Is eating raw basil leaves good for you?

Basil is an aromatic herb that is commonly used fresh or dried to flavor foods in many cuisines around the world. Fresh basil leaves are packed with nutrients and offer a wide array of potential health benefits. But is eating raw basil leaves actually good for you? Let’s take a closer look at the nutrition profile and health effects of consuming fresh basil leaves.

Nutritional highlights

Raw basil leaves are low in calories but dense with nutrients. Here is an overview of the main nutrients found in fresh basil (1):

Nutrient Amount per 100 grams
Calories 23
Protein 3 grams
Carbs 2.7 grams
Fiber 1.6 grams
Vitamin A 264% DV
Vitamin K 414% DV
Vitamin C 18% DV
Iron 17% DV
Calcium 18% DV
Magnesium 17% DV

As you can see, basil provides a significant amount of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron and magnesium. It’s also low in calories and carbs while providing fiber.

Potential health benefits

Here are some of the top evidence-based health benefits associated with consuming fresh basil leaves:

1. May promote heart health

Basil contains antioxidant compounds like flavonoids, which may help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. This antioxidant effect could support heart health (2).

Animal studies also indicate basil may help reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure (3, 4).

2. Could have antimicrobial properties

The essential oils found in basil have been shown to inhibit the growth of certain bacteria, yeasts and molds in test-tube studies (5).

However, human research is needed.

3. May support blood sugar control

Adding basil to your diet may benefit blood sugar control.

Human studies note supplementing with basil extract may lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes or prediabetes (6, 7).

4. Contains anti-inflammatory compounds

Basil is rich in eugenol, beta-caryophyllene and other anti-inflammatory compounds. Test-tube research demonstrates these substances can reduce markers of inflammation (8).

This effect may partly explain the potential for basil to improve heart health. However, human studies are needed.

5. Could protect liver health

Animal studies indicate basil may help protect the liver from damage caused by certain toxins and improve liver enzyme levels (9, 10).

However, human research has not confirmed these effects.

6. May promote digestive health

Traditionally, basil has been used to help reduce bloating, gas, stomach cramps and other digestive issues.

So far, lab and animal studies support these digestive benefits. They demonstrate basil may relax muscles in the digestive tract, act as a carminative to reduce gas and have antibacterial effects in the intestines (11, 12, 13).

7. Contains cancer-fighting compounds

Many of the plant compounds in basil act as antioxidants that may protect cells against damage that can lead to cancer (14).

Observational studies also link greater basil intake to reduced risks of certain cancers like colorectal cancer and oral cancer (15, 16).

However, more research is needed to determine whether eating basil would have any anti-cancer effects in humans.

8. May benefit brain function

Animal and test-tube studies indicate the essential oils in basil could help protect brain function by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress (17, 18).

While intriguing, human studies are needed.

9. Easy to add to your diet

Basil is very versatile and easy to incorporate into your diet. Here are some simple ways to consume more basil:

– Add fresh leaves to dishes like pastas, soups, salads, sandwiches, pizzas and sauces. The leaves provide a delicious fresh flavor.

– Use basil to make pesto, a flavorful spread/sauce that can be added to dishes.

– Add basil leaves on top of pizza.

– Include chopped basil in omelets or scrambled eggs.

– Mix torn basil leaves into hummus or dip.

-Blend into smoothies.

– Make basil oil by blending basil leaves with a neutral oil, then drizzle over dishes.

As you can see, raw basil leaves are low in calories, rich in nutrients and easy to add to your diet.

Potential downsides

Eating raw basil is likely safe for most people and associated with many health benefits. However, there are some potential downsides to consider:

Pesticide exposure

There is a chance of pesticide residue being present on conventionally grown basil. Washing thoroughly helps reduce residue. If you’re concerned, choose organic.

Blood thinning effects

Basil contains vitamin K, a nutrient involved in blood clotting. If you take blood thinners, check with your healthcare provider before increasing basil intake (19).

Allergic reactions

Allergic reactions to basil are rare but have been reported. Discontinue use if you suspect an allergic reaction (20).

Blood sugar drop

Basil may lower blood sugar levels, so people with diabetes should monitor blood sugar closely after eating large amounts of basil.


It’s best to stop eating basil at least 2 weeks before surgery since its blood thinning effects could interfere with blood clotting during and after surgery.

So while basil is likely safe for most, certain precautions apply to those on blood thinners or with an allergy. Monitoring blood sugar levels is also prudent for diabetics consuming large amounts.


Basil is an aromatic, flavorful herb that provides antioxidants, antimicrobial compounds and other beneficial plant nutrients.

Research suggests eating fresh basil leaves may promote cardiovascular health, blood sugar control, digestive health and more.

At the same time, risks like pesticide exposure, blood thinning effects and allergies apply to a small subset of the population. But for most people, adding fresh basil to foods is a safe and healthy way to boost nutrition and flavor.

To maximize the benefits, use fresh basil leaves generously in your cooking, pesto, dips, dressings, smoothies and other recipes.

Just 1/4 cup (4 grams) of leaves provides over 100% of your vitamin K needs. And incorporating just 2-3 servings into your daily diet will help you take advantage of the diverse nutrients and plant compounds basil has to offer.

Overall, adding more fresh basil leaves to your diet is a simple way to potentially improve several aspects of your health.

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