Wild Basil – Clinopodium Vulgare: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Cilantro of Wild Plants

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Wild basil is an edible and medicinal native plant has been flying under-the-radar. Basil lovers, sorry, but it’s more of a cilantro tasting plant.

Wild basil (clinopodium vulgare) is fairly common in cottage country, Ontario. You’ll find it along damp woods, trails and roadsides and even in meadows. It’s a pretty easy plant to know, just don’t confuse it with hempnettle. It flowers well before most mints. Sometimes the leaves turn purplish like many mint relations do, but most of the time they are green as pictured here. When Haliburton Flora was compiled wild basils Latin name was satureja vulgaris.

Wild Basil - Clinopodium Vulgare
Wild Basil – Clinopodium Vulgare

Despite the name, it’s not a basil/not from the genus ocimum. It’s in the mint/deadnettle/sage family. Many culinary herbs share this family, even rosemary, sage and thyme.

Edible Uses of Wild Basil

I love basil, so I was excited to ID the wild basil. But.. it really tastes nothing like basil. Am I missing something? The internet says I should be tasting basil, or a weak basil. Hmmm. I know the taste. Wheatgrass? Wait, no. It’s cilantro! Wild “basil”, not a close relation to actual basil, in my opinion tastes like cilantro. The hairiness of the leaves is also un-basil -like.

Cilantro is an herb some people love and some hate. It may be mostly hate, and maybe that is why wild basil makes no appearance in any herbal book in my library of dozens of reference books.

Nonetheless, if you’re a cilantro fan, the leaves can be used the same. As a culinary herb, fresh or dried. You can add that familiar bite to a salad, or use it in an herbal vinegar preparation. Huge cilantro fans may even like the taste of the tea, especially from a young plant.

Just don’t confuse it with hempnettle, which has a similar flower top.

Medicinal Uses of Wild Basil

Wild Basil is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Integumentary

Medicinal tags include Astringent and Carminative. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes as a salve for skin irritation, possibly in part due to its anti-inflammatory action. A study regarding this is cited in the references at the end of this article. Most of the information from its traditional usage is specifically from Bulgaria. It’s unusual to see a plants usage so localized.

Like practically every other mint, it’s used in a tea for flatulence too.

Wild Basil - Clinopodium Vulgare
Wild Basil – Clinopodium Vulgare

Alternative Uses of Hedge Calamint

A yellow to brown dye can be obtained from the leaves.

Growing Clinopodium Vulgare

Wild basil forms nice clumps, and pollinators like bees and butterflies love it, which makes it puzzling that it’s absent from most native plant conversations as well as my books! It is available from some native plant nurseries though. It’s also drought tolerant and should reseed itself.

Please share so wild basil can get more attention 🙂

WARNINGS

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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REFERENCES

wiki/Clinopodium_vulgare

Suppression of lipopolysaccharide-induced inflammatory responses in Burk DR, Senechal-Willis P, Lopez LC, Hogue BG, Daskalova SM. Suppression of lipopolysaccharide-induced inflammatory responses in RAW 264.7 murine macrophages by aqueous extract of Clinopodium vulgare L. (Lamiaceae). J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 Dec 10;126(3):397-405. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2009.09.026. Epub 2009 Sep 19. PMID: 19770031.

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