3 Reasons To Eat Basil (Backed By Science)

Basil is an herb that adds a lot flavor to many dishes. But did you know that this herb also has potent effects against cancer? Three studies tested the chemicals found in different types of basil on three different types of human cancer. The results will make you feel good about adding a few extra leaves of basil to your next lunch. These studies specifically extracted chemicals from three types of basil: holy basil, sweet basil, and garden basil. There are over 20 types of basil, but since they easily interbreed it is not always easy to tell the difference between all of them. Nonetheless, they all contain chemicals that are good for your health. 

Basil Pummels Prostate Cancer

Chemicals extracted from holy basil leaves were given to human prostate cancer cells. The effect of the chemicals was examined after one day and two days of treatment. Basil was able to kill the prostate cancer cells by causing the cells to digest themselves. The cells were found to have fragments of DNA inside of them, a sign that death is surely on its way. The researchers used varying dilutions of the holy basil chemicals, so they had weak to intermediate to strong doses. After exposing the cancer cells to the chemicals for two days, even the weakest dose of basil could kill the cancer.

Basil Slows the Spread of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer likes to spread to other organs in the body, a process called metastasis. In order to spread, cancer cells need to digest and crawl their way in between neighboring cells – a process called invasion. Scientists wanted to see if the chemicals in sweet basil could slow the invasion process of human ovarian cancer cells. The cells were grown on a membrane that is a like a microscopic colander that allows cells to squeeze through to the other side. They found that treating the ovarian cancer cells with chemicals from sweet basil reduced the number of cells that could get through the membrane. This reduction in invasion was because the chemicals in basil prevented the cells from releasing the enzymes that tear open the spaces between neighboring cells. Less space means a harder time squeezing through.

Basil Terminates Tongue Cancer

Squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue is a cancer that arises due to long-term irritation to the tongue. This happens because of smoking, chewing tobacco, and having cavities in teeth for a long time. Researchers found a chemical inside of sweet basil and garden basil, called safrole. They wanted to see if safrole had any effect on human tongue cancer cells.  It turns out that safrole had a magnificent ability to kill the tongue cancer, causing the cells to tear themselves apart from the inside out – like pressing a self-destruct button.


Dhandayuthapani et al. “Apoptosis Induction by Ocimum sanctum Extract in LNCaP Prostate Cancer Cells.” Journal of Medicinal Food. 2015, 18(7):776-85.

Lv et al. “Effects and mechanisms of curcumin and basil polysaccharide on the invasion of SKOV3 cells and dendritic cells.” Molecular Medicine Reports. 2013, 8(5):1580-6.

Yu et al.  “Safrole induces cell death in human tongue squamous cancer SCC-4 cells through mitochondria-dependent caspase activation cascade apoptotic signaling pathways.” Environmental Toxicology. 2012, 27(7):433-44.