Tulsi, otherwise known as holy basil, is known for its healing power, and it has a rich history dating back to ancient eastern uses 3,000 years ago. Historically used as medicine due to its widespread healing power, tulsi 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 tulsi 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 tulsi 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)
Tulsi Nutrition Facts
Tulsi 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. Tulsi is a perennial that has a light lemon scent and purple-pink flowers. Tulsi 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, and Shyam tulsi has a dark pinkish-purple stem and leaves. Both types are similar in smell and benefits.
1/4 cup of fresh tulsi leaves (six grams) includes the following (listed in recommended daily values):
- 1 calorie
- No cholesterol
- 0.2 grams of sodium
- 0.2 grams of carbohydrates
- 31 percent vitamin K
- 6 percent vitamin A
- 2 percent vitamin C
- 3 percent manganese
- 1 percent folate
- 1 percent calcium
- 1 percent potassium
- 1 percent magnesium
10 Benefits of Holy Basil
1. Fights Acne
Tulsi kills bacteria and infections, therefore it’s a great natural home remedy for acne and other skin irritations. Holy basil benefits the skin and heals skin infections both internally and externally — and it’s completely safe!
The primary active compound of holy basil oil is eugenol, 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 is a natural acne treatment. (2) When used with coconut oil as a carrier, holy basil absorbs into the skin even better and can be even more effective.
2. Protects Against Diabetes
Holy basil appears to have 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 published in the 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 should be prescribed as part of a treatment plant for people with mild to moderate non-insulin dependent diabetes. (3)
3. Helps Fight Cancer
In general, tulsi may not only possibly work as a natural cancer treatment, but it may also help prevent it. Research shows that people who regularly consume tulsi are less likely to be immune-compromised 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) can 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. (4)
Holy basil also appears to help protect the body from radiation poisoning and heals 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. (5)
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 the past several years. The doctors involved in this research agree that conventional chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments during the past three decades haven’t been able to contain the disease, and 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. (6)
4. Balances Hormones and Lowers Stress
Elevated cortisol levels can be dangerous; it’s commonly known as the stress hormone, and it can have a major impact on our learning, memory, immune function, bone density, weight gain and heart disease. Luckily, tulsi has the amazing ability to regulate cortisol levels and keep hormone levels balanced naturally. Tulsi has a 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 can improve physical, chemical, metabolic and psychological stress. More specifically, “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.” (7)
5. Relieves Fever
Holy basil is often recommended as a natural fever treatment, especially by practitioners of Ayurvedic Medicine. Holy basil leaves act as antibiotic, germicidal and disinfectant agents; which means they can protect us from bacteria and viruses. When we have a fever, it’s proof that our bodies are fighting against an infection. Therefore, with its infection-fighting properties, tulsi can help to fight a fever and restore your health quickly.
6. Helps Improve Respiratory Disorders
Tulsi is generally effective in helping to alleviate almost all varieties of respiratory disorders, including working as a bronchitis natural remedy as well as a deep cough remedy for coughs that usually come on with another type of upper respiratory infection, such as the cold or flu. The components of tulsi leaves like camphene, eugenol and cineole provide relief from congestion and other symptoms of respiratory disorders. Scientific studies have confirmed that holy basil possesses impressive anti-asthmatic abilities and can make breathing easier. (8, 9)
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, and 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 has cardio-protective so 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.
Tulsi can help diminish ulcers in the mouth, and in vitro studies demonstrate it can stop the growth of oral cancer cells. (11) 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
Because tulsi has sedative and disinfectant properties, it can be used as a natural headache remedy that can help relieve migraine pain. This is especially true with headaches due to sinus pressure. Tulsi is anti-congestive and helps reduce the buildup and tension due to sinus issues. An easy way to take advantage of this tulsi benefit is by drinking one cup of tulsi tea every day — or by diffusing holy basil essential oil.
10. Supports Eye Health
Our eyes are susceptible to viral, bacterial and fungal infections that can be very dangerous. Thankfully, holy basil has the power to fight these detrimental infections. Tulsi can help fight against conjunctivitis, also commonly known as pink eye, thanks to its anti-inflammatory and soothing properties.
Tulsi may also help prevent a range of eye issues, including cataracts. According to Dr. SK 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 leads to cataracts. (12)
History & Interesting Facts
Holy basil in English, or tulsi in the various Indian languages, is an important medicinal plant in the various 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 whole plant — have been recommended for the treatment of bronchitis, bronchial asthma, malaria, diarrhea, dysentery, skin diseases, arthritis, painful eye diseases, chronic fever and insect bites.
In fact, of all the herbs used within Ayurveda, tulsi is preeminent, and scientific research now confirms its beneficial effects. 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. (13)
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 tulsi, 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. Tulsi tea boosts metabolism and helps with weight loss; it’s rich in antioxidants and helps prevent aging effects as well as cancer. Tulsi tea is also soothing, and it balances our system and improves immunity; it increases your resistance to stress and chronic fatigue syndrome; plus works as a natural remedy for anxiety.
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 your tea steeper 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. The juice is known to enhance kidney function and relieve diarrhea, vomiting and fever.
Tulsi essential oil can be found in many health food stores or online. The essential oil is extracted from the holy basil 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.
Recipes Using Tulsi
One tablespoon of fresh and chopped tulsi leaves would be a great addition to my Green Tea Chicken Soup Recipe. It’s so good for you because it heals your gut and boosts your immune system. 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 — by adding tulsi you can really step it up a notch! 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 the Green Tea Detox Bath or my Homemade Lemon Rosemary Bath Salts.
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 20 drops melaleuca essential oil
- 10 drops holy basil (tulsi) essential oil
- 2 capsules of live probiotics
- Mix all ingredients together and blend with a hand blender.
- Pour into a convenient bottle and store in cool place.
Possible Side Effects
Researchers have found that tulsi is safe for consumption and topical use. One note to keep in mind is that 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.
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