Holy basil isn’t your average supermarket basil. This sacred Hindu herb is slightly more peppery in flavor than Italian basil, not to mention there are a host of holy basil benefits (backed by experts!) that run-of-the-mill basil just doesn’t have.

What is Holy Basil (aka Tulsi)?

Holy basil is an herb that is commonly used in Ayurvedic holistic medicine. It is also known as tulsi, its Sanskrit name, which, according to Carol Nace, CAP, PKT, LMT, Certified Ayurveda Practitioner, means “beyond compare.”

It hails from the Indian subcontinent, though it is now commonly grown throughout the Southeast Asian tropics. It is a subshrub with green or purple leaves that are very strong in aroma; Nace describes them as pungent, bitter, and warming.



Holy basil, as its name suggests, is an important spiritual herb in India. “Holy basil is one of the most sacred plants in India and has incredible significance, spiritually and health wise,” explains Michelle Polk acupuncturist, herbalist, and founder of Houseplant Girl.

But along with its spiritual attributes, holy basil is also an important herb for health. “It is classified as an adaptogenic herb, which means it helps restore our bodies to a more balanced state, especially during times of stress,” explains Tory Tedrow, RD, CNSC for ContentChecked.

According to Dr. Frank Lipman, these adaptogens are crucial for improving the adrenal system, which is responsible for the body’s hormonal reaction to stress.

Holy basil is often consumed as a tea, in supplements, or used topically, but according to Nace, the stems of the plant can be used to make beads as well. “The beads are often strung into a mala (traditional meditation garland necklace),” she says. “One who wears the holy basil/tulsi beads are believed to accumulate piety and lead to liberation of sins.”

According to chef and nutritional expert Lauren Feingold, this practice can even promote a sound mind and body.

It’s no surprise, then, that there are quite a few holy basil benefits.

Holy Basil – An Overview of the Research and Clinical Indications
Holy Basil, also known in Ayruvedic tradition as Tulsi, and formally named Ocimum sanctum, is an indigenous plant in India and Southeast Asia.  Numerous ancient systems of medicine value this plant for its medicinal properties, including Ayurveda, Greek, Roman, Siddha and Unani1.  
Holy Basil, Ocimum sanctum, should not be confused with Sweet Basil, Ocimum basilicum, which is commonly used for culinary purposes.
In India, Holy Basil’s name of Tulsi translates to “incomparable one” and is considered sacred anywhere it is grown2.  It is the most sacred plant in the Hindu religion.  Holy Basil is an important part of religious ceremonies. Like a number of other medicinal herbs from other parts of the world, it is thought to provide protection for homes where it is cultivated.  The smell of the plant is effective in keeping away insects that typically spread disease, such as mosquitoes and flies.
In the United States of America, Holy Basil has been granted “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) status by the FDA.  
Holy Basil is valued for its versatility in helping to restore health where imbalance is the cause of illness.
Numerous constituents of Holy Basil have been identified; they include: eugenol 4,5,  cinnamyl acetate 5, and beta-elemene 5.  Extraction of the fresh leaves and stems of Ocimum sanctum yielded the following compounds: cirsilineol, cirsimaritin, isothymusin, isothymonin, apigenin, rosmarinic acid, and appreciable quantities of eugenol 6.
Polysaccharides have been found 7, along with flavonoids, including orientin and vicenin 8.  Holy Basil also includes trace levels of zinc and other minerals 9, ursoloic acid 10,11, and at least five fatty acids (stearic, palmitic, oleic, linoleic and linolenic acids) 12. 
Holy Basil has numerous mechanisms of action.  Its beneficial effects are found across quite a few categories of medicinal activities, including anti-stress, anti-lipidemic, antidiabetic and glycemic lowering properties.  For the scope of this research review, this paper will focus on specific properties.  The constituent eugenol (1-hydroxy-2-methoxy4-allylbenzene) is thought to be of particular benefit 4, as demonstrated in numerous applications.
Holy Basil – An Overview of the Research and Clinical Indications
Anti-stress properties
Male mice were used as the subjects of a study that demonstrated the lowering of serum concentrations of cortisol and glucose through the use of plant extracts of Ocimum sanctum 18.  Lipid peroxidation was not enhanced.  The study also showed an anti-peroxidative effect from the extract, suggesting a potential regulation of corticosteroid-induced diabetes 18.  If this effect is found in humans, it could benefit patients who experience adverse side effects from the use of corticosteroids.  It could also benefit patients whose blood sugar regulation is compromised from the upregulation of serum cortisol.  A commonly experienced side effect of the use of corticosteroids is increased appetite, including sugar cravings, weight gain and disturbed carbohydrate metabolism.  
One study examined the use of Ocimum sanctum to help the subjects better withstand the stress of chronic exposure to noise.  The study used albino rats that were pretreated with an ethanolic extract of Ocimum sanctum leaves for seven days.  These rats were then exposed to noise at the frequency of 10 kHz and sound level of 100 dB.  This pre-treatment prevented noise-induced changes in acetylcholine and acetylcholinesterase activity in the cerebral cortex, corpus striatum, hypothalamus and hippocampus 22.   
Another study using Wistar male albino rats, via intraperitoneal administration of 70% ethanolic extract of Ocimum sanctum, dosed at 100 mg/kg body weight, were able to withstand sub-chronic broadband white noise exposure at 100 dB for four hours a day for a total of 15 days.  This administration of the extract prevented noise-induced increases in the levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin turnover in specific brain regions.  The brain regions noted include the cerebral cortex, cerebellum, hypothalamus, hippocampus, pons-medulla and corpus striatum.  The noise-induced increases were prevented and normal levels of the neurotransmitters were not affected 23, 24.   
Other studies using animal models have shown treatment with Ocimum sanctum to be effective in treating noise-induced stress changes, including changes in cortisol levels 25, 26.  The active principle appears to be best represented in the cold homogenized leaf extract 27.
Holy Basil – An Overview of the Research and Clinical Indications
Anti-lipidemic properties
Ocimum sanctum and eugenol lowered restraint stress-induced cholesterol levels; 20 they also effectively lowered the restraint stress-induced elevations in lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and alkaline phosphatase 20.  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 19.  
A study done using normal albino rats, given fresh leaves of Ocimum sanctum, showed significant increases in HDL-cholesterol and total fecal sterol contents, and decreases in serum total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, phospholipids and triglyceride levels.  The subjects of the study were given 1 – 2 grams of the fresh leaves mixed into a 100 g diet for two weeks.
Anti-diabetic and glycemic lowering properties
In a study done with rats, the use of an extract of Ocimum sanctum resulted in the partial correction of diabetes-induced inhibited activity concerning 3 enzymes that are part of carbohydrate metabolism 13.  The extract was dosed at 200 mg/kg for 30 days.  The enzymes noted were glucokinase, hexokinase and phosphofructokinase.  A plasma glucose decrease was also noted during this study (and observed in other animal studies 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 as well).  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 19.
Hepatoprotective properties
This study showed significant hepatoprotection from the use of a Holy Basil alcoholic leaf extract when used alone, and synergistic hepatoprotection in conjunction with silymarin3. The agent used in the study to induce hepatic harm was paracetamol (acetaminophen).  The underlying motivation for the study was a desire to identify reliable hepatoprotective drugs and agents in modern medicine to prevent and treat drug-induced liver damage.
The subject albino rats (150-200 g) were divided into five groups; groups A and B were normal and experimental controls, respectively.  Groups C, D and E received the alcoholic extract of Ocimum Sanctum leaves (OSE) 200 mg/kg BW/day, silymarin 100 mg/kg BW/day and OSE 100 mg/kg BW/day + silymarin 50 mg/kg BW/day p.o., respectively, for 10 days. Hepatotoxicity was induced in Groups B, C, D and E on the eighth day with paracetamol 2 g/kg BW/day. The hepatoprotective effect was evaluated by performing an assay of the serum proteins, albumin globulin ratio, alkaline phosphatase, transaminases and liver histopathology. 
Holy Basil – An Overview of the Research and Clinical Indications
RESULTS:  In groups C, D and E, liver enzymes and albumin globulin ratio were significantly closer to normal than in group B.  Histopathological examination demonstrated reduction in sinusoidal congestion, cloudy swelling and fatty changes, and regenerative areas of the liver were observed in groups C, D and E, whereas group B showed only hepatic necrosis.
CONCLUSION:  The Ocimum sanctum alcoholic leaf extract shows significant hepatoprotective activity and synergism with silymarin.
Clinical Indications
 Promote protection from effects of stress  Improve resilience to stress and recovery from stress  Chronic stress recovery  Cholesterol imbalances  Anti-lipidemic  Anti-diabetic and glycemic lowering effects  Hepatoprotective
Dosage range
For general preventive therapy, the dosage range recommended in review literature is 300 mg – 2,000 mg of Holy Basil extract for a single dose on a daily basis.  For curative therapy, 600 – 1800 mg daily in divided doses have been used.  For diabetes, 2,500 mg dried leaf powder ingested daily, or one tsp. of the dried herb brewed daily in 1 cup of water have been used.
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 19, 28 and prolonged bleeding time 29.
Patients with known allergy/hypersensitivity to Ocimum sanctum, its constituents, or to members of the Lamiaceae family, should avoid using this botanical agent.
Holy Basil – An Overview of the Research and Clinical Indications
Based on animal studies, use cautiously in:  Patients with hypoglycemia  Patients with bleeding disorders or those taking anti-coagulant or anti-platelet drugs  Patients who want to conceive a child due to possible anti-spermatogenic or anti-fertility effects  Pregnant and breastfeeding women, as Holy Basil may stimulate uterine contractions, based on traditional use
There are no reports to date of toxicity with the use of Holy Basil.  
The overall botanical medicine benefit profile for Holy Basil makes it a viable botanical agent for promoting improved resilience to stress, recovery from chronic stress and avoidance of acute and chronic stress-induced physiologic changes.  Holy Basil also provides support for improving serum cholesterol and lipid profiles, diabetes treatment and glycemic control.  It offers hepatoprotective effects, including prevention of druginduced liver damage.  
It appears to be a safe herb for medicinal use, as it has been used for hundreds of years without major incident.  
Dr. Beverly Yates, Naturopathic Physician, graduated from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in 1994.  She is also a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a B. S. degree in Electrical Engineering.  Dr. Yates served as the lead supervising doctor for the first ever fully accredited Naturopathic and Integrative medical residency in the state of California. Dr. Yates was a Featured Speaker for the California Naturopathic Doctors Association Integrative Medicine conference on Cardiology, presenting continuing medical education on Women and Cardiovascular Disorders. 
Dr. Yates serves as a National Media Representative for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, appearing as an expert in natural medicine on TV shows in select metropolitan areas. She is a member of the Medical Advisory Board for Schwabe North America, and is on the Scientific Advisory Board for Gaia Herbs, Inc. and BSP Pharma, Inc. Recently, in response to Dr. Yates’ contributions to community health, she provided testimony for the Tri-Caucus of the California legislature concerning the
Holy Basil – An Overview of the Research and Clinical Indications
growing impact of obesity and diabetes in communities of color around the state and the country.
Sought after for her ability to provide concise, clear explanations about medical processes and natural medicine, Dr. Yates has appeared on numerous TV broadcast networks including ABC, CBS, CNN, CW, Fox, NBC, and PBS; her radio interviews include NPR, CNN Radio, and Sirius International Satellite; and her print interviews include Essence Magazine, Good Housekeeping Magazine and Women’s World newspaper. She presents continuing medical education (CME) to physicians and other health professionals all over the country.
Dr. Yates is a nationally recognized author [book: Heart Health for Black Women: A Natural Approach to Healing and Preventing Heart Disease, Marlowe & Co., 2000] and contributing author [medical textbook: Maternal Newborn and Child Nursing: Family Centered Care, Prentice Hall, 2003].



6 Holy Basil Benefits (and How to Make them Work for You)

1. Holy Basil Can Help Prevent Cancer

Consuming holy basil can help your body boost its own antioxidant activity, which slows DNA damage and aging, and decreases cancer risk, according to a 2007 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Dr. Axe, backed up by research in the journal Nutrition and Cancer, claims that holy basil’s anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties are the key to its anti-carcinogenic qualities. “People who regularly consume tulsi are less likely to be immune-compromised and are less susceptible to developing cancer cells,” he writes.

How to Use

Antioxidants work by neutralizing free radicals, something that must be done constantly to feel the effects: at least daily.

Polk suggests making tinctures to take advantage of holy basil benefits by placing one part fresh holy basil and two parts high proof alcohol in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Five weeks in a cool, dry, dark place, and your tincture is ready.

“Tinctures have been used worldwide for thousands of years as a medicinal, a particular way of distilling down the herb and its healing properties into an easy drink mixture,” she says. “Tinctures are best taken sublingually, a dropperful a few times per day.”



2. Holy Basil is Good for the Skin

Used topically, some of the most powerful holy basil benefits are its antimicrobial properties. “Overall, holy basil is actually great for your skin, and when combined with other ingredients, like lemon juice, or mustard oil, it can help treat most skin irritations including acne, eczema and even ringworm,” says Feingold.

Dr. Axe cites a study from Thailand, where holy basil was used to ward off bacteria that cause acne. “Essentially testing its antimicrobial capability, they discovered that a 3 percent concentration of holy basil oil is most effective against bacteria that cause acne,” he says.

How to Use

According to Tedrow, holy basil can be used to treat mild bacterial and fungal infections on the skin by applying it topically, particularly when the extract is combined with an easy-to-absorb oil like olive oil. (Here are some excellent homemade recipes for holy basil topical applications.)

Another option would be to purchase a product: Cindy Jones, Ph.D, owns Colorado Aromatics, which sells a distilled holy basil spritzer made with Certified Naturally Grown holy basil. “We promote this spritzer to hydrate, tone and refresh the skin but find that its aromatherapy benefits also help to decrease stress, uplift the spirit and improve concentration,” she says.

3. It Can Help You Calm Down

Holy basil’s natural ability to relieve anxiety and stress naturally is one of our experts’ top picks for benefits.

This may, in fact, be the most important — and most evident — of all of holy basil’s benefits. “It’s significantly antioxidant, but it’s most enjoyed benefit is that it has a calming, tranquility producing, stress-reducing effect,” says Chris Kilham, medicine hunter. “And that’s unique to the antioxidant compounds in this plant. Whereas let’s say something like an apple, which is just loaded with antioxidants, you don’t get a calming effect. Because that’s not the activity of the antioxidants in apples.”

Holy basil’s ability to reduce stress comes from its adaptogens.

“They’re called adaptogens because of their unique ability to “adapt” their function according to your body’s specific needs,” writes Lipman. “Though the effects may initially be subtle and take time to make themselves felt, they’re real and undeniable.”

According to Polk, reducing stress isn’t just a matter of feeling better, it’s actually about being physically healthier.

“When we get stressed, we are often in a state of ‘fight or flight’ where a whole response automatically occurs,” she explains. “Our adrenal glands release stress hormones, including cortisol, adrenaline, and corticosterone, which is able to give you added energy and strength to fight off predators. However, in our modern world, our predators look more like bills and unkind emails. It’s when stress becomes chronic that it turns into a problem, and this continuous pumping of stress hormones through our body can create havoc.”

A host of physical ramifications of stress can then ensue, including digestive, cognitive, and even immune symptoms.

“Holy basil is able to enhance the body’s natural response to any type of stress, decreasing the stress hormone levels that are pumped through our bodies,” she says.

And according to Feingold, holy basil does not discriminate amongst stressors: from physical stressors like heat or cold to emotional stressors like a hectic schedule, all forms of stress can be relieved by this herb.

“It is important to note, however, that holy basil does not alter moods, but rather helps optimize bodies functionality during times of stress,” she says.

How to Use

Holy basil tea is one of the best ways to reap these benefits, as the actual act of drinking the tea can have a calming effect while the adaptogens in the holy basil do their job.

“It has been referred to as ‘liquid yoga’ because of this effect,” Tedrow explains.

Nace also suggests Marma Therapy, a subtle form of acupressure, to reduce stress and take full advantage of the benefits of holy basil.

Kilham, meanwhile, says that the best way to get the full benefits of holy basil is with a capsule of concentrated extract. “If you were to drink a cup of holy basil tea, you would feel a modest relaxation,” he says. “If you had a capsule of concentrated holy basil extract — made right — you would notice a surprising relaxing effect.”

4. Holy Basil Can Promote Healthy Eating and Weight Loss

Due in part to its stress-relieving properties, holy basil can be used to reduce a tendency to binge eat and help control weight gain.

“Holy Basil/Tulsi is also used in Ayurveda for its ability to balance and enhance the coordination of the mind with our senses,” explains Nace. “In the practice of Ayurveda, this coordination is important for us to make the intelligent decisions regarding food, lifestyle and self care necessary to support our wellbeing.”

How to Use

Use holy basil in a tea or infusion to take advantage of this benefit, or use aromatherapy like sprays and spritzers to reduce appetite.

5. Holy Basil Improves Mouth Health

Several studies show that holy basil can improve the health of your mouth, teeth, and gums, in large part thanks to its natural antimicrobial properties.

A 2016 study in the Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology showed that holy basil was effective in warding off periodontal pathogens, while a 2014 study in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine showed that holy basil was effective against dental plaque and gingival inflammation.

How to Use

Tedrow says that holy basil can be used as a mouthwash to treat bad breath, gum disease, and even mouth ulcers, thanks to its antimicrobial qualities. It can either be infused, as for a tea, and swished in the mouth, or a paste can be made with the leaves and the water, which can then be applied to affected areas.

6. It Can Reduce Blood Glucose in Diabetic Patients

According to Steven Buchanan, managing director of Leaf Mother and a nutritionist specializing in herbal medicine, holy basil has proven effects on blood glucose levels.

One of Leaf Mother’s botany scientists found that holy basil reduced blood glucose in diabetic patients in a clinical trial. This information is supported by a 1996 study in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics that showed that holy basil could have a positive effect on those with noninsulin-dependent diabetes.

An article published in Die Pharmazie also showed that holy basil may have an ability to regulate serum cortisol levels, which could contribute to its hypoglycemic properties.

How to Use

To take advantage of this property of holy basil, regular consumption of holy basil tea or extract gel capsules is the best way to go. Be sure to let your doctor know about the addition of holy basil to your regimen before getting started.

What Does the Research Say About Holy Basil?

As much as Ayurvedic medicine loves holy basil, and even though studies seem to prove many holy basil benefits, some experts just aren’t convinced that we can really reap these advantages of the herb.

Most Ayurvedic experts cite mental clarity and stress reduction as the most important and powerful characteristic of holy basil, but Buchanan notes that this is the benefit with the least amount of modern science backing it up.

“Whilst there are no reputable studies supporting its use for mental clarity or preventing the common cold, there is new evidence demonstrating it to be useful as an antimicrobial, with a recently published study showing it to help prevent gingivitis and reduce gum bleeding,” he says. “Earlier studies have also shown the herb to help prevent oral and cervical cancers, and possibly other types of cancer (ref 3 & 4).”

Tedrow, however, notes that there is a problem with applying these findings to daily life: it’s tough to drink that much holy basil tea.

“The problem with many of these studies is that that use very concentrated or high doses of the herb,” says Tedrow. “Normal, everyday consumption of holy basil likely isn’t large enough amount to have the same effect.”

It is possible, if you consume holy basil properly, according to Buchanan — that is, in concentrated form. Ideally, holy basil should be consumed in concentrations ranging between 2-5 percent and above, which is possible with teas and supplements, to reap all of those holy basil benefits.

Kilham, meanwhile, asserts that holy basil really is all that, even in small amounts.

“That’s how holy basil got its reputation in the first place,” he says. “People using relatively moderate amounts were going… ‘Wow — this stuff is remarkable.”

In other words, keep drinking your holy basil tea and taking your supplements: they’re working



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Holy Basil – An Overview of the Research and Clinical Indications
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14 Vats, V., Grover, J. K., and Rathi, S. S. Evaluation of anti-hyperglycemic and hypoglycemic effect of Trigonella foenum-graecum Linn, Ocimum sanctum Linn and Pterocarpus marsupium Linn in normal and alloxanized diabetic rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2002;79(1):95-100.
15 Grover, J. K., Vats, V., and Yadav, S. S. Pterocarpus marsupium extract (Vijayasar) prevented the alteration in metabolic patterns induced in the normal rat by feeding an adequate diet containing fructose as sole carbohydrate. Diabetes Obes.Metab 2005;7(4):414-420.
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18 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.
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Holy Basil – An Overview of the Research and Clinical Indications
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