Holy Basil, ‘The Incomparable One’

Holy basil aka Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) is such a versatile herb that it is also called ‘The Incomparable One’ and ‘The Elixir of Life’. We’ve written about holy basil bringing peace to mind and spirit, and about holy basil and diabetes. And, there is so much more to share on this plant.
Studies based on real people have found that holy basil….
decreases cholesteroldecreases blood pressurelowers uric acid in gout and inhibits swelling and painincreases Natural Killer Cells that remove foreign cells, such as cancer cells or inflammatory agentsincreases T-helper cells that play an important role in your immune responseimproves mood and/or cognitive functioninglimits anxiety and lowers stress (1).
One study that jumped out to me was the one focusing on people diagnosed with Generic Anxiety Disorder (GAD) (2). All participants experienced a lower level of GAD, less stress, less depression and an increased willingness to adjust to changes after taking holy basil (3). A pleasant ‘side effect’ of this herb, no matter what the reason you are taking it, is your mood improves!
And there is more! Holy Basil is an adaptogen.
Herbalist and expert on adaptogens, David Winston, has led the field in defining adaptogens and appropriate uses. His research of world traditions and experience has helped people understand that an adaptogen is a substance that helps the body adjust to multiple stressors, brings balance to the body’s systems and helps us adapt to environmental and internal stress (3). If your body is overreacting to a stressor, an adaptogen can be calming; if you need to react, adaptogens can stimulate your energy. Adaptogens help keep your body within a range of normal. This is a concept that is not used in modern Western medicine, and is probably the reason holy basil research rarely studies this directly.
Jamshidi (1) explains the broad effect of holy basil by linking the diseases mentioned in the opening paragraph to immune deficiency. One study with people confirmed the immune balancing effect— the study had 22 healthy volunteers take an alcohol extract from holy basil leaves for 4 weeks and the blood analysis afterwards showed a considerable improvement in their immune factors, including their interferon and interleukin levels (4). Also, there is a broad arsenal of laboratory studies confirming the immune supporting effect based on studies of the individual essential oils in the herb (5).
While there are no studies that confirm the adaptogenic effect specifically, the multitude of actions found in so many studies indicate a very broadly working herb that influences a multitude of bodily functions. And its the historical use and revered status in the Ayurvedic tradition confirm that many, many, many generations of have found it has served them well. Personally, I have seen very good results supporting menopausal complaints, specifically mood swings and energy.
How to use and take Holy Basil
Holy basil, in the Western world, is often found in supplements, commonly combined with other herbs – like this nice one from Gaia. It is also very easy to make the leaves into a tea with a beautiful rich taste with a little spicy undertone. We grow it and sell it in blends at our farm in Maryland, and you can also find it easily at herb shops or online (Mountain Rose Herbs is a good source).
There are three types of holy basil. If you grow it, make sure you grow holy basil rama — it is an easy to grow herb with a strong medicinal value.
In the kitchen, holy basil can be used instead of basil. Add a few leaves to your salad or combine it with cheese. Keep in mind the taste is stronger and can be overwhelming. A great use of holy basil is to combine it with good quality dark chocolate. If you make brownies, simmer ½ tablespoon ground up dried holy basil in the regular amount of butter or oil you would use for a standard size brownie and bake it as usual.
There are so many ways to enjoy and benefit from this amazing plant! An easy start, would be to pick up box of tea from Organic India’s Tulsi line.
Herbalist 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: and for their teas: or follow at Facebook.
Jamshidi, 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 9217567Bhattacharyya D1, Sur TK, Jana U, Debnath PK; “Controlled programmed trial of Ocimum sanctum leaf on generalized anxiety disorders”; in Nepal Med Coll J. 2008 Sep;10(3):176-9.Winston, David, Steven Maines; “Adaptogens. Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief’; Healing Art Press, 2007Shankar Mondala, Saurabh Varmab, et al.; “Double-blinded randomized controlled trial for immunomodulatory effects of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.) leaf extract on healthy volunteers”; in: Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Volume 136, Issue 3, 14 July 2011, Pages 452-456Mondal S1, Mirdha BR, Mahapatra SC.; “The science behind sacredness of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.)”; Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2009 Oct-Dec;53(4):291-306.

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