Life Extension Magazine®

Pots of basil that have unique phytochemicals for respiratory health


In addition to taste, the herb basil contains unique phytochemicals that can play a role in respiratory health, fight bacteria, and possibly reduce cancer risks.

Scientifically reviewed by: Holli Ryan, RD, LD/N, in March 2021. Written by: Garry Messick.

What you need to know

From antibacterial effects, to treating tuberculosis and having cancer fighting potential, basil makes an excellent herb to add to a meal.

Widely used as an herb in cooking, the basil plant belongs to the same family as mint and is native to tropical areas around the world. Basil is available in a variety of types or hybrids, but the most commonly used version has a fairly strong, pungent taste with notes of sweetness.

Its fame as a universal seasoning staple aside, basil also has a number of health benefits. Here are some examples…

Antibacterial Effects

There’s evidence that basil has strong antibacterial properties. One study pitted basil oil in various diluted concentrations against the multi-drug-resistant bacteria Enterococcus, Staphylococcus, and Pseudomonas. Results showed the basil oil had an inhibitory effect on the bacteria, which researchers found encouraging, given how widespread these difficult-to-treat bacteria are.1

Tuberculosis Symptoms

Research in 2012, looking at the traditional use of basil in treating the symptoms of respiratory illnesses, found that the extracts from the plant (leaves, fruits, and flowers) had potential for use in helping to ease tuberculosis symptoms “due to a synergistic effect” of active compounds.2

Cancer-Fighting Potential

In a 2013 study, researchers found that basil may have the potential to help in fighting several types of cancer—including oral, liver, skin, and lung cancer—through a variety of mechanisms, such as triggering apoptosis (cell death), antioxidant activity, and slowing down cell division.3 They attributed these effects to basil’s phytochemical content—luteolin, apigenin, eugenol, rosmarinic acid, and myrtenal, among other compounds. The study authors say the results were encouraging, but further research is needed to establish the possible utility of basil in cancer prevention and treatment.


  1. J Microbiol Methods. 2003 Jul;54(1):105-10.
  2. J Ethnopharmacol. 2012 Oct 31;144(1):220-2.
  3. Nutr Cancer. 2013;65 Suppl 1:26-35.