Basil chemotypes for daily care and perfumery, used in many therapeutic formulas, is widely grown and healing to mind and body. A detailed synopsis of uses and properties.
Basil Essential Oil & Hydrosol Profile
By Jeanne Rose ~ October 2017
Common Name/Latin Binomial: Basil is Ocimum basilicum and has several chemotypes. Holy Basil or Tulsi Basil is Ocimum sanctum or O. tenuiflorum.
Other Common Name/Naming Information: Basil (Ocimum mimimum or basilicum is called cooking Basil, great Basil, St. Joseph’s plant or just Basil and Holy Basil or Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum or O. sanctum). They are treated as annuals although some act as perennial. Holy basil contains eugenol and depending on the species and cultivar and it has a strong, herbaceous, often sweet smell. The leaves may taste somewhat like anise, but for me, it is only slightly licorice or anise scented.
Mountain Rose Herbs lists 3 types of Holy Basil that are called Holy Basil. Krishna, Rama and Vana. Ayurvedic texts describe these type of Basil as a ‘pillar of holistic herbal medicine and a goddess incarnated in plant form (the mother medicine of nature’.
Family: Lamiaceae family. There are several species and hybrid species, varieties and also chemotypes (chemical varieties) depending mainly on what men decide they want but also on terroir especially elevation and other factors such as bloom tine and the time of year the plant is harvested.
Countries of Origins: Basil is known for thousands of years, by the Greeks and the Romans, and probably originated in India. Ocimum tenuiflorum (synonym Ocimum sanctum), commonly known as Holy Basil, tulasi, or tulsi, which is native to the Indian subcontinent and widespread as a cultivated plant throughout the Southeast Asian tropics. It is revered as the ‘elixir of life’.
Eden Botanicals Harvest Location: Basil linalool and chavicol from Egypt, Holy Basil from India.
Endangered or Not: Basil is not endangered although there are some native species that are.
General description of Plant habitat and growth. This plant is generally considered a tender annual. The seeds are sown directly into the ground, it likes a sunny location with well-drained soil, thinned or transplanted to 12 inches apart, water deeply every 10 days (or so), and chopped and distilled before it forms flowers. Basil is best used fresh, whether for culinary use or distillation.
“Krishna (Ocimum tenuiflorum) is known for its medicinal value and peppery crisp taste. The plant has dark green to purple leaves, stems, and blossoms. It is cultivated in the Indian plains, as well as private homes and gardens around India, and is named after the blue skinned God as the dark purple leaves resemble this color.
Rama (Ocimum sanctum) is known for its cooling and mellow flavor. The plant has green leaves, white-to-purplish blossoms, and a green or purplish stem. It is cultivated in the Indian plains, as well as private homes and gardens around India.
Vana (Ocimum sp.), aka. “forest type”, is known for its fragrance. The plant has green leaves and stem, with white blossoms. It is found in the Himalayas and plains of India. Grows wild in Asia and Africa and is used medicinally there as well.” — Mountain Rose Herbs
Several varieties can be grown:
Cinnamon basil – Ocimum sp., this refers to a number of different varieties of Basil that are related because of their spicy odor, 18″. This variety offers dark green shiny leaves and pink flowers.
Lemon basil – O. x basilicum ‘Citriodorum’, a hybrid of African and American basil, 12″-18″. Fine-leafed plant with distinct lemon fragrance.
Lettuce Leaf basil – O. crispum, 15″. A large leaf variety of Basil with large, crinkled green leaves which have a sweeter flavor and milder scent than other varieties.
Opal basil – O. basilicum. ‘Purpurascens’, an improved variety of dark purple Basil. 12″-18″. A variety that has red-purplish foliage and pink flowers.
Spicy Globe – O. basilicum, 8″-10″. Has green foliage and is a small, compact plant size. and spicy scent.
Thai basil – O. basilicum., 24″-36″. An upright, plant with flavor and fragrance distinctly different from other basils.
Portion of plant used in distillation, how distilled, extraction methods and yields: Leaves are steam- or hydro-distilled.
Yield: Depending on the season when distilled, the yield is 0.1% to 1.66%.
Basil flowers from Ocimum tenuiflorum (also called O. sanctum),
The seeds from Strictly Medicinal seeds in Oregon (formerly Horizon Herbs).
Photo credited to Andrea Lay
- Color – colorless to pale pale yellow
- Clarity – clear
- Viscosity – non-viscous
- Intensity of odor – 5
- Taste – bitter, aromatic
Odor Description/ Aroma Assessment ~ Basil is a good example of how a chemotype alters the scent of a plant. Basil can grow in various areas from the very hot to the less hot. The hotter the area the more that the Basil will reflect the heat by producing more chavicol. If the area is higher in altitude, the Basil may produce more Linalool. Besides the many botanicals varieties of Basil, all with varying odors to complicate the matter there are also chemotypes (chemical varieties).
There are chemotypes CT thymol, CT eugenol, CT chavicol, and CT linalool. Light intensity and higher temperature encourages camphor. High altitude often encourages linalool; eugenol and thymol often have to do with the heat of the climate.
Basil Chavicol or methyl chavicol (aka estragole), very strongly herbaceous odor, not for perfumery, better in household products or soap.
Basil eugenol, high in eugenol, the “production of new types of basil oils grown in Indiana are rich in specific chemical constituents that have application in new products will require a close relationship with both essential oil brokers and end-processors.” It has a spicy clove-like scent.
Basil Holy has a strong herbaceous and spicy odor with a slight green and fruity back note. This Basil is in the group of ‘licorice-scented’ essential oils. For me, it is only slightly licorice or anise scented through the inclusion of eugenol.
Basil linalool. This CT (CT = chemotype or chemical variety) is gently medicinal and has a sweet, green odor, very fine to use in perfumery, and any products that are used for the younger persons.
Basil thymol smells spicy and astringent and best for applications more medicinal in nature.
Classifying by chemotype is more prevalent now than it was 10-15 years ago. Another way to say it is that chemotype (chemical variety) refers to the particular plant that have the same morphological (body shape) characteristics, but which produce different quantities of the chemical constituents in the resultant essential oil.
(see also the Chemical Components below)
Blends Best with most of the Mediterranean herbs such as Sage, Lavender, Marjoram, Rosemary and with most of the seed oils and modifies the green scents in perfumery such as Mugwort and Galbanum and the stronger conifer scents such as Redwood or Sequoia.
Blending/Perfumery ~ This green, spicy note works well with citrus and is used as a bridge or full note in many commercial perfumes.
Top Note ~30 drops of cobinations of Citrus oils such as Bergamot, Lemon, Tangerine
Heart Note ~12 drops of Basil (linalool will be softer, Holy Basil stronger, do not use Basil chavicol or Basil thymol)
Bridge or in Heart Note ~ 5-10 drops of a green note such as Coriander seed or Galbanum
Base Note ~ 20-30 drops of Atlas Cedar and Vetivert
Properties (by IG=ingestion or IN=inhalation or AP=application): IG as stomachic, antispasmodic, digestive tonic, possibly an intestinal antiseptic, and carminative. IN as restorative, general stimulant, maybe an emmenagogue and by AP it is antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antibacterial, anti-infectious, and antibiotic.
Please be aware of which chemotype you are using as the eugenol and thymol types can be an irritant on the skin.
Basil CO2 from the leaves, Ocimum basilicum & O. sanctum, has a strong Basil smell and is more like the Basil taste and smell than the steam-distillate of the leaves. It can be used wherever the SD is used and in culinary as well. Try a bit in your hair care products for that refreshing, distinctive Basil odor and stimulating quality. In perfumery, it is both sweet and spicy. Basil always blends well with Bergamot, Clary Sage, Clove Bud, Lime, Juniper, Lemon, Neroli, and Rosemary.
Properties and Uses: Tulsi Basil has been shown to have some antibacterial activity against E. coli and S. aureus and is better known as an adaptogen and astringent herb used as an Ayurveda remedy for various things including removing stress and for longevity. Also, it is used in Thai cuisine and as an insect repellent when leaves are added to stored foods and grains. Sweet Basil and other Basil types are stimulant, anti-bacterial, some types are more to less slightly to very medicinal.
Herbal Body/Hair Care – Basil that wonderful delicious smelling herb which loses most of its scentual delight when dried is best used fresh in your creations. Quickly dry and mash to a powder, mix with powdered sweet Lavender and brush into the hair to perfume it.
Or take 3 ounces of neutral spirits (ethanol), add 7 drops of sweet Lavender EO and 7 drops sweet Basil EO, shake well and add ½ ounce Lavender hydrosol and succuss. Use this to perfume and treat your hair to help health and growth.
Jeanne Rose Formula for Split Ends and Hair Growth
Occasionally as needed, use 1 tsp. of Olive oil that you have added 1 drop each of Basil oil and Rosemary oil. Apply this to the scalp and massage in thoroughly. Let this sit overnight, shampoo in the morning. This is for healthy hair, hair growth and to reduce split ends. Also, make an infusion of the herbs of Basil and Rosemary. Use the fresh herbs if possible. Use the strained infusion as a rinse after your shampoo and as a spray on the hair when needed. For a more complete formula and uses on the hair, refer to of Jeanne Rose’s Herbal Body Book, p. 70.
Diffuse/Diffusion: Basil EO when used in the diffuser, particularly with Rosemary and Lavender oil is a brain and memory stimulant. But Basil is strong and pungent, use the diffuser or inhaler only briefly and moderately for best effect.
Emotional/Energetic Use: When inhaled, this Basil oil is considered to reduce depression, relax the mind after intellectual overwork, soothe the nerves and reduce stress. This is used by inhalation, a drop in the palms of the hand, rub hands together briskly and then inhale the scent.
Holy Basil has strong ritualistic and energetic uses.
HYDROSOL: Basil hydrosol is just a wonderful product; however, its scent depends on which chemotype you use. It can be added to a hair conditioner or hair application to stimulate growth and for hair loss; a teaspoon in a glass of water or carbonated water can be calming and to soothe a fiery feeling or it can be used in foods such as vegetables and pasta. Basil hydrosol has a slight licorice taste and is a digestive.
Basil Oils and Tulsi Hydrosol – courtesy of Eden Botanicals
Jeanne Rose’s (Tomato Tales) Basil EO ~ My first experience with the essential oil of Basil was not a positive one. This was in 1970 and what I was smelling had no relationship to the sweet herb Basil I was used to having in my cooking. I learned from old texts that the essential oil could be a tonic to my hair, and I also knew that Rosemary EO and herb were used for hair growth. So, I decided to combine these two and made a hair tonic with Basil and Rosemary oil and Jojoba Oil as a carrier oil. These three items have the following qualities: Basil as a stimulant, Rosemary for hair growth and Jojoba to keep dark hair dark. I started using this formula in 1970 and have used it ever since. At 80, my hair is still dark with just an edge of white around the forehead. Now I like the scent of Basil.
CULINARY USE ~ This sweet, spicy herb Basil is a very important flavoring herb for the kitchen, it was used extensively to flavor turtle soup and is perfect, always, with Tomato. Fresh Basil is best but in a pinch, you can use 1-drop of Basil oil on two ounces of the dried herb. Toss the mixture and store away in an airtight container in the dark while the scent infuses the dried herb. You can also chop fresh Basil and just cover with a good quality Olive oil and store in the fridge until needed. Use sooner rather than later. For pesto sauce, pound fresh Basil with Olive oil, Pine nuts, Parsley, Garlic, Parmesan, and salt and pepper and use this on pasta, freshly sautéed Onions or spread on toasted bread, vegetables or salad.
HERBAL USE ~ Herb Basil is added to honey and Nutmeg and used to ease diarrhea and some say as a tea to ease childbirth pain.
- Basil Leaf
Chemical Components: The strong clove scent of sweet basil (Basil CT eugenol) is derived from eugenol, the same chemical as actual cloves. Scent and chemistry is different depending on the season and the variety.
The various basils have such different scents because the herb has a number of chemotypes that come together in different proportions. (“The essential oil composition over the different seasons was quite idiosyncratic, in which the principal components of one season were either trivial or totally absent in another”.) The strong clove scent of sweet Basil is derived from eugenol, the same chemical as actual cloves. Basil and Oregano contain large amounts of (E)-beta-caryophyllene, BCP, which might have a use in treating inflammatory bowel diseases and arthritis. BCP is the only product identified in nature that activates CB2 selectively; it interacts with receptors (CB2), blocking chemical signals that lead to inflammation, but without triggering mood-altering effects. Use in blends for perfume or for scent.
The citrus scent of lemon Basil and lime Basil reflects their higher portion of citral, which causes a healing lung effect evident in several plants including lemon mint, and of limonene, which gives actual lemon peel its scent. African blue basil has a strong camphor smell because it contains camphor and camphene in higher proportions. Licorice basil contains anethole, the same chemical that makes Anise smell like licorice, and in fact is sometimes called “anise basil.” http://jeanne-blog.com/aniseed-star-anise-profile/
Other chemicals that help to produce the distinctive scents of many Basils, depending on their proportion in each specific variety or breed, include: 1,8-cineole, beta-caryophyllene, camphor, citronellol (scented geraniums, Roses, and citronella) , eugenol, fenchyl acetate, linalool (a flowery scent also in coriander), linalyl acetate, methyl eugenol, myrcene (most types of Bay leaf, Hops, Thyme),pinene (which is, as the name implies, the chemical that gives pine oil its scent), ocimene, terpineol, trans-ocimene.
Tulsi Basil essential oil has been found to consist mostly of eugenol (~70%) β-elemene (~11.0%), β-caryophyllene (~8%) and germacrene (~2%), with the balance being made up of various trace compounds, (mostly terpenes).
Based on chemical content, basils can be divided into four main groups:
1)French ~ Ocimum basilicum, contains lower amounts of phenols
2) exotic; contains methyl chavicol (40-80%)
3) methyl cinnamate – ether 90%
Basil and oregano contain large amounts of (E)-beta-caryophyllene (BCP), which might have a use in treating inflammatory bowel diseases and arthritis. BCP is the only product identified in nature that activates CB2 selectively; it interacts with one of two cannabinoid receptors (CB2), blocking chemical signals that lead to inflammation, without triggering cannabis’s mood-altering effects.
Interesting and Historical Information ~ In Gerard’s Herbal, “The juice mixed with fine meal of parched barley, oil of Roses, and Vinegar, is good against inflammations, and the stinging of venomous beasts”, and Nicholas Culpeper noted of basil that “Galen and Dioscorides were against it, that it would not grow with rue and it helped a deficiency of Venus on the one kind but spoils all her actions in another.” The Oxford English Dictionary quotes speculations that basil may have been used in “some royal unguent, bath, or medicine”. Basil is still considered the “king of herbs” by many cookery authors.
Key Use ~ Various CT (chemotypes) are used in perfumery, hair care, and to inhale as a brain ‘tonic’.
27-year collection of Basil oil with leaves
Scientific Data: Essential oil from Ocimum basilicum (Omani Basil): a desert crop.
Al-Maskri AY1, Hanif MA, Al-Maskari MY, Abraham AS, Al-sabahi JN, Al-Mantheri O.
Abstract: The focus of the present study was on the influence of season on yield, chemical composition, antioxidant and antifungal activities of Omani basil (Ocimum basilicum) oil. The present study involved only one of the eight Omani basil varieties. The hydro-distilled essential oil yields were computed to be 0.1%, 0.3% and 0.1% in the winter, spring and summer seasons, respectively. The major components identified were L- linalool (26.5-56.3%), geraniol (12.1-16.5%), 1,8-cineole (2.5-15.1%), p-allylanisole (0.2-13.8%) and DL-limonene (0.2-10.4%). A noteworthy extra component was beta-farnesene, which was exclusively detected in the oil extracted during winter and spring at 6.3% and 5.8%, respectively. The essential oil composition over the different seasons was quite idiosyncratic, in which the principal components of one season were either trivial or totally absent in another. The essential oil extracted in spring exhibited the highest antioxidant activity (except DPPH scavenging ability) in comparison with the oils from other seasons. The basil oil was tested against pathogenic fungi viz. Aspergillus niger, A. fumigatus, Penicillium italicum and Rhizopus stolonifer using a disc diffusion method, and by determination of minimum inhibitory concentration. Surprisingly high antifungal values were found highlighting the potential of Omani basil as a preservative in the food and medical industries.
Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. London. 1824. (author’s collection)
Gerard’s Herbal. The Herball or Generall Hiftorie of Plantes. London. 1632 [author’s collection]
Mabberley, D. J. Mabberley’s Plant-Book, 3rd edition, 2014 printing, Cambridge University Press.
Rose, Jeanne. 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols. Berkeley, California: Frog, Ltd., 1999
Rose, Jeanne. The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations. San Francisco, CA.
Rose, Jeanne. The Herbal Body Book. Berkeley, CA. Frog, Ltd.
Rose, Jeanne. The Herbal Guide to Food Book. Berkeley, CA. Frog, Ltd.
Herbal Studies Course/ Jeanne Rose. San Francisco, CA.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22164790 • EO from O. basilicum (influence of season on yield,
Oxford English Dictionary – the complete edition
SOME CAUTIONS TO REMEMBER for all Essential Oils
HYDROSOL — PLEASE NOTE: A true hydrosol should be specifically distilled for the hydrosol, not as a co-product or even a by-product of essential oil distillation. The plant’s cellular water has many components most are lost under pressurized short steam runs for essential oil, or by using dried material. We recommend that the producers specifically distill for a product by using plant material that is fresh.
PATCH TEST: If applying a new essential oil to your skin always perform a patch test to the inner arm (after you have diluted the EO in a vegetable carrier oil). —Wash an area of your forearm about the size of a quarter and dry carefully. Apply a diluted drop (1 drop EO + 1 drop carrier) to the area. Then apply a loose Band-Aid and wait 24 hours. If there is no reaction, then go ahead and use the oil in your formulas. —The Aromatherapy Book, Applications & Inhalations, p. 64
SAFETY PRECAUTIONS: Do not apply the essential oil neat, especially to the underarms or delicate parts of the body. Most oils are probably not to be used on babies, children or pregnant women. Many aromatherapist suggest that there are some oils not be used at all. However, as with many plants, essential oil chemistry is subject to change depending on species, chemotype, and terroir.
CONTRAINDICATIONS: Be moderate in your use of any essential oil. A little goes a long way. Remember to choose the herbal use over the essential oil use normally; an herb tea is milder than the essential oil. There are always contraindications for the excessive use of some plants and for their essential oils in both perfumery or aromatherapy.
DO NOT INGEST ESSENTIAL OILS: Although some oils are important flavoring oils in the flavor industry and thus ingested in very small amounts in many foods, especially meats and sausages, it is not a good idea to use them yourself either in capsules or in honey to take internally.
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Note: I have underlined the word Basil or Holy Basil so that wherever you see it you will be aware of which plant I am talking about. Also, I always capitalize the name of the herb or essential oil so that you will know I am speaking of the plant and not the color or taste.
Comments: I want to thank Eden Botanicals for their ongoing assistance to provide the new essential oils for these essential oil blog posts as well as their support to provide better information for the entire aromatherapy community.
Moderation in All Things.
Be moderate in your use of essential oils as they are just not sustainable for the environment.
Be selective and more moderate in your usage.
Use the herb first as tea or the infusion. —JeanneRose 2014
DISCLAIMER: This work is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for accurate diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care professional. Dosages are often not given, as that is a matter between you and your health care provider. The author is neither a chemist nor a medical doctor. The content herein is the product of research and personal and practical experience. Institute of Aromatic & Herbal Studies – Jeanne Rose©