Holy basil, aka Tulsi, is one of my favorite herbs, both to use and to grow. The smell it gives to your garden is just wonderful, and if you touch the plant on your way to work you may even feel a grounding force. It somehow helps me to put my feet on the floor and focus better. Holy basil supports the mind, body and spirit…it is a true ‘wholeness’ herb. I have given it as a tea for energy support, and my clients report greater ease and calm. Yet another, more recently known benefit, is its ability to help lower blood sugar levels, which I will talk about.
Holy basil has thousands of years of traditional use in its original growing area, the tropical part of Asia. It is a ceremonial herb used in religious practices in Hinduism and plays an important role in Ayurvedic medicine. An ancient Ayurvedic scripture, Padmapurana, opens: “Oh, Narada! Every house, every village, every forest, wherever the plant Tulsi is grown, misery, fear, disease and poverty do not exist…………”. Modern science follows in the ancient footsteps and considers it a very promising plant: “Its very special properties like protection from cancer, radioprotection and insulin secretory effects can prove to be a blessing for the modern day society.”(1) In this first holy basil blog we focus on diabetes.
Holy Basil and diabetes
The impact of holy basil on diabetes is probably the most well researched. The studies with real people confirm the effect on diabetes type II. Donald Yance mentions a study where a holy basil extract was given to two groups (2). The people receiving the extract saw a 60 percent decrease in blood sugar levels after 13 weeks. The control group saw a 10% decrease (2, p482). Studies have been done with a decoction of the leaves, a tea, a leaf powder and extracts and all confirm a lowering of blood sugar with diabetes patients (3). In another trial, men with type 2 diabetes received 2 grams of holy basil leaf powder alone or combined with neem leaf, in both cases diabetic symptoms decreased, with the combination being slightly more effective (4).
One recent study analyzed the effect of specific holy basil molecules on the pancreas, the organ that creates insulin. Insulin is needed to process sugars and lowers the blood sugar or blood glucose level. It was found that insulin secretion was activated and increased after treatment with holy basil, but only when the blood sugar level was high. The study was done with diabetic mice and plant molecules instead of the whole plant. It points to an explanation why holy basil lowers blood sugar in humans. (5) It also explains why holy basil is only effective for type 2 diabetes; in type 1 diabetes the pancreas is unable to produce insulin no matter the amount of holy basil it gets.
How could you use holy basil?
First of all, it is still in time to plant the seeds and grow it yourself if you live in an area with a long late summer. The fresh leaves can be used to make pesto. I replace half of the amount of the regular basil with holy basil. But you don’t need to do anything other than just eat a few leaves a day to improve your health, spirit and balance. You can make a tincture from both fresh or dried leaves and use during the winter for general support. Other than this, there is a large supply of supplements containing holy basil in itself or in combination with other herbs specifically for blood sugar control. Holy basil tea (also named Tulsi tea) tea is easy to find.
Stay Tuned For Part Two…..
Henriette den Ouden and her partner Chris own Habanera Farm, a Maryland herb farm producing teas. Habanera Farm also offers herbal and nature classes and a possibility to come and enjoy a rare stillness. Henriette has a degree from Maryland University of Integrative Health and is a practicing herbalist. For more information: www.habanerafarm.com
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Tulsi: The Pharmacological significance; Bhuvnesh Kumar Singh, Trivedi Neelanchal , Abhishek Bharadwaj In: Int.J Rec.Adv.Sci.Tech., 2017; 4(2):1-5Yance, Donald; “Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism”, Healing Arts Press, 2013Jamshidi, Negar and Cohen, Marc; “The Clinical Efficacy and Safety of Tulsi in Humans: A Systematic Review of Literature; in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine”, Vol 2017, Article ID 9217567A. Kochhar, N. Sharma, and R. Sachdeva, “Effect of supplementation of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) and Neem (Azadirachta indica) leaf powder on diabetic symptoms, anthropometric parameters and blood pressure of non insulin dependent male diabetics,” Studies on Ethno-Medicine, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 5–9, 2009.Casanova LM, Gu W, et all, “Phenolic Substances from Ocimum Species Enhance Glucose-Stimulated Insulin Secretion and Modulate the Expression of Key Insulin Regulatory Genes in Mice Pancreatic Islets”, J Nat Prod. 2017 Dec 22;80(12):3267-3275.