Holy basil is an herb indigenous to India and has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine.
Also known as “tulsi”, this herb is known for its adaptogenic effects.
There are many benefits attributed to holy basil and some of the more commonly reported ones include anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, hepatoprotective (protecting the liver), neuroprotective (protecting the brain), and cardioprotective (protecting the heart).
In this article, we’ll get into the benefits of holy basil, as well as its history and safety.
Table of Contents
- What is Holy Basil?
- Health Benefits of Holy Basil:
- Tulsi Holy Basil Safety:
- Naming & Taxonomy:
- History & Traditional Use:
What is Holy Basil?
Holy basil, known scientifically as Ocimum tenuiflorum, is a perennial plant in the Lamiaceae (mint) family. It’s native to India and is grown throughout Southeast Asia.
Tulsi has been cultivated for thousands of years for religious and traditional medicine purposes. In fact, holy basil is considered one of the most sacred of all plants in Hinduism and is used in the worship of Vishnu.
It is commonly used in herbal teas, as well as in supplements.
It should be noted that tulsi is different from other types of culinary basils (including Thai holy basil). Tulsi has a distinct sweet taste and a clove-like aroma, with mild hints of black pepper. This differs from pure culinary basils, such as Thai holy basil and Italian Genovese basil, which don’t have the medicinal benefits of tulsi.
There are many benefits attributed to holy basil and some of the more commonly reported ones include: adaptogenic, antibacterial, antioxidant, antiviral, anxiolytic, diuretic, expectorant, and galactagogue (promotes the flow of mother’s milk).
Health Benefits of Holy Basil:
There has been a significant amount of both animal studies and human clinical research on the benefits of holy basil.
We’ll dig into the primary researched-backed benefits of holy basil below.
1. Stress-Reducing Properties
One of the primary benefits of tulsi is its adaptogenic ability to fight stress.
An animal study showed that this herb inhibits excessive cortisol release and may work via the HPA axis. In this study, mice exposed to chronic variable stress fared much better when given holy basil than those given plain water.
A human clinical trial found that tulsi users had 39% better stress management when compared to a placebo group. The researchers also found that holy basil helped to decrease health scores of symptoms such as forgetfulness, sexual problems of recent origin, frequent feeling of exhaustion, and sleep problems.
Summary:Holy basil may be helpful in reducing and managing stress.
2. May Improve Brain Function
Tulsi also helps to improve brain function by improving reaction time and reducing anxiety.
In a human study, healthy adults who took 300mg daily of holy basil daily had significant improvements over thirty days in cognitive function, cortisol levels, reaction time, and error rates in tests and reduced anxiety.
Another study showed that individuals given tulsi had reduced feelings of generalized anxiety. This reduction in anxiety also helped to reduce perceived levels of stress and depression.
Summary:Tulsi may help to improve brain function by increasing mental clarity and decreasing anxiety.
3. May Support The Immune System
Tulsi has also been shown to help to support the immune system.
A human clinical trial found that individuals that took holy basil capsules (300 mg daily) over a month had improved immune system activity.
The people who took the herb had significantly enhanced levels of interferon-y, IL-4, T-helper cells, and NK cells compared to those who received a placebo.
Summary:Tulsi may improve immune health, although additional research is required to verify findings.
4. May Help Manage Blood Sugar
Holy benefits the body through its ability to stabilize blood sugar. Due to this unique property, it’s thought that tulsi is an important herb for weight loss.
There are a few promising human clinical trials that have shown that holy basil may be a helpful natural remedy for stabilizing blood sugar levels.
A study conducted in 2008 with individuals with type II diabetes showed that taking holy basil plus Glibenclamide (a blood sugar drug) was more effective than taking Glibenclamide alone. This promising comparative study showed that holy basil (in addition to Glibenclamide) helped to lower fasting blood sugar levels and post-prandial blood sugar by roughly 10 gm/dl.
In another clinical trial, individuals with type 2 diabetes had significant reductions in blood sugar levels (17.6 percent) while fasting. The individuals also had smaller decreases in blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels after eating.
Summary:Holy basil may help to reduce blood sugar levels, although more clinical research is needed for confirmation.
5. Other Benefits
•May Benefit Symptoms of Asthma: There have been several human studies with tulsi. In one study, holy basil was found to help reduce asthma symptoms.
•May Reduce Allergies: Animal studies show that it may help to prevent gastric ulcers, and enhance antibody production while inhibiting the symptoms of allergies.
Summary:Tulsi may have additional benefits such as reducing symptoms of asthma and preventing gastric ulcers. Further research is needed to verify these findings.
Tulsi Holy Basil Safety:
Safety Class: 1 (can be safely used when consumed properly)
Interaction Class: A (no clinically relevant reactions are expected)
Holy basil is generally a very safe herb to consume. Safety reports note that it is generally well tolerated by most people.
Since tulsi can impact blood glucose levels, individuals with type II diabetes should monitor their blood sugar when consuming this herb.
It should be noted that an animal study found that tulsi temporarily reduced sperm count and motility in mice.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
A handful of animal studies show a reduction in litter size and implantation when taking tulsi. Thus, taking this herb is not advised during pregnancy.
No information on the safety of holy basil during lactation was identified, thus, it is unknown whether this herb is safe to take while breastfeeding.
Tincture (1:5 or 1:2): 2–3 mL (40–60 drops), three times per day.
Tea: Add 1 tsp. dried leaf to 8 oz. hot water. Steep, covered, for 5–10 minutes. Take 4 oz. up to three times per day.
Capsules: Various forms of encapsulated products are available. These include extracts in gel caps, dried or powdered herbs in capsules, and standardized extracts (2 percent ursolic acid) in capsules. The typical dose is one to three capsules per day.
Naming & Taxonomy:
In Sanskrit, the word ‘Tulsi’ means ‘the incomparable one’.
Within Ayurveda, tulsi is known as the “Mother Medicine of Nature” and “The Queen of Herbs”. It is revered as an “elixir of life” for both medicinal and spiritual uses.
Holy basil is native throughout the eastern tropics, having originated in north-central India.
It is an erect, multi-branched shrub that grows between 30–60 cm tall. It has hairy stems and simple, opposite, green leaves that are strongly scented.
Its leaves have petioles and are ovate up to 5 cm long, usually slightly toothed.
Holy basil is a fairly easy herb to grow, especially if you live in a sunny climate.
History & Traditional Use:
In Ayurvedic medicine, tulsi is a very popular herb.
It’s said to give luster to the complexion, sweetness to the voice, and foster beauty, intelligence, stamina, and a calm emotional disposition. It’s also said to help with longevity (which classifies it as a Rasayana).
It’s also sacred to the Hindu god Vishnu, where it is employed in morning devotions to promote personal health, spiritual purity, and domestic prosperity.
The plant’s stems are strung together to make beaded strings, which are used in meditation to provide clarity and protection.
The Ayurvedic Charaka Samhita (approximately 200 BCE) and Sushruta Samhita (400–100 BCE) both describe the use of this herb for treating individuals who have been stung by scorpions or bitten by snakes.
It has a hot and bitter taste and is said to penetrate the deep tissues, dry tissue secretions, and normalize kapha and vata.
Traditionally, O. sanctum L. is taken in many different forms, including dried powder in capsules, or fresh leaf as a tea. It can also be eaten in various types of foods.
Rich in essential oils such as eugenol, carvacrol, linalool, caryophyllene, and methyl eugenol. Also includes triterpenes such as ursolic acid and flavonoids.
Holy basil, or tulsi as it is called in India, is an herb with a long history of use.
It has been used for centuries to help build stress resilience. More recently, there have been promising studies done on the effect that holy basil can have on supporting brain health and blood sugar regulation.
The research suggests that holy basil may be able to help reduce fatigue associated with chronic stress by helping regulate cortisol levels through its adaptogenic properties – which means it helps your body respond better when stressed out!
Consider trying this safe herb next time you’re feeling run down.
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