Holy basil, otherwise known as tulsi, is known for its therapeutic power. It has a rich history dating back 3,000 years ago to ancient Indian uses. Historically used as medicine due to its widespread therapeutic power, holy basil leaves are now regarded by most countries as adaptogens (anti-stress agents) and have been used widely to promote health throughout the entire body.
It’s suspected that holy basil is native to tropical Asia, although it now grows in many tropical climates across the globe. Today, tulsi is commonly consumed in supplement form or as tulsi tea. It’s used as a natural remedy for anxiety, adrenal fatigue, hypothyroidism, unbalanced blood sugar and as a home remedy for acne.
In modern medicine, in the last few decades, several Indian scientists and researchers have studied the pharmacological effects of various parts of the tulsi plant on the immune system, reproductive system, central nervous system, cardiovascular system, gastric system, urinary system and blood biochemistry.
Researchers described the therapeutic significance of holy basil in the management and relief of various ailments, and they established a scientific basis for the therapeutic uses of tulsi. It helps protect organs and tissues against chemical stress from industrial pollutants and heavy metals and physical stress from prolonged physical exertion, ischemia, physical restraint and exposure to cold and excessive noise. (1)
Holy Basil Nutrition Facts
Holy basil is an aromatic shrub in the basil family (Lamiaceae) that’s thought to have originated in north central India and now grows native throughout the Eastern world tropics. Also known as tulsi, it’s a perennial that has a light lemon scent and purple-pink flowers. The leaves are oval-shaped with a slightly sharp tip, and the edges are slightly toothed.
There are two common types of tulsi: Rama tulsi has a white stem and green leaves. Shyam tulsi has a dark pinkish-purple stem and leaves. Both types are similar in smell and benefits.
One-quarter cup of fresh holy basil leaves (six grams) includes the following: (2)
- 1 calorie
- No cholesterol
- 0.2 grams of sodium
- 0.2 grams of carbohydrates
- 25 micrograms vitamin K (31 percent DV)
- 317 IU vitamin A (6 percent DV)
- .1 milligrams manganese (3 percent DV)
10 Holy Basil Benefits
1. Fights Acne
Holy basil helps kill bacteria and infections, so it’s a great natural home remedy for acne and other skin irritations. Holy basil is believed to benefit the skin and help to treat skin infections both internally and externally.
The primary active compound of holy basil oil is eugenol, also the active ingredient in the powerful antimicrobial clove oil, which is widely believed to help combat many skin disorders. Holy basil also contains other therapeutic components, including gamma-caryophyllene and methyl eugenol. Research published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science shows that holy basil may be a natural acne treatment. (3) When used with coconut oil as a carrier, holy basil absorbs into the skin even better and could be even more effective.
2. Protects Against Diabetes
Holy basil benefits appear to include the ability to control blood glucose levels as demonstrated by several test tube and animal experiments, as well as human clinical trials. A randomized placebo-controlled, single blind trial of holy basil leaves points towards holy basil’s anti-diabetic activity. In this trial, patients with noninsulin-dependent diabetes experienced decreases in fasting blood sugar levels, postprandial (after a meal) blood sugar levels, urine blood sugar levels as well as mean total cholesterol levels during the holy basil treatment period. Overall, the researchers conclude that holy basil may be prescribed as part of a treatment plan for people with mild-to-moderate non-insulin dependent diabetes. (4)
3. Helps Fight Cancer
In general, holy basil may not only possibly work as a natural cancer treatment, but another of the many holy basil benefits include that it may also help to prevent it. Research shows that people who regularly consume tulsi are less likely to be immunocompromised and less susceptible to developing cancer cells. According to research published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer, tulsi and its phytochemicals (including eugenol, rosmarinic acid, apigenin, myretenal, luteolin, β-sitosterol, and carnosic acid), in some cases, may help prevent chemical-induced lung, liver, oral and skin cancers because they increase antioxidant activity, alter healthy gene expressions, induce cancer cell death, prevent blood vessel growth contributing to cancer cell growth and stop metastasis — which is the spread of cancer from one organ to another. (5)
Holy basil benefits also appear to help protect the body from radiation poisoning and help treat damage from radiation treatment, according to research published in 2016 in the the Journal of Cancer Research and Therapeutics. It selectively protects the normal tissues against the destructive effects of radiation. (6)
In fact, the journal Nutrition and Cancer published an interesting review outlining the important research involving tulsi’s ability to help fight against cancer that we’ve seen in the past several years. The doctors involved in this research agree that conventional chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments used during the past three decades haven’t been able to contain the disease, plus they have serious side effects. Many natural agents — especially holy basil leaves and extracts from other plants — prove to be nontoxic, easily available and have proven anticancer properties. (7)
4. Balances Hormones and Lowers Stress
Holy basil benefits include the amazing ability to keep hormone levels balanced naturally. Tulsi has a positive physical effect on the body and mental benefits as well. By drinking tulsi tea, or adding tulsi to your meals, you help calm your system and keep your body running smoothly.
According to a scientific article published in 2014 in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, there is increasing evidence that shows holy basil benefits can improve physical, chemical, metabolic and psychological stress. More specifically: (1)
Tulsi has been found to protect organs and tissues against chemical stress from industrial pollutants and heavy metals, and physical stress from prolonged physical exertion, ischemia, physical restraint and exposure to cold and excessive noise. Tulsi has also been shown to counter metabolic stress through normalization of blood glucose, blood pressure and lipid levels, and psychological stress through positive effects on memory and cognitive function and through its anxiolytic and anti-depressant properties.
Some other evidence of this stress-lowering effect includes the ability of holy basil to improve reaction times and error rates in human subjects compared to placebo. (8)
Holy basil includes three phytochemical compounds that help achieve these results. The first two, ocimumosides A and B, have been identified as anti-stress compounds and may lower blood corticosterone (another stress hormone) and create positive alterations in the neurotransmitter system of the brain. (9) The third, 4-allyl-1-O-beta-D-glucopyronosyl-2-hydroxybenzene is also able to lower stress parameters in lab studies. (10, 11)
5. Relieves Fever
Holy basil is often recommended as a natural fever treatment, especially by practitioners of Ayurvedic Medicine. Holy basil leaves are thought to act as antibiotic, germicidal and disinfectant agents, which means they can protect us from bacteria and viruses. (9) When we have a fever, it’s proof that our bodies are fighting against an infection. Therefore, with its infection-fighting properties, tulsi may help to fight a fever and restore your health quickly.
6. Helps Improve Respiratory Disorders
Holy basil benefits are found in the components of tulsi leaves, including camphene, eugenol and cineole, which help provide relief from congestion and other symptoms of respiratory disorders. Scientific studies have confirmed that holy basil possesses impressive anti-asthmatic abilities and may make breathing easier, which is why it’s a commonly recommended herb for respiratory issues in Ayurvedic medicine. (1)
7. Good Source of Vitamin K
Vitamin K is an essential fat-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in bone health and heart health. It’s one of the main vitamins involved in bone mineralization and blood clotting, but also helps maintain brain function, a healthy metabolism and cellular health. One cup of tulsi leaves has more than your daily recommended value of vitamin K, making it a perfect source to prevent vitamin K deficiency. Plus, vitamin K can be beneficial to your bone density, digestive health and brain function.
Animal studies published in the Alternative Medicine Review also demonstrate that holy basil benefits include cardio-protective properties. In other words, it appears to boost heart health. (10)
8. Dental Care and Oral Health
Tulsi has the power to fight bacteria in your mouth that lead to dental issues, such as cavities, plaque, tartar and bad breath. Tulsi leaves serve as a mouth freshener because they kill the bacteria and germs hiding in your mouth. (11)
Holy basil benefits include helping to diminish ulcers in the mouth, and in vitro studies demonstrate it can stop the growth of oral cancer cells. (12) For natural dental care, try adding a drop of tulsi essential oil to your toothpaste or drinking one cup of tulsi tea every day.
9. Relieves Headaches
Practitioners of Ayurveda recommend holy basil as a natural headache remedy that can help relieve migraine pain. (13) Some believe this is due to its ability to relieve sinus pressure, and recommend diffusing holy basil essential oil or making tulsi tea to reduce headache symptoms.
10. Supports Eye Health
Our eyes are susceptible to viral, bacterial and fungal infections that can be very dangerous. Thankfully, holy basil benefits include helping to fight these detrimental infections. Tulsi is prescribed in Ayurveda to fight against conjunctivitis — also commonly known as pink eye — thanks to its anti-inflammatory and soothing properties. (14)
Tulsi may also help prevent a range of eye issues, including cataracts. According to Dr. S.K. Gupta of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, topical administration of an herbal eye drop mixture containing turmeric and holy basil extracts helps to counter the oxidative stress and insoluble protein formation that lead to cataracts. (15)
History & Interesting Facts
Holy basil, or tulsi as it’s known in the various Indian languages, is an important medicinal plant in many traditional and folk systems of medicine in Southeast Asia. Tulsi is a medicinal herb that’s considered a sacred plant by the Hindus in the Indian subcontinent.
‘The Queen of Herbs’
In traditional systems of medicine, different parts of tulsi — the leaves, stem, flower, root, seeds and even the whole plant — have been recommended for the treatment of bronchitis, bronchial asthma, malaria, diarrhea, dysentery, skin diseases, arthritis, painful eye diseases, chronic fever, snake bites and scorpion stings. (16)
In fact, of all the herbs used within Ayurveda, tulsi is preeminent, and scientific research now confirms holy basil benefits. As I mentioned earlier, there is mounting evidence that tulsi can address physical, chemical, metabolic and psychological stress through a unique combination of pharmacological actions. (1)
Ayurveda is the world’s oldest medical system. It has a holistic approach to health and disease that focuses on preserving and promoting good health and preventing disease through healthy lifestyle practices — including regular consumption of adaptogenic herbs that have the power to enhance the body’s ability to maintain balance in a world with a ton of stressful components. For this reason, Ayurvedic practitioners recommend the regular consumption of tulsi tea as an essential lifestyle practice.
How to Use & Cook Tulsi
Tulsi plants are grown in almost every Hindu household. The leaves have a sweet, aromatic smell and a minty taste; they’re used in garnishing food, sauces and soups. They’re also commonly used to make juices, flavored water and tulsi tea. In India, people eat tulsi leaves raw in order to fight off a cough or cold.
You can buy and care for a tulsi plant, or you can purchase tulsi leaves and powder from a health food store. If you buy fresh holy basil, look for leaves that are vibrant and green, without any holes or dark spots. To prepare tulsi leaves, clean them thoroughly, and then chop them coarsely with a kitchen knife. It’s best to use fresh tulsi leaves within a day or two, but they can be stored in a sealed bag in the refrigerator for five days or so.
Tulsi tea is a popular beverage in India that’s consumed in place of coffee. You can find tulsi tea at many health food stores; it comes in boxes of tea bags. You can also buy dried tulsi leaves in bulk and use a tea ball to make this beneficial and tasty tea. If you’d rather have an iced tea, it’s simple to let the tea cool, add ice, and even some stevia or lemon for flavor. You can also prepare tulsi juice, which includes five tulsi leaves that have been infused in water.
Holy basil/tulsi essential oil can be found in many health food stores or online. The essential oil is extracted from the holy basil plant and is used in lotions, soap, perfume, shampoo and conditioner. You can also diffuse the oil in your home; the calming and immune-boosting properties can be inhaled as well.
Finally, holy basil is often available in supplement form. It’s usually in capsules and sometimes offered in fermented options, which some sources suggest make it more easily digestible.
Recipes Using Tulsi
One tablespoon of fresh, chopped tulsi leaves would be a great addition to my Green Tea Chicken Soup Recipe. The tulsi addition brings the health benefits of this soup up a notch by adding infection-fighting and stress-relieving properties.
Fresh tulsi leaves or tulsi powder can add an interesting and unexpected flavor to your everyday salad recipe. Try adding tulsi to my Egg Salad Recipe or this great Quinoa Tabouli Salad recipe that already has a mint flavor. Quinoa is a grain that’s higher in protein, fiber, magnesium and folate, so you get a ton of health benefits.
Adding tulsi tea to your bath is an awesome way to enhance organ function and kill bacteria or fungal infections. Check out my 10 Detox Bath Recipes; try adding tulsi tea to my Homemade Lemon Rosemary Bath Salts. Adding holy basil essential oil to your skin care regimen is also a great way to improve acne. Try my invigorating Homemade Honey Face Wash for Clear Skin.
Possible Side Effects
Researchers have found that holy basil is safe for regular consumption and topical use.
One note to keep in mind is that holy basil (tulsi) may slow blood clotting, so taking tulsi along with medications that also slow clotting might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding. Some medications that slow blood clotting include include aspirin, clopidogrel, dalteparin, enoxaparin, heparin, ticlopidine and warfarin. Due to its influence on blood clotting, you should discontinue use of holy basil two weeks before any scheduled surgery. (17)
The main benefits of holy basil (tulsi) include:
- Fights acne
- Protects against diabetes
- Helps fight cancer
- Balances hormones and lowers stress
- Relieves fever
- Helps improve respiratory disorders
- Good source of vitamin K
- Dental care and oral health
- Relieves headaches
- Supports eye health
Holy basil is referred to often in Ayurvedic medicine as an herb to treat a large number of conditions. Used for thousands of years, holy basil has very few side effects and many benefits to offer the body.
This herb is available in leaf, powder, supplement and essential oil form. By taking advantage of many of these varieties, you can reap the full holy basil benefits and make this medicinal plant part of your normal routine.
Read Next: Ashwagandha Benefits Thyroid and Adrenals
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