and Their Activities. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1992.6. Vieira PRN, de Morais SM, Bezerra FHQ, Travassos Ferreira PA, Oliveira, Silva MGV. Chemical composition and antifungal activity of essential oils from Ocimum species. Industrial Crops and Products. 2014;55:267-271.7. Shirazi MT, Gholami H, Kavoosi G, Rowshan V, Tafsiry A. Chemical composition, antioxidant, antimicrobial and cytotoxic activities of Tagetes minuta and Ocimum basilicum essential oils. Food Sci Nutr. 2014;2(2):146-155.248040738. Scazzocchio F, Garzoli S, Conti C, et al. Properties and limits of some essential oils: chemical characterisation, antimicrobial activity, interaction with antibiotics and cytotoxicity. Nat Prod Res. 2016;30(17):1909-1918.263952479. Pandey AK, Singh P, Tripathi NN. Chemistry and bioactivities of essential oils of some Ocimum species: an overview. Asian Pac J Trop Biomed. 2014;4(9):682-694.10. Mahajan N, Rawal S, Verma M, Poddar M, Alok S. A phytopharmacological overview on Ocimum species with special emphasis on Ocimum sanctum. Biomed Prevent Nutr. 2013;3(2):185-192.11. Bhuvaneshwari K, Gokulanathan A, Jayanthi M, et al. Can Ocimum basilicum L. and Ocimum tenuiflorum L. in vitro culture be a potential source of secondary metabolites? Food Chem. 2016;194:55-60.2647152612. Rashidian A, Roohi P, Mehrzadi S, Ghannadi AR, Minaiyan M. Protective effect of Ocimum basilicum essential oil against acetic acid-induced colitis in rats. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2016;21(4):NP36-NP42.2662057413. Yamada AN, Grespan R, Yamada AT, et al. Anti-inflammatory activity of Ocimum americanum L. essential oil in experimental model of zymosan-induced arthritis. Am J Chin Med. 2013;41(4):913-926.2389516014. Rodrigues LB, Oliveira Brito Pereira Bezerra Martins A, Cesário FR, et al. Anti-inflammatory and antiedematogenic activity of the Ocimum basilicum essential oil and its main compound estragole: in vivo mouse models. Chem Biol Interact. 2016;257:14-25.2747406615. Umar A, Zhou W, Abdusalam E, et al. Effect of Ocimum basilicum L. on cyclo-oxygenase isoforms and prostaglandins involved in thrombosis. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014;152(1):151-155.2441255116. Amrani S, Harnafi H, Gadi D, et al. Vasorelaxant and anti-platelet aggregation effects of aqueous Ocimum basilicum extract. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009;125(1):157-162.1950555317. Sienkiewicz M, Łysakowska M, Pastuszka M, Bienias W, Kowalczyk E. The potential of use basil and rosemary essential oils as effective antibacterial agents. Molecules. 2013;18(8):9334-9351.2392179518. Snoussi M, Dehmani A, Noumi E, Flamini G, Papetti A. Chemical composition and antibiofilm activity of Petroselinum crispum and Ocimum basilicum essential oils against Vibrio spp. strains. Microb Pathog. 2016;90:13-21.2659670719. Srivastava U, Ojha S, Tripathi NN, Singh P. In vitro antibacterial, antioxidant activity and total phenolic content of some essential oils. J Environ Biol. 2015;36(6):1329-1336.2668896920. Siddiqui BS, Bhatti HA, Begum S, Perwaiz S. Evaluation of the antimycobacterium activity of the constituents from Ocimum basilicum against Mycobacterium tuberculosis. J Ethnopharmacol. 2012;144(1):220-222.2298201121. Radaelli M, da Silva BP, Weidlich L, et al. Antimicrobial activities of six essential oils commonly used as condiments in Brazil against Clostridium perfringens. Braz J Microbiol. 2016;47(2):424-430.2699128922. Freires IA, Denny C, Benso B, de Alencar SM, Rosalen PL. Antibacterial activity of essential oils and their isolated constituents against cariogenic bacteria: a systematic review. Molecules. 2015;20(4):7329-7358.2591196423. Araújo Silva V, Pereira da Sousa J, de Luna Freire Pessôa H, et al. Ocimum basilicum: Antibacterial activity and association study with antibiotics against bacteria of clinical importance. Pharm Biol. 2016;54(5):863-867.2645535224. Soares IH, Loreto ÉS, Rossato L, et al. In vitro activity of essential oils extracted from condiments against fluconazole-resistant and -sensitive Candida glabrata. J Mycol Med. 2015;25(3):213-217.2628196525. Cisak E, Wójcik-Fatla A, Zajac V, Dutkiewicz J. Repellents and acaricides as personal protection measures in the prevention of tick-borne diseases. Ann Agric Environ Med. 2012;19(4):625-630.2331177826. Nerio LS, Olivero-Verbel J, Stashenko E. Repellent activity of essential oils: a review. Bioresour Technol. 2010;101(1):372-378.1972929927. Phasomkusolsil S, Soonwera M. Insect repellent activity of medicinal plant oils against Aedes aegypti (Linn.), Anopheles minimus (Theobald) and Culex quinquefasciatus Say based on protection time and biting rate. Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health. 2010;41(4):831-840.2107305728. Perumalsamy H, Kim JY, Kim JR, Hwang KN, Ahn YJ. Toxicity of basil oil constituents and related compounds and the efficacy of spray formulations to Dermatophagoides farinae (Acari: Pyroglyphidae). J Med Entomol. 2014;51(3):650-657.2489785829. Rehman JU, Ali A, Khan IA. Plant based products: use and development as repellents against mosquitoes: A review. Fitoterapia. 2014;95:65-74.2463176330. Inbaneson SJ, Sundaram R, Suganthi P. In vitro antiplasmodial effect of ethanolic extracts of traditional medicinal plant Ocimum species against Plasmodium falciparum. Asian Pac J Trop Med. 2012;5(2):103-106.2222175031. Ezz Eldin HM, Badawy AF. In vitro anti-Trichomonas vaginalis activity of Pistacia lentiscus mastic and Ocimum basilicum essential oil. J Parasit Dis. 2015;39(3):465-473.2634505332. Sakr SA, Nooh HZ. Effect of Ocimum basilicum extract on cadmium-induced testicular histomorphometric and immunohistochemical alterations in albino rats. Anat Cell Biol. 2013;46(2):122-130.2386925933. Saha S, Mukhopadhyay MK, Ghosh PD, Nath D. Effect of methanolic leaf extract of Ocimum basilicum L. on benzene-induced hematotoxicity in mice. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:176385.2298847134. Ogaly HA, Eltablawy NA, El-Behairy AM, El-Hindi H, Abd-Elsalam RM. Hepatocyte growth factor mediates the antifibrogenic action of Ocimum bacilicum essential oil against CCl4-induced liver fibrosis in rats. Molecules. 2015;20(8):13518-135352621390735. Jadoon S, Karim S, Bin Asad MH, et al. Anti-aging potential of phytoextract loaded-pharmaceutical creams for human skin cell longetivity. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2015;2015:709628.2644881836. Fathiazad F, Matlobi A, Khorrami A, et al. Phytochemical screening and evaluation of cardioprotective activity of ethanolic extract of Ocimum basilicum L. (basil) against isoproterenol induced myocardial infarction in rats. Daru. 2012;20(1):87.2335150337. Rabbani M, Sajjadi SE, Vaezi A. Evaluation of anxiolytic and sedative effect of essential oil and hydroalcoholic extract of Ocimum basilicum L. and chemical composition of its essential oil. Res Pharm Sci. 2015;10(6):535-543.2677927338. Sarahroodi S, Esmaeili S, Mikaili P, Hemmati Z, Saberi Y. The effects of green Ocimum basilicum hydroalcoholic extract on retention and retrieval of memory in mice. Anc Sci Life. 2012;31(4):185-189.2366186639. Zahra K, Khan MA, Iqbal F. Oral supplementation of Ocimum basilicum has the potential to improve the locomotory, exploratory, anxiolytic behavior and learning in adult male albino mice. Neurol Sci. 2015;36(1):73-78.2508207840. El-Beshbishy H, Bahashwan S. Hypoglycemic effect of basil (Ocimum basilicum) aqueous extract is mediated through inhibition of alpha-glucosidase and alpha-amylase activities: an in vitro study. Toxicol Ind Health. 2012;28(1):42-50.2163668341. Kadan S, Saad B, Sasson Y, Zaid H. In vitro evaluation of anti-diabetic activity and cytotoxicity of chemically analysed Ocimum basilicum extracts. Food Chem. 2016;196:1066-1074.2659359042. Singh P, Jayaramaiah RH, Agawane SB, et al. Potential dual role of eugenol in inhibiting advanced glycation end products in diabetes: proteomic and mechanistic insights. Sci Rep. 2016;6:18798.2673961143. Beier RC, Byrd JA 2nd, Kubena LF, et al. Evaluation of linalool, a natural antimicrobial and insecticidal essential oil from basil: effects on poultry. Poult Sci. 2014;93(2):267-272.2457044744. Al-Ali KH, El-Beshbishy HA, El-Badry AA, Alkhalaf M. Cytotoxic activity of methanolic extract of Mentha longifolia and Ocimum basilicum against human breast cancer. Pak J Biol Sci. 2013;16(23):1744-1750.2450604245. Behbahani M. Evaluation of in vitro anticancer activity of Ocimum basilicum, Alhagi maurorum, Calendula officinalis and their parasite Cuscuta campestris. PLoS One. 2014;9(12):e116049.2554892046. Kathirvel P, Ravi S. Chemical composition of the essential oil from basil (Ocimum basilicum Linn.) and its in vitro cytotoxicity against HeLa and HEp-2 human cancer cell lines and NIH 3T3 mouse embryonic fibroblasts. Nat Prod Res. 2012;26(12):1112-1118.2193937147. Monga J, Sharma M, Tailor N, Ganesh N. Antimelanoma and radioprotective activity of alcoholic aqueous extract of different species of Ocimum in C(57)BL mice. Pharm Biol. 2011;49(4):428-436.2142886648. Gaddaguti V, Rao TV, Rao AP. Potential mosquito repellent compounds of Ocimum species against 3N7H and 3Q8I of Anopheles gambiae. Biotech. 2016;6:26.49. Ernst E. Herbal medicinal products during pregnancy: are they safe? BJOG. 2002;109(3):227-235.1195017650. Basil. Drugs and Lactation Database [database online]. Bethesda, MD: National Library of Medicine; Last Revision Date 20080401: LactMed Record Number 328. http://www.toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/htmlgen?LACT. Accessed May 6, 2016.51. Nguyen S, Huang H, Foster BC, et al. Antimicrobial and P450 inhibitory properties of common functional foods. J Pharm Pharm Sci. 2014;17(2):254-265.2493455452. WHO Monographs on Selected Medicinal Plants. Vol. 4. Salerno-Paestum, Italy: World Health Organization; 2005.53. US Food and Drug Administration. Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). US Food and Drug Administration website. http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/GRAS/. Published May 2016. Updated 2016. Accessed May 6, 2016.54. Rasekh HR, Hosseinzadeh L, Mehri S, Kamli-Nejad M, Aslani M, Tanbakoosazan F. Safety assessment of Ocimum basilicum hydroalcoholic extract in wistar rats: acute and subchronic toxicity studies. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2012;15(1):645-653.23493182
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