Scent leaf is native to Nigeria, Ghana and some parts of Africa and Asia. A homegrown shrub, it is found in farms, gardens that are mainly used as a spice for cooking delicacies due to its aromatic taste. It is a vegetable seasoning that gives every meal that delightful, unique taste and sweet aroma. Any meal with scent leaf will definitely get your mouth watering, but there is more to its aroma. The plants boast of a lot of antibacterial, antifungal, larvicidal properties. Scent leaf plays a prominent role in the treatment and prevention of diseases and infection. It also contains vital bioactive substances such as iron, phosphorus, calcium, and vitamin A, which are essential for human health.
International Common Names. English: clover basil; East Indian basil; shrubby basil; tree basil
Spanish: albahaca Africana; albahaca cimarrona; albahaca de limón; French: basilic sauvage; menthe gabonaise; Chinese: wu mao ding xiang luo le; Portuguese: alfavaca-de-caboclo; alfavacão; Brazil: alfavaca brava; Cambodia: ling leak kranam; Cuba: albahaca de clavo; canela; clavo; clavo mondonguero; laurel cimarrón; orégano cimarrón; Dominican Republic: albahaca vaca; atiyayo; Haiti: basilic à petites fleurs; basilic grandes feuilles; folle basin; fombasin; gran basilique; grand basilique; grand fombasin; India: ajeka; doshakleshi; elumiccam tulaci; elumichanthulasi; kattuthrithavu; mali-thulasi; perumthulasi; ram tulsi; Indonesia: kemangi hutan; ruku-ruku rimba; selaseh mekah; Jamaica: African tea bush; Lesser Antilles: basilic; frond bazin; mint; Malaysia: ruku-ruku hitam; selaseh besar; Netherlands Antilles: anis; yerba di hole blanku; Nigeria: nchuanwu/ Ahuji (Igbo); efirin (Yoruba); daidoya (Hausa), ntonng in Ibibio etc.
Panama: origanum de castilla; Thailand: horapha-chang; kaphrao-chang; yira; Vietnam: é lá lớn; hương nhu trắng; In Nigeria, the scent leaf is common among the different tribes in the country. It is known as ‘Efirin’ in Yoruba, ‘Ahuju’ or ‘Nchanwu’ in Igbo, ‘Ganyen Kamsh’ or ‘Doddo Ya’ in Hausa, Edo’s “Aramogbo”, Ibibios “Ntonng” and some parts of Ijaw call it “Ekeni.”
It is mainly used as a local ingredient for cooking ‘Ofe Akwu’, pepper soups, porridge yams, jollof beans, jollof rice, ‘Ukwa’, alongside many others. Moreso, the Benin people uses it to cook soups like ‘Ogbono’, Egusi. It is mostly recognised for cooking different delicacies.
The scent leaf is not just popular alone for its aroma, it is also known for its health benefits. It is rich in calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium and vitamin A. The oils from scent leaf are known to possess some antiseptic, antifungal and antibacterial properties and this is why it is referred to as the ‘fever’ leaf.
Do you wonder why people take pepper soup and scent leaf when cold attacks? It is because it fights against cold and catarrh. It can also be used to cure stomach illnesses like cholera, and dysentery. When mashed into a paste, it is good for skincare and fights skin conditions like ringworm. When having menstrual cramps, brew it into a tea and it will help with the pain.
Research shows that a lot of benefits can be derived from consuming scent leaves. Scent leaf is highly nutritional and is a well-known fertility booster as well. It is rich in vitamin A, which helps to promote good eyesight. When an adequate amount of scent leaf is consumed, it helps to prevent xerophthalmia. The calcium and magnesium found in it reduce bad cholesterol and increases blood circulation thereby helping to improve the function of the heart.
The scent leaf aids the quick digestion of food, has a calming effect on the stomach and helps with bowel evacuation. It can lower blood sugar and also protect the pancreatic islets that produce insulin from damage.
Its leaves can be plucked or cut and placed on residential areas to serve as a resistance for houseflies, mosquitoes, other insects, thereby reducing the population of mosquitoes and houseflies in residences. As a result of this, the incidence of malaria diseases caused by these mosquitoes and houseflies are reduced. When crushed and smeared on skin infection, helps in its treatments. Its ability to increase vascular permeability makes it to be widely used in treating and dressing wounds, boils and pimples. It contains compounds such as epigenin fenkhona and eugenol that maintains optimum penile health and sperm vitality thereby facilitating erection in men.
Apart from its health benefits, its versatility is also amazing. Scent leaf can be included in beans, jollof rice, pepper soup, local rice, stew, peppered chicken, nkwobi, isi ewu, yam porridge, plantain porridge. This is why most households that know its values might want to have it in their homes. Some boil, squeeze and smear it and drink and it has been proven that people who do this regularly hardly fall sick. It is therefore advisable that people should not neglect this herb.
Yet, before consumption, we must take into cognizance the fact that remedial herbs can be as powerful as prescription drugs. In some cases, it can interact with some medications. As such, it should be treated with utmost caution.
For a better appreciation of the uniqueness of this plant, its amazing benefits are here outlined;
- Maintenance of the eyes
Scent leaf is rich in Vitamin A, which promotes good eyesight. Vitamin A is needed by the retina of the eyes in the form of retinal which combines with protein opsin to form rhodopsin, the light-absorbing molecule which is ultimately necessary for both scotopic vision (low-light) and color vision.
The deficiency of vitamin A can be terrible for the eyes leading to xerophthalmia (a medical condition in which the eye fails to produce tears) and night blindness both of which are preventable when adequate amounts of scent leaves are consumed.
Excess intake of vitamin A and by extension, the scent leaves, by pregnant women can lead to birth defects and is not recommended. Also, Information regarding safety and efficacy in lactation is lacking.
- Improves heart function
Scent leaves contain calcium and magnesium, both of which help to reduce bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol) and increase blood circulation. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterols increase the risk of Coronary Artery Disease in adults and so the intake of scent leaves can reduce this ever-present risk.
Heart and artery problems resulting from the clogging of arteries are nearly preventable if adequate amounts of scent leaves are consumed.
- Aids digestion
Scent leaves can help relieve bloating and also help digest meals on time. Brewed scent leaves can have a calming effect on the stomach and help with bowel evacuation. Drinking scent leaves tea also relieves heartburn.
- Lowers blood sugar
Scent leaves have an unprecedented ability to lower blood sugar and protect the pancreatic islets that produce insulin from damage. A research study conducted on mice showed that scent leaves were efficacious in lowering blood sugar levels. Another randomized study equally showed a decrease in blood sugar levels in Non-Insulin Dependent (NID) Diabetes Mellitus patients after eating significant amounts of scent leaves.
- Insect and mosquito repellent
Scent leaves contain compounds like camphor, cineole, and limonene which are larvicidal and so are harmful to mosquitoes or insects. The leaves can be potted and left in residential quarters to serve as a repellent for houseflies, mosquitoes, and other insects. This has a double role given that by reducing the population of mosquitoes and houseflies in residences, the incidences of malaria and enteric diseases (caused by houseflies) are both reduced.
- Treatment of fungal infections
Studies have shown scent leaves to have antifungal activity against Penicillium chrysogenum (also known as Penicillium notatum), Candida albicans, and Microsporeum gyseum. Chloroform extracts from the leaves showed great antifungal activity against the fungal species mentioned. Thus, scent leaves when crushed and smeared on skin infections, help in its treatment.
- Treatment of Diarrhea
Ethanol and hot water (100oC) extracts of scent leaves have been extensively demonstrated to be effective against some pathogenic bacteria known to cause diarrhea including Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Shigella sp. and Salmonella sp. It is thus conceivable that scent leaves can be brewed as tea to treat cases of diarrhea caused by the above organisms. Also, the use of scent leaves in the control of diarrhea can be attributed to the relaxant action of the essential oil of O. gratissimum which is likely to be due to a direct effect on the smooth muscle of the ileum rather than an indirect action on neurotransmitter release.
- Anti-Inflammatory properties
Scent leaves have been shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties akin to drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen but are kinder to the inner linings of the stomach. Decoction made from leaves of O. gratissimum is useful for healing menstrual pain, stomach ache, earache, and fever.
- Treatment of respiratory disorders
Aqueous extracts of scent leaves have demonstrated effects on markers of inflammation, including interleukins, protein kinases, and leukocytes/eosinophils in models of respiratory allergy (in vitro experiments evaluating effects on airway epithelial cells, in vivo studies in rodents) and thus can be used in managing respiratory problems. The leaves are rubbed between the palms and sniffed as a treatment for blocked nostrils.
- Promotes oral hygiene
The stem of scent leaf when used as chewing stick kills bacteria in the mouth and help fight off bad breath. It is also able to prevent tooth decay. Tea made from the leaves of scent leaf can be taken as a tonic or used as a gargle to treat sore throat.
- Antimutagenic properties
Edible plants with antimutagenic activity and chemopreventive potential have been documented from several plant groups. Investigations have shown that organic solvent extracts of scent leaves have antimutagenic effects against reverse mutation induced by ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS), 4-nitrophenylenediamine, and 2-aminofluorine.
- Wound healing activity
Scent leaf is widely used in the dressing of neonatal umbilical cord and wounds as it is believed to keep the baby’s umbilical cord and wound surfaces sterile. The wound healing effects of scent leaf may be attributed to its ability to increase vascular permeability. Formulations of the leaf essential oil of O. gratissimum (Ocimum oil) have been incorporated in a variety of bases as topical antiseptics and for use in the treatment of boils and pimples.
- Promotes normal hair growth
Hair loss is one of the most feared side effects of cancer chemotherapy. Investigations by Orafidiya et al., showed the efficacy of the leaf essential oil of scent leaves (Ocimum oil) in promoting hair growth and follicular proliferation in cyclophosphamide-induced hair loss.
- Reproductive health
Scent leaf is a good source of arginine, an amino acid that helps in the maintenance of optimum penile health and sperm vitality. It also contains compounds such as epigenin fenkhona and eugenol which can facilitate erection.
In addition, the anetol and boron in the leaves are capable of inducing estrogen in women while the same eugenol effective in men helps to kill fungus that has been implicated in vaginal discharge.
- Food preservatives
Scent leaves have been reported to have antimicrobial properties. The fact that its extracts are plant-based implies that the ethanol extract can be used as a potent food preservative to keep away bacteria and fungi that may otherwise cause food spoilage. This presents a cheaper and possibly healthier alternative to the more popular preservatives.
- Source of aromatics and Oils
The oil extracts obtainable from scent leaves have a wide spectrum of usage. The essential oils can be used for aromatherapy massage as the oils can relieve and refresh the body. The oils can equally be used in the manufacture of soaps, perfumes, ointments, and aromatherapy oils. There are so many other unconfirmed uses of this powerful plant including; reduction of nicotine levels, ceremonial washing of corpses (in Indonesia) etc. One thing that is clear is that the plant is more than meets the nose and must be better researched and utilized before its beauty in its entirety can be duly appreciated.