The fragrant tulsi or holy basil has earned its rights as a sacred plant in India. For centuries, ancient medical systems such as ayurveda have used it to treat a variety of disorders and ailments. Modern science is also starting to recognize the abilities of this wondrous plant.
The essential oil of tulsi has an impressive array of beneficial compounds: eugenol, carvacrol, eugenal, limatrol, methylchavicol, caryophylline, thymol, rosmarinic acid, linalool, methyl chavicol, ursolic acid, and citral. The list is practically endless. Furthermore, the seeds have fatty acids and sitosterol, giving tulsi even more benefits to brag about.1 Ready to jump on the holy basil bandwagon and experience its many blessings for yourself?
1. Reduces Stress
We all have to deal with stress. It’s also a risk factor for diseases such as depression, hypertension, and peptic ulcers. Fortunately, tulsi has been known to relax the mind, making it easier to deal with stress.2 In a recent study, researchers subjected albino rats to extreme noise levels, an act that altered their brain chemistry. However, tulsi leaf extract had a normalizing effect on the neurotransmitter levels that had changed due to the noise stress.3 Consider brewing a cup of calming tulsi tea the next time you’re feeling on edge or tense.
2. Helps Treat Fever
In India, it’s common to combat fever by consuming tulsi leaves steeped in hot water. Animal studies have found that consuming tulsi leaf extract or tea can even reduce fever caused by typhoid. If you’re running a high fever, some tulsi may help you get back on your feet again.4
3. Decreases Blood Sugar
If you’re worried about your sugar levels, tulsi may be able to help you out. According to research, holy basil leaves have the power to significantly lower blood glucose. They also have antioxidant properties that scavenge free radicals, contributing to its antidiabetic effect.5 And since diabetes is a chronic condition that can lead to heart disease and stroke, it’s certainly worth considering the potential of tulsi.6
4. Prevents Gastric Ulcers
Gastric ulcers, a common problem many of us face, can be caused by stomach acid, bile salts, and the bacteria Helicobacter pylori. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are generally used to treat inflammation and pain, can also lead to ulcers. Research has found that both tulsi leaves and seeds can protect your gastric mucosa (stomach lining) from becoming ulcerated. A study treated rats with NSAIDs followed by tulsi leaf extract. Researchers found that tulsi protected the body’s antioxidant enzymes and prevented gastric tissue injury.7 Tulsi seed oil has also been found to prevent ulcers by inhibiting gastric secretions.8 If you’re prone to ulcers, tulsi tea may be the key to preventing tummy trouble.
5. Boosts Immunity
Every day, we come in contact with germs that can damage our health. Thankfully, we’ve got a strong defense line. Our immune system can recognize and destroy these germs, protecting us from infection. Tulsi is just the right ally to lend a hand to your hard-working immune system. When consumed on an empty stomach, tulsi leaves have been known to enhance immunity. Researchers tested this traditional remedy and found that T-helper cell level increased after administration of tulsi leaf extract. These cells are responsible for activating the immune system’s secretions of interferon and interleukin-4, two substances that strengthen the body against disease.9
Tulsi seed oil has also been found to improve immunity. Specifically, it is thought to influence neurotransmitters that are involved in the activation of the immune system.10
6. Lowers Cholesterol
High cholesterol is a major risk for heart disease and stroke. This is where tulsi leaves come in. It has been found to significantly lower total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Simultaneously, it can also increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol and the amount of fat excreted through stool. Tulsi seeds have been found to have the same impact.11 Of course, don’t forget that, tulsi aside, a healthy diet and regular exercise is key to controlling cholesterol levels.12
7. Fights Infections
Essential oils in tulsi have antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral effects. They contain beneficial substances like eugenol, caryophyllene, carvacrol, and methyl eugenol; these compounds are thought to be responsible for tulsi’s microbe-fighting properties. As a result, tulsi has the ability to combat fungi from the Aspergillus species, a microorganism that can cause allergic reactions and lung infections. It can also treat thrush and yeast infections caused by the Candida species.
On a bacterial level, tulsi oil can fight E. coli, S. aureus, V. cholerae (cholera), and Klebisella (urinary tract infections and pneumonia). It also works against the herpes viruses, hepatitis B virus, and adenoviruses. The latter is responsible for diseases like pneumonia, bronchitis, and diarrhea. So if you’re looking for a multi-talented defender, you can’t ask for a better fighter than the holy basil.13
8. Reduces Risk Of Cancer
There is evidence that some of the phytochemicals in tulsi – eugenol, apigenin, rosmarinic acid, β–sitosterol, myretenal, luteolin, and carnosic acid – can prevent cancers of the liver, skin, mouth, and lung. Phytochemicals like eugenol, apigenin, rosmarinic acid, and carnosic acid can also stop the damage to the DNA by factors like radiation. Tulsi works its magic by increasing antioxidant activity. It can also change the way genes express themselves, induce cell death, and inhibit the formation of new tumors.
While more research is needed before tulsi can be effectively used for cancer prevention and treatment, these properties establish its potential in the fight against cancer14 So, you can’t go wrong by adding some antioxidant-rich tulsi leaves to your favorite salad!
9. Treats Acne
The linoleic acid present in tulsi has an anti-inflammatory effect and can be helpful in dealing with the inflammation associated with acne.15 Moreover, the essential oil of tulsi has an inhibitory effect against P. acnes bacteria, which plays a role in the development of acne.16
So, how do you use tulsi to tackle acne? Steep around 2 to 4 teaspoons of dried basil leaves in a cup of hot water for about 20 minutes. After it cools down, apply this tea to acne-affected areas to get clear skin.17
10. Helps With Weight Loss
Did you know that tulsi leaves contain a magic ingredient – ursolic acid – that can help with weight loss?18 In one study, rats fed a high-fat diet and treated with ursolic acid in their drinking water were compared to those who were not treated with ursolic acid. It was found that those treated with ursolic acid showed much lower body weights and abdominal fat. While further research can help firm this up, there’s no harm in adding tulsi leaves to your diet to lose those extra pounds!19
11. Nourishes Your Hair
Tulsi oil is thought to promote hair growth.20 It also shows inhibitory effects against Malassezia, the yeast that’s associated with dandruff. 21 So, massage a few drops of tulsi oil diluted with coconut oil into your scalp for thick, glossy, dandruff free mane.
How To Use Tulsi
Traditionally, tulsi has been consumed as a herbal tea or dried powder. Sometimes, the fresh leaves are consumed on their own or with ghee (clarified butter).22
Make a Cuppa: If you’d like to brew yourself a cup of tulsi tea, just pour around 8 ounces of hot water over a teaspoon of dried tulsi leaves. Let it steep for around 3 minutes and enjoy!
You can also steep tulsi leaves with green tea to make a potent drink that incorporates the benefits associated with green tea.23
Cook Away!: If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, holy basil (and lemon basil) leaves are commonly used in Thai cooking and can be added raw to salads, cooked into soups and stir-fries, and even used to add flavor to fruit salads and preserves.
Use the Seeds: Basil seeds can be soaked in warm water and consumed. Use a cup of water for a couple of teaspoons of basil seeds. Soaking them will make them swell to about twice their size. You can now sprinkle them over ice cream or blend them into your favorite smoothie. A popular Thai drink combines them with honey, water, and coconut milk.26
Who Should Avoid Tulsi
While tulsi can be great for your health as well as your tastebuds, some animal studies have shown that tulsi leaves can lower fertility in both genders. So if you’re trying for a baby, it might be best to play it safe and avoid tulsi.27 28
Since tulsi can lower blood sugar and cholesterol and increase blood clotting time, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor before taking it if you’re on medication to control these.29
|↑1, ↑2, ↑13||Singh, Vinod, and Omparakash Verma. “Ocimum sanctum (tulsi): Bio-pharmacological activities.” (2010).|
|↑3||Ravindran, Rajan, Rathinasamy Sheela Devi, James Samson, and Manohar Senthilvelan. “Noise-stress-induced brain neurotransmitter changes and the effect of Ocimum sanctum (Linn) treatment in albino rats.” Journal of pharmacological sciences 98, no. 4 (2005): 354-360.|
|↑4||Godhwani, Savitri, J. L. Godhwani, and D. S. Vyas. “Ocimum sanctum: an experimental study evaluating its anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antipyretic activity in animals.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 21, no. 2 (1987): 153-163.|
|↑5||Sethi, Jyoti, Sushma Sood, Shashi Seth, and Anjana Talwar. “Evaluation of hypoglycemic and antioxidant effect of Ocimum sanctum.” Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry 19, no. 2 (2004): 152-155.|
|↑6||Diabetes. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑7||Basu, A. N. J. A. L. I., E. L. I. N. A. Mitra, D. E. B. A. S. R. I. Mukherjee, ARNAB K. Ghosh, SYED BENAZIR Firdaus, D. E. B. O. S. R. E. E. Ghosh, A. I. N. D. R. I. L. A. Chattopadhyay et al. “Aqueous tulsi leaf (Ocimum sanctum l.) extract protects against piroxicam-induced gastric ulceration in rats: involvement of antioxidant mechanisms.” Int J Pharm Pharm Sci 5, no. 1 (2013): 438-447.|
|↑8||Singh, Surender, and D. K. Majumdar. “Evaluation of the gastric antiulcer activity of fixed oil of Ocimum sanctum (Holy Basil).” Journal of ethnopharmacology 65, no. 1 (1999): 13-19.|
|↑9||Mondal, Shankar, Saurabh Varma, Vishwa Deepak Bamola, Satya Narayan Naik, Bijay Ranjan Mirdha, Madan Mohan Padhi, Nalin Mehta, and Sushil Chandra Mahapatra. “Double-blinded randomized controlled trial for immunomodulatory effects of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.) leaf extract on healthy volunteers.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 136, no. 3 (2011): 452-456.|
|↑10||Mediratta, P. K., K. K. Sharma, and Surender Singh. “Evaluation of immunomodulatory potential of Ocimum sanctum seed oil and its possible mechanism of action.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 80, no. 1 (2002): 15-20.|
|↑11||Gupta, Shweta, Pramod K. Mediratta, Surender Singh, K. K. Sharma, and Rimi Shukla. “Antidiabetic, antihypercholesterolaemic and antioxidant effect of Ocimum sanctum (Linn) seed oil.” Indian journal of experimental biology 44, no. 4 (2006): 300.|
|↑12||Surkar, A., S. C. Lavania, D. N. Pandey, and M. C. Pant. “Changes in the blood lipid profile after administration of Ocimum sanctum (Tulsi) leaves in the normal albino rabbits.” Indian journal of physiology and pharmacology 38 (1994): 311-311.|
|↑14||Baliga, Manjeshwar Shrinath, Rosmy Jimmy, Karadka Ramdas Thilakchand, Venkatesh Sunitha, Neeta Raghavendra Bhat, Elroy Saldanha, Suresh Rao, Pratima Rao, Rajesh Arora, and Princy L. Palatty. “Ocimum sanctum L (Holy Basil or Tulsi) and its phytochemicals in the prevention and treatment of cancer.” Nutrition and cancer 65, no. sup1 (2013): 26-35.|
|↑15||Kapoor, Shweta, and Swarnlata Saraf. “Topical herbal therapies an alternative and complementary choice to combat acne.” Res J Med Plant 5, no. 6 (2011): 650-9.|
|↑16||Lertsatitthanakorn, P., S. Taweechaisupapong, C. Aromdee, and W. Khunkitti. “In vitro bioactivities of essential oils used for acne control.” International Journal of Aromatherapy 16, no. 1 (2006): 43-49.|
|↑17||Fitzgerald, Maggie. Healing Herbs: The Complete Beginners Guide to Discovering the Natural Healing Powers of Herbs. LiveNatural Press, 2014.|
|↑18||Sundaram, R. Shanmuga, M. Ramanathan, R. Rajesh, B. Satheesh, and D. Saravanan. “LC-MS quantification of rosmarinic acid and ursolic acid in the Ocimum sanctum Linn. leaf extract (Holy basil, Tulsi).” Journal of Liquid Chromatography & Related Technologies 35, no. 5 (2012): 634-650.|
|↑19||Rao, Vietla S., Celio L. de Melo, Maria Goretti R. Queiroz, Telma LG Lemos, Dalgimar B. Menezes, Tiago S. Melo, and Flavia A. Santos. “Ursolic acid, a pentacyclic triterpene from Sambucus australis, prevents abdominal adiposity in mice fed a high-fat diet.” Journal of medicinal food 14, no. 11 (2011): 1375-1382.|
|↑20||Gupta, Amit, Rishabha Malviya, Tej Prakash Singh, and Pramod Kumar Sharma. “Indian medicinal plants used in hair care cosmetics: a short review.” Pharmacognosy Journal 2, no. 10 (2010): 361-364.|
|↑21||Prabhamanju, M., S. Gokul Shankar, and K. Babu. “Herbal vs. Chemical Actives as Antidandruff Ingredients-Which Are More Effective in the Management of Dandruff?–An Overview.” Ethnobotanical Leaflets 2009, no. 11 (2009): 5.|
|↑22||Maheshwari, Raaz. “Multifaceted usage of holy basil.” Journal of drug discovery and therapeutics 1, no. 05 (2013).|
|↑23||Zaveri, Nurulain T. “Green tea and its polyphenolic catechins: medicinal uses in cancer and noncancer applications.” Life sciences 78, no. 18 (2006): 2073-2080.|
|↑24||Kikuzaki, Hiroe, and NOBUJI NAKATANI. “Antioxidant effects of some ginger constituents.” Journal of food science 58, no. 6 (1993): 1407-1410.|
|↑25||Verma, S. K., J. Singh, R. Khamesra, and A. Bordia. “Effect of ginger on platelet aggregation in man.” The Indian journal of medical research 98 (1993): 240-242.|
|↑26||Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 2007.|
|↑27||Batta, S. K., and G. Santhakumari. “The antifertility effect of Ocimum sanctum and Hibiscus cosa sinensis.” Indian Journal of Medical Research 59, no. 5 (1970): 777-781.|
|↑28||Ahmed, Mukhtar, R. Nazeer Ahamed, R. H. Aladakatti, and M. G. Ghosesawar. “Reversible anti-fertility effect of benzene extract of Ocimum sanctum leaves on sperm parameters and fructose content in rats.” Journal of basic and clinical physiology and pharmacology 13, no. 1 (2002): 51-60.|
|↑29||Pattanayak, Priyabrata, Pritishova Behera, Debajyoti Das, and Sangram K. Panda. “Ocimum sanctum Linn. A reservoir plant for therapeutic applications: An overview.” Pharmacognosy reviews 4, no. 7 (2010): 95.|