Scent leaf (Ocimum gratissimum) is an aromatic herb that is native to West Africa but has spread to India and Southeast Asia. It belongs to the family Labiatae and is the most abundant of the genus Ocimum.
It grows up to 1-3 m in height with multiple branches arising from its base. The leaves are lanceolate-shaped and taper at both ends while the flowers are fragrant with white to greenish-yellow spikes.
The flowers and the leaves of this plant are rich in essential oils and add fragrant flavor to soups, salads, and other local dishes.
Also, they are used in folklore medicine to treat diarrhea, fever, cold, wounds, and skin diseases.
Scent leaves are known by different names such as; African basil, Ram Tulsi (Hindi), Vriddhutulsi (Sanskrit), Effirin (Yoruba), Nchanwu or Ahuji (Igbo), and Daidoya (Hausa), Nunum (Ghana), Wild basil (Hawaii), and Tree basil.
In the diet, scent leaves can provide vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. Its essential oil content may also provide some medicinal benefits.
This article will provide you with evidence-based information on the health benefits, nutrition, uses, and risks of scent leaf.
The leaves of Ocimum gratissimum are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and essential oils.
Some of the vital nutrients it contains include:
- Dietary fiber
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B
- Vitamin K
The essential oil found in scent leaves is rich in eugenol, thymol, camphor, pinene, limonene, etc. – important chemical agents that are responsible for many of their medicinal benefits.
The plant is also rich in phytochemicals like flavonoids, alkaloids, glycosides, and tannins that have strong antioxidant activity.
Health benefit of scent leaf
The benefits of scent leaf include:
1. Reduces oxidative stress
The antioxidants found in scent leaves help fight against free radicals that cause oxidative stress.
Scientists have found that oxidative stress is the main cause of heart disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes.
One study found that antioxidants like flavonoids, tannins, etc. found in O. gratissimum may help prevent metabolic diseases.
2. Fights fungal and bacterial infection
The essential oil extracted from the leaves of seeds of scent leaves has shown great antibacterial and antifungal activity in scientific studies.
One study found that the essential oil content of scent leaf possessed antimicrobial activity against strains of gram-negative bacteria, gram-positive bacteria, and pathogenic fungus.
Also, due to its antibacterial properties, scent leaves are used in formulating mouthwash and toothpaste to help fight mouth odor and prevent tooth decay.
3. Fights diabetes
Scent leaves have been in use in traditional medicine to lower blood sugar – a major symptom of diabetes.
One animal study found that extracts of scent leaf, significantly reduced the blood glucose level in diabetic-induced rats by 81.3%.
Also Read: What are the best foods for diabetes?
4. Protects heart health
The essential oil found in scent leaf protects the heart against hypertension, stroke, and heart failure.
Studies found that the essential oil (eugenol) from scent leaves exerts a vasorelaxant effect on hypertensive rats.
However, more human studies are required to fully understand the exact mechanisms.
5. Reduces inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to stimuli but prolonged inflammation may lead to cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other metabolic diseases.
Scientists have found that extracts of scent leaves may have significant anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity on animal models.
6. Improves digestion
Ocimum gratissimum has been in use in African traditional medicine as a remedy for indigestion.
To treat or prevent indigestion, chew fresh leaves after meals or prepare a tea by boiling the leaves. You can drink the tea before or after meals.
Alternatively, you can add the leaves as a condiment or prepare them as a side dish to suit your taste.
7. Promotes wound healing
The Igbo tribe in Nigeria uses the leaves of O. gratissimum to keep a newborn baby’s cord sterile and facilitate healing.
Researchers have backed this practice by finding that the essential oil content of scent leaves may help increase wound healing.
8. Relieves cold and cough
Scent leaf is one of the herbs of choice for treating common cold and cough in traditional medicine due to its rich essential oil content.
It is believed to help expel thick mucus and relieve sore throat.
To prepare; the leaves are either boiled to make tea or steamed, then the vapor inhaled.
9. Relieves diarrhea
Studies have found that the antimicrobial activity of scent leaves may help calm overactive gastrointestinal tracts in diarrhea.
This corroborates with its use in folk medicine to calm an upset stomach and relieve stomach pain.
10. Supports liver health
Scent leaves are rich in antioxidants that may help keep your liver healthy.
One Nigerian study discovered that high doses of scent leaf (Ocimum gratissimum) extract showed hepatoprotective potentials on the liver.
11. Supports hair growth
Hair loss is a feared side effect of cancer chemotherapy.
A 2004 study found that the essential oil of scent leaves may help to enhance normal hair growth and promote new regrowth in induced hair loss in rats.
12. Repels insects and mosquitoes
Due to its rich content of essential oils like eugenol, camphor, and thymol; scent leaf may be used as an insect and mosquito repellant.
One study found that the essential oil of Ocimum gratissimum may help to destroy the larvae of Aedes albopictus – a common mosquito breed in Southeast Asia.
To function as a repellent, it is often grown as a potted plant and placed strategically in some Nigerian and African homes.
Scent leaf (Ocimum gratissimum) is a fragrant, aromatic herb with a distinctive flavor that many people enjoy.
To prepare scent leaf, you can:
- Add fresh scent leaves to soups, tomato sauces, stews, and stir-fry.
- Brew green tea with fresh scent leaves.
- Sprinkle fresh leaves into beans or yam porridge.
- Sprinkle lightly-cooked leaves over pizza, pie, or into a wrap.
- Add scent leaves to a salad or smoothie.
- Grind dried leaves and mix them with other spices as a seasoning for beef or poultry.
Potential side effects of scent leaf
Some people may need to be careful with scent leaves:
If you suffer any allergic reactions to plants in the basil or mint family please avoid scent leaves.
Also, contact emergency services if you experience hives, swelling, or difficulty breathing after eating food prepared with the leaves.
Scent leaf is rich in vitamin K which plays a role in blood clotting.
Foods or supplements containing high levels of vitamin K can affect the action of blood thinners like warfarin.
Therefore anyone using blood thinners should speak to a doctor before increasing their intake of scent leaf or any other variety of basil.
One Nigerian study has investigated the use of high dose, leaf extract of scent leaf (Ocimum gratissimum) to induce labor in pregnant women and found promising results.
So, it is advised that to avoid premature labor, pregnant women should avoid ingesting high doses of this plant.
The bottom line
Scent leaf (Ocimum gratissimum) is rich in antioxidants and vitamins that help protect against diseases.
Its essential oil content is incredibly filled with phytochemicals that fight against microbial infection, mouth odor, skin disease, and cold.
However, pregnant women and those on blood thinners should be careful against ingesting large amounts of fresh scent leaves extracts.
Also, more scientific studies are needed in humans to determine the exact mechanisms, scent leaf employs to treat diseases.
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