The Popular Gardening Herb That Soothes Sore Muscles & Fights Acne

Throughout time, humans have harnessed the power of numerous plants, herbs, and spices for their medicinal properties. From ginger to black pepper, mint, cinnamon, thyme, and everything in between, many of these ingredients have been used to combat nausea, inflammation, digestive discomfort, and various other ailments (via Handbook of Herbs and Spices Volume 3). Many of these herbs still have practical uses today. In fact, there might be one popular herb growing in your garden right now that may help ease sore muscles due to exercise or manage frustrating acne. What is this magical herb, you ask? Basil.

Among the most popular types of basil, sweet basil has many benefits to begin with. It is purported to boost appetite, clear phlegm from the body, lessen irritation in the mucous membranes, and alleviate gas, just to name a few. Much of this is due to basil's rich nutritional profile, as the herb is packed with iron, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin K, and more. Yet basil's ability to soothe sore muscles and ward off acne comes down to the fact that it also serves as an anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial, per a 2023 literary review published in the Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences.

Basil may help relieve inflammation

One of the key markers of inflammation in the body is the presence of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are messaging proteins that normally help keep inflammation in check, explain Cleveland Clinic experts. While the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines is important to help ward off invading pathogens, they can kick inflammation up a notch when released in excess. Although the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines has been linked with certain health conditions, it has also been observed in relation to intense, prolonged endurance exercise and subsequent muscle soreness, according to 2018 research published in the scientific journal Antioxidants.

A review published in the Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences found evidence that basil extract from various parts of the plant appeared to suppress the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines and improve the expression of anti-inflammatory cytokines. In addition, the analgesic properties of the herb showed potential for alleviating inflammation-related pain. 

Anti-microbial effects of basil on acne

For those seeking natural treatment methods for irritating acne, basil essential oil may be the remedy you've been searching for. In a 2006 study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, researchers conducted laboratory testing to analyze the effects of three different types of basil oil on Propionibacterium acnes, the bacterium largely associated with acne. The study team looked at sweet basil, holy basil, and hoary basil. While hoary basil oil showed no inhibitory effect on the bacteria, sweet basil and holy basil did. When testing an oil-in-water micro-emulsion mixture of each basil oil, sweet basil oil outperformed the holy basil formulation when it came to inhibitory activity against P. acnes. The researchers determined that sweet basil and holy basil oils hold potential when it comes to developing skincare treatment products for acne.

However, experts at WebMD caution that further research is still needed in regards to basil's effectiveness in the treatment of acne. While generally considered safe for consumption when cooked into your favorite dish, applying basil topically is considered only "possibly safe."