1. Ocimum basilicum (OB), also known as sweet basil, is a well known medicinal herb in traditional Chinese medicine preparations. In the present study, extracts and purified components of OB were used to identify possible antiviral activities against DNA viruses (herpes viruses (HSV), adenoviruses (ADV) and hepatitis B virus) and RNA viruses (coxsackievirus B1 (CVB1) and enterovirus 71 (EV71)).
2. The results show that crude aqueous and ethanolic extracts of OB and selected purified components, namely apigenin, linalool and ursolic acid, exhibit a broad spectrum of antiviral activity. Of these compounds, ursolic acid showed the strongest activity against HSV-1 (EC50 = 6.6 mg/L; selectivity index (SI) = 15.2), ADV-8 (EC50 = 4.2 mg/L; SI = 23.8), CVB1 (EC50 = 0.4 mg/L; SI = 251.3) and EV71 (EC50 = 0.5 mg/L; SI = 201), whereas apigenin showed the highest activity against HSV-2 (EC50 = 9.7 mg/L; SI = 6.2), ADV-3 (EC50 = 11.1 mg/L; SI = 5.4), hepatitis B surface antigen (EC50 = 7.1 mg/L; SI = 2.3) and hepatitis B e antigen (EC50 = 12.8 mg/L; SI = 1.3) and linalool showed strongest activity against AVD-II (EC50 = 16.9 mg/L; SI = 10.5).
3. No activity was noted for carvone, cineole, β-caryophyllene, farnesol, fenchone, geraniol, β-myrcene and α-thujone.
4. The action of ursolic acid against CVB1 and EV71 was found to occur during the infection process and the replication phase.
5. With SI values greater than 200, the potential use of ursolic acid for treating infection with CVB1 and EV71 merits further investigation.