Holy basil, also known as tulsi, is revered in India. Known for its therapeutic benefits, holy basil has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries.
Indigenous to India and South East Asia, the tulsi plant has great significance in Indian mythology and is considered a holy herb. It has been traditionally used to treat various illnesses like respiratory, digestive and skin diseases.
Nowadays it is regarded as an adaptogen and is used to treat anxiety, depression, adrenal fatigue, and hypothyroidism. Almost all the parts of this plant, including its leaves, stems, and seeds are used to treat different medical conditions.
Read on to learn more about this queen of herbs and its many health benefits.
History of holy basil
Holy basil or tulsi has been revered as one of the most sacred herbs in India for over 3000 years. The Hindus worship tulsi as an incarnation of goddess Tulsi, who is considered to be a worshipper of Lord Vishnu.
Tulsi has a vital role in the worship of Vishnu and its avatars Krishna and Ram.
This bushy shrub that grows to around 15 to 18 inches in height is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. It leaves are oval and serrated, and they range in color from light green to dark purple.
The Ram Tulsi has a white stem and green leaves, while the Shyam Tulsi has pinkish purple stem and leaves. This perennial plant has pinkish purple flowers and a light lemon scent.
Holy basil (Ocimum Sanctum) is an aromatic shrub from the basil family.
It contains anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties that make it a great natural healer. It also contains flavonoids that enhance the healing properties of holy basil. The leaves of tulsi include ursolic acid, rosmarinic acid, and eugenol.
A five gram serving of holy basil contains (1) –
- Calories: 1.2
- Carbohydrates: 0.1 grams
- Protein: 0.2 grams
- Vitamin K: 21.8 mcg (27% of DV)
- Vitamin A: 277 IU (6% of DV)
- Vitamin C: 0.9 mg (2% of DV)
- Calcium: 9.3 mg (1% of DV)
- Manganese: 0.1 mg (3% of DV)
Health benefits of holy basil
The holy basil provides numerous mental and physical health benefits. Here are some important health benefits of basil –
1. Helps protect the heart
Tulsi is known for its heart-protecting properties. It decreases blood cholesterol levels and also helps in reducing heart tissue inflammation.
According to a 1994 study, when albino rabbits were given fresh leaves of holy basil plants for four weeks, it significantly lowered their total serum cholesterol, triglyceride, phospholipid, and LDL cholesterol levels and increased LDL cholesterol levels (2).
A 2015 study found that tulsi leaves extract can decrease inflammation in the cardiac tissue of rats. The high phenolic content of holy basil leaves provides this cardioprotective effect (3).
Tulsi extract also helps by inhibiting myeloperoxidase (MPO), an oxidative enzyme that may cause plaque accumulation in the arteries (4).
Another research that studied the holy basil leaf extract for its anti-inflammatory effect validated its tradition use for treating cardiovascular diseases (5).
2. Protects against diabetes
Several studies have shown that holy basil can control blood glucose levels. According to a 1996 survey, tulsi extract lowered fasting blood sugar levels by 17.6 percent and post-meal sugar levels by 7.3 percent in type-2 diabetes patients (6).
This study leads the researchers to conclude that holy basil can be used to treat people with mild to moderate non-insulin dependent diabetes.
Another more recent study found that phenolic compounds in aqueous extracts of holy basil have free radical scavenging, anti-hyperglycemic, and anti-hyperlipidemic effects, providing organ protection from diabetes (7).
3. Helps fight cancer
Tulsi can help treat and prevent several types of cancers. Research has shown that people who consume tulsi regularly are less susceptible to developing cancer cells.
A review of anti-cancer properties of tulsi found that tulsi possesses anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antipyretic, antidiabetic, hepatoprotective, hypolipidemic, antistress and immunomodulatory activities.
These properties help prevent liver, skin, oral and lung cancers (8).
Several animal-based studies have shown that Tulsi can help in preventing skin cancer. According to a 1994 study, tulsi extract raises the level of skin glutathione. This extract, when applied topically, helped protect against chemically induced skin cancer (9).
Another study showed that the 50 % alcoholic aqueous extract of different species of holy basil resulted in significant reduction in tumor volume (10).
A 2015 study showed that Tulsi along with turmeric could be helpful in the treatment of oral submucous fibrosis (OSMF). This condition, if not treated on time, can lead to oral cancer (11).
In another study when fresh leaf paste, aqueous extract, and ethanolic extract were topically applied, it reduced the risk of papillomas and squamous cell carcinomas in hamsters (12).
According to research, ursolic acid, which is found in holy basil, can prevent liver cancer in animals (13). Tulsi also contains phytochemicals like apigenin, luteolin, carnosic acid, and rosmarininc acid, which have anti-cancer properties for liver cells.
Tulsi leaves extract can prevent the liver cells from DNA damage, which can lead to cancer (14).
Including holy basil leaves in the daily diet can also prevent stomach cancer. According to a study, when researchers fed basil leaves to rats, it significantly reduced the occurrence of neoplasia and hepatomas (15).
4. Protects from radiation
The tulsi plant contains flavonoids orientin and vicenin, which helps in protecting human blood cells from radiation-induced DNA damage (16).
According to more recent research published in the Journal of Cancer Research and Therapeutics, holy basil helps protect the normal tissues from the destructive effects of radiation (17).
5. Lowers stress and anxiety
Holy basil plant is considered to be an adaptogen, which means it helps the body to adapt to stress and promotes mental well-being.
During a 2008 study, 35 volunteers were given 500 mg extract of holy basil twice daily for two months. The researchers concluded that basil plant is useful in dealing with generalized anxiety disorders (18).
Another study showed that methanol extract obtained from the roots of basil plant works as a central nervous system stimulant or anti-stress medicine.
The effect produced by the extract is comparable to that of desipramine, an anti-depressant drug (19).
6. Treats respiratory disorders
Holy basil contains camphene, eugenol, and cineole, which help provide relief from congestion. It is also quite effective in treating viral, bacterial and fungal infections of the respiratory system.
The phytonutrients and other minerals present in Tulsi essential oil can also help treat asthma and bronchitis.
During a 2014 study, when children were given steam inhalation with tulsi leaves, their condition improved much faster than those children who were given steam inhalation with hot water (20).
Holy basil can help provide relief from headaches caused by sinusitis, allergies, cold and migraine. The anti-inflammatory properties of holy basil leaves make it the perfect remedy for pain relief.
Camphene, cineol, eugenol, carvacrol and methyl-chavicol present in tulsi, provide it with excellent analgesic, sedative, anti-congestive and disinfectant properties.
8. Dental care
Tulsi leaves are an excellent disinfectant and mouth freshener. They help destroy 99 percent of the germs and bacteria in the mouth, and this effect can last all day. Holy basil can also cure ulcers in the mouth.
Holi basil has antibacterial properties that help in destroying the bacteria responsible for dental cavities, tartar, plaque, and bad breath (21).
The best way to benefit from tulsi leaves is to add a drop of Tulsi essential oil in your toothpaste or to drink tulsi tea.
9. Keeps eyes healthy
Holy basil can help fight viral, bacterial and fungal infections in the eyes. According to Ayurveda, Tulsi is highly effective in treating conjunctivitis (22).
Tulsi can also help in preventing cataract. According to a 2005 study, when rats were given an aqueous extract of holy basil, it reduced their incidents of cataracts by 60 percent (23).
According to another study published in 2003, the anti-cataract activity of holy basil may be due to its aldose reductase properties (24).
10. Skin care
Tulsi is highly useful for skin care. Its essential oils, which are highly antibiotic, antibacterial and antifungal, are believed to benefit the skin. You can take a bath with water mixed with a decoction of tulsi and even apply a paste of its leaves on your skin.
Holy basil is an effective home remedy for acne prone skin. According to research published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, holy basil helps lower the activity of P. acnes (25).
Holy basil contains vitamin C, vitamin A, phytonutrients, and essential oils which protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. These nutrients help protect the skin from premature aging.
11. Relieves fever
According to the Ayurvedic system of medicine, holy basil leaves are a natural and effective treatment for illness. These leaves act as antibiotic, germicidal and disinfectant agents, so they protect us against bacteria and viruses (26).
Ways to use holy basil for health
You can benefit from the many healing properties of holy basil by using it in your daily life.
- You can use tulsi leaves to garnish your food.
- You can use tulsi leaves to make juice. This juice, mixed with honey, can resolve cold, fever and respiratory issues.
- If you have a holy basil plant in your garden, you can eat a few leaves every day to boost your immunity.
- Tulsi tea, along with crushed ginger helps in building stamina and keeping coughs and colds at bay.
Side effects of holy basil
Holy basil is generally considered safe for use and daily consumption.
However, some studies have found that holy basil can slow down blood clotting. So, when it is taken along with other medications that slow down clotting, it can lead to bruising and bleeding. Discontinue its use before a scheduled surgery.
Its best to not take tulsi during pregnancy or when you are breastfeeding as its safety during these times has not yet been studied.
Some studies have also shown that those with thyroid diseases should not take holy basil.
Holy basil is a beneficial herb that has been used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine for thousands of years. This medicinal herb contains terpenes, nerol, flavonoids, camphor, and eugenol, which give tulsi its beneficial properties.
Holy basil can be used to treat skin infections, asthma, respiratory, and even cancer. You can eat raw leaves of basil plant, have tulsi tea and also have its juice.