Basil or sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is cultivated throughout India and is known for its medicinal value. The effects of doses of 200 and 400 mg/kg body weight of hydroalcoholic extract (80% ethanol, 20% water) of the fresh leaves of Ocimum basilicum on xenobiotic metabolizing Phase I and Phase II enzymes, antioxidant enzymes, Glutathione content, Lactate dehydrogenase and lipid peroxidation in the liver of 8-9 weeks old Swiss albino mice were examined. Furthermore, the anticarcinogenic potential of basil leaf extract was studied, using the model of Benzo(a)pyrene-induced forestomach and 7,12 dimethyl benz(a)anthracene (DMBA)-initiated skin papillomagenesis. The hepatic glutathione S-transferase and DT-diaphorase specific activities were elevated above basal level by basil leaf treatment (from p < 0.005 to p < 0.001). Basil leaf extract was very effective in elevating antioxidant enzyme response by increasing significantly the hepatic glutathione reductase (GR) (p < 0.005), superoxide dismutase (SOD) (p < 0.05), and catalase activities (p < 0.005). Reduced glutathione (GSH), the major intracellular antioxidant, showed a significant elevation in the liver (p < 0.005) and also in all the extrahepatic organs (from p < 0.05 to p < 0.005). In the forestomach, kidney and lung, glutathione S-transferase and DT-diaphorase levels were augmented significantly, varying from p < 0.01 to p < 0.001. There were significant decreases in lipid peroxidation and lactate dehydrogenase activity. Chemopreventive response was evident from the reduced tumor burden (the average number of papillomas/mouse, p < 0.005 to p < 0.001), as well as from the reduced percentage of tumor bearing-animals. Basil leaf, as deduced from the results, augmented mainly the Phase II enzyme activity that is associated with detoxification of xenobiotics, while inhibiting the Phase I enzyme activity. There was an induction in antioxidant level that correlates with the significant reduction of lipid peroxidation and lactate dehydrogenase formation. Moreover, Basil leaf extract was highly effective in inhibiting carcinogen-induced tumor incidence in both the tumor models at peri-initiational level.