Ayurveda refers to tulsi or Holy Basil as “the incomparable one,” “mother medicine of nature” and “the queen of herbs”. Let’s take a look at benefits, uses, research, and contraindications of tulsi.
It is revered as an elixir of life for both its medicinal and spiritual properties. It belongs to the mint family and has two main varieties.
The greener variety is called rama tulsi and the greenish-black variety is called krishna tulsi.
Holy Basil, Ocimum sanctum, should not be confused with Sweet Basil, Ocimum basilicum, which is commonly used for culinary purposes.
In Hinduism, tulsi is worshipped as a goddess and every part of the tulsi plant is revered and considered sacred, including the leaves, stem, flower, root, seeds, and oil.
Every Hindu household has a tulsi plant which is used as raw leaves or as a leaf tea for spiritual and religious practices. Its strong eugenol laden smell is believed to repel mosquitoes, flies, and insects.
Tulsi leaves are believed to help lower materialistic desires and lust. It was taken daily by students in ancient Indian boarding schools known as ‘Gurukulas’ and also by followers of the spiritual path.
Hundreds of thousands of tulsi plants have been planted around the Taj Mahal in Agra, India to help protect the iconic marble building from environmental pollution and damage.
Holy basil has a pungent, bitter taste, as well as light, dry and sharp properties, and a hot potency.
It pacifies Vata and Kapha dosha and aggravates Pitta. Both green and dark green (greenish-black) varieties have similar properties.
Let’s now take a look at tulsi benefits and uses in Ayurveda.
Tulsi pacifies Kapha and Vata, helps in eliminating skin diseases. It is antimicrobial and antiviral in nature and helps reduce itching.
Tulsi extract is used in cosmetics for its antibacterial activity. Classed as a fragrant and skin conditioning agent, it is used in anti-acne preparations.1
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Due to its Kapha and Vata pacifying properties, it is useful in combating dandruff, itching of the scalp and the resultant hair loss.
Part used: Leaf, Root, and Seed
Dosage: Fresh Juice 5-10 ml, Root decoction 50-100 ml, Seed powder 3 g. Extract 300mg-2000 mg. Please note, the extract, roots, and seeds should only be used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner.
For wheals, itching: For itching or wheals, tulsi leaves are made into a paste and applied over the skin.
For sinusitis and headache: Holy basil’s fresh leaves are crushed to extract the juice. Two drops of this juice are put into both nostrils on an empty stomach. This helps to relieve sinusitis related headaches.
For bad breath (halitosis): Chewing one or two holy basil leaves daily helps to relieve bad breath by improving digestion.
For cold, cough and fever: Tulsi tea can be made to combat these conditions.
An easy way to use tulsi daily is as follows. Take 10-12 tulsi leaves, wash them and shred them.
If fresh leaves are not available, take ½ tsp of dry tulsi leaves. Boil them in about 1 cup of water on a medium flame and reduce to half. Strain and enjoy.
You may add a little ginger and clove while making this tea for extra benefit. Avoid adding milk as milk is incompatible with tulsi according to the Ayurvedic texts. Read on for tulsi’s proven benefits as seen in research studies.
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Holy Basil's beneficial effects are found across quite a few categories of medicinal activities, including anti-bacterial, anti-acne, anti-stress, antilipidemic, antidiabetic, and blood glucose-lowering properties.
Research has shown strong antibacterial activity of the extract of Holy Basil.
In the study, leaf extracts of holy basil and other plants inhibited the growth of the test organisms and exhibited antibacterial activity.
However, the majority of the bacterial species were susceptible to all the extracts of O. sanctum, when compared to A. vera and S. grandiflora.
This work supports the traditional use of these plants and the therapeutic value against bacterial pathogens so that they can be alternate antibacterial agents in the future.
In another study Holy basil oil was tested in trials as an antibacterial treatment for acne.
It produced good results. An excellent study of oils from four types of Ocimum species found that although there was variation in contents all oils were found to have antimicrobial activity at fairly low dilutions.2
In another study it was shown that the linolenic acid present in basil is responsible for its anti-inflammatory effect in acne.
This also has been observed when 2% Ocimum oil is used with Aloe vera gel. The anti-acne activity increases due to the synergistic effect of these agents.3
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Male mice were used as the subjects of a study demonstrating the lowering of serum concentrations of cortisol and glucose through the use of plant extracts of Ocimum sanctum.
Lipid peroxidation was not enhanced which is good for the health of the arteries.
The study also showed an anti-peroxidative effect from the extract, suggesting a potential regulation of corticosteroid-induced diabetes.4
Other studies examined the use of Ocimum sanctum to help the subjects better withstand the stress of chronic exposure to noise.
The study used albino rats. The administration of the extract of Holy Basil prevented noise-induced increases in the levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin turnover in specific brain regions.
The noise-induced increases were prevented and normal levels of the neurotransmitters were not affected.5, 6
In still another study using animal models treatment with Ocimum sanctum was shown to be effective in treating noise-induced stress changes, including changes in cortisol levels.7
Ocimum sanctum and eugenol lowered restraint stress-induced cholesterol levels. They also effectively lowered the restraint stress-induced elevations in liver enzymes namely lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and alkaline phosphatase.8
In another study, a reduction in total cholesterol, triglyceride, phospholipids and total lipids in the liver, kidney, or heart was demonstrated by the addition of Ocimum sanctum leaf powder to the diet of diabetic and non-diabetic rats.9
Reduction of fasting blood sugar was observed with the addition of Ocimum sanctum leaf powder to the diet of diabetic rats; uronic acid and total amino acids were also reduced.9
A study showed significant hepatoprotection from the use of a Holy Basil alcoholic leaf extract when used alone, and synergistic hepatoprotection in conjunction with silymarin.10
A study by the defense research institute, Gwalior, India, showed a significant effect on the swine flu virus.11
Having been granted “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) status in the United States of America by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Holy Basil is well tolerated by most people.
Animal studies have shown that it may cause hypoglycemia and prolonged bleeding time.
Patients with known allergy/hypersensitivity to Ocimum sanctum, its constituents, or to members of the Lamiaceae family, should avoid using this herb.
Holy Basil (tulsi) should be used cautiously in/by:
There are no reports to date of toxicity with the use of Holy Basil.
Please consult a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner before taking tulsi.
1 Antibacterial Activity of Leaf Extracts of Aloe Vera, Ocimum Sanctum and Sesbania Grandiflora against the Gram-Positive Bacteria Jothi Karumari R, Vijayalakshmi K, Tamilarasi L, and Ezhilarasi Balasubramanian Post Graduate and Research Department of Zoology, Ethiraj College for Women, Chennai-8, Tamil Nadu, India.
2 Shweta Kapoor and Swarnlata Saraf, 2011. Topical Herbal Therapies an Alternative and Complementary Choice to Combat Acne. Research Journal of Medicinal Plants, 5: 650-669.
3 Singh, S. and D.K. Majumdar, 1997. Evaluation of anti-inflammatory activity of fatty acids of Ocimum sanctum fixed oil. Indian J. Exp. Biol., 35: 380-383.
4 Gholap, S. and Kar, A. Hypoglycaemic effects of some plant extracts are possibly mediated through inhibition in corticosteroid concentration. Pharmazie 2004;59(11):876-878. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15587591
5 Ravindran, R., Rathinasamy, S. D., Samson, J., and Senthilvelan, M. Noise-stress-induced brain neurotransmitter changes and the effect of Ocimum sanctum (Linn) treatment in albino rats. J Pharmacol.Sci 2005;98(4):354-360.
6 Samson, J., Sheela, Devi R., Ravindran, R., and Senthilvelan, M. Biogenic amine changes in brain regions and attenuating action of Ocimum sanctumin noise exposure. Pharmacol.Biochem.Behav. 2006;83(1):67- 75
7 Effect of Ocimum sanctum Linn on noise-induced changes in plasma corticosterone level. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 1997;41(2):139-143.
8 Sen, P., Maiti, P. C., Puri, S., Ray, A., Audulov, N. A., and Valdman, A. V. Mechanism of anti-stress activity of Ocimum sanctum Linn, eugenol and Tinospora malabarica in experimental animals. Indian J Exp.Biol. 1992;30(7):592-596.
9 Rai, V., Iyer, U., and Mani, U. V. Effect of Tulasi (Ocimum sanctum) leaf powder supplementation on blood sugar levels, serum lipids and tissue lipids in diabetic rats. Plant Foods Hum. Nutr. 1997;50(1):9-16.
10 Lahon K, Das S. Hepatoprotective activity of Ocimum sanctum alcoholic leaf extract against paracetamol-induced liver damage in Albino rats. Pharmacognosy Res. 2011 Jan;3(1):13-8.
11 Assessment of in vitro antiviral activity of Ocimum sanctum (Tulsi) against pandemic Swine flu, H1N1 Virus-Joshi G and others, Dept of Virology, DRDE, Gwalior, India
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