Holy basil, also known as tulsi, is a plant that is native to India but now also grows in Australia, West Africa, and some Middle Eastern countries. Holy basil has been utilized in Ayurvedic medicine for millennia, using the leaves, stems, and seeds to make remedies. As a member of the mint family, holy basil has a spicy, slightly bitter taste, though most varieties also have a hint of sweetness. For culinary uses, holy basil can be consumed as part of a meal or in teas. In modern times, it can also be taken in a variety of supplement forms.
Holy basil contains many nutrients including, but not limited to, vitamins A and C, zinc, and antioxidants. It contains fair amounts of the “anti-stress minerals” such as calcium and magnesium. Plus, the deep green colour indicates it is also rich in chlorophyll, which can help combat fatigue. (1)
Health Benefits of Holy Basil
#1. Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Holy basil is best known as an adaptogen. In fact, all parts of the holy basil plant are adaptogenic. In simple terms, an adaptogen is a natural substance that helps the human body adapt to stressors.
The concept of adaptogens is deeply rooted in several ancient holistic approaches. But, with the help of modern scientific research (2) we’ve learned that holy basil has “pharmacological properties” that promote mental balance, help individuals cope with stress, and even reduce feelings of anxiety. Some research demonstrates that taking holy basil leaf extract twice per day “reduces anxiety, stress, and depression” in individuals previously diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (3). In general, adaptogens support resilience.
Further studies reported reduced problems with stress, sexual function, sleep, forgetfulness and exhaustion. As published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, holy basil leaves have antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties (4) that compare to diazepam and other antidepressant drugs.
#2. Reduce Pain and Inflammation
As an adaptogen with known anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-killing) properties, holy basil has been studied for use in reducing both pain and inflammation. Holy basil has proven beneficial for wound healing and reducing swelling, but also for more chronic inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. (5)
#3 Boosts the Immune System
Holy basil is well documented to benefit immune function. Holy basil is naturally antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal. Even more amazing, holy basil leaf extract is proven to increase T-helper cells and natural killer (NK) cell activity. These immune cells are important not just for fighting off infections, but also for preventing cancer formation.
#4. Support Cardiovascular Health
In studies it has been demonstrated that holy basil supports improvements in cardiovascular risk factors. In one study, this included reducing fasting blood glucose by 60 percent in the study group as compared to 10 percent in a control group after thirteen weeks of administering a holy basil extract. It was reported that, for those in the treated group, body weight, serum total cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (“bad”) cholesterol decreased, while serum high-density lipoprotein (“good”) cholesterol increased (6).
#5 Protect Your Stomach
Many ulcers are stress-induced. Holy basil can help increase your stomach’s natural defences to the effects of stomach acid by stimulating the production of more mucous in the stomach. Plus, holy basil itself contains anti-ulcer compounds.
How To Use Holy Basil
There are many ways to incorporate holy basil into your daily life.
Holy basil can be used as you would any other mint by incorporating it into soups, stir fries, in salads, as a garnish, or by making a pesto sauce.
It is also both traditional and popular to make tea with holy basil using the leaves, flowers, or a dried leaf powder.
As mentioned, holy basil is also available in supplement form, and it is available as an essential oil. Although holy basil has not shown any negative side effects in studies, it is always recommended to speak to your doctor or health care practitioner prior to starting any new supplements, as it could interact with medications you’re already taking.
So, whether you’re interested in the various benefits including reducing stress and anxiety, reducing pain and inflammation, boosting the immune system, supporting cardiovascular health, and protecting the stomach; or you’re just looking for a delicious new herb to spice up your meals – holy basil is an awesome choice!
- Nyarko, et al., “Aqueous extract of Ocimum canum.”