Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) isn’t like the sweet basil in your mom’s marinara sauce or the Thai herb you use to flavor a steaming bowl of pho. In addition, holy basil has a number of health benefits.
Also known as Ocimum sanctum L. and tulsi , this green foliage plant is native to Southeast Asia. It has a history within Indian medicine as a treatment for many ailments, from eye diseases to ringworms.
From the leaves to the seed, basil is considered a tonic for the body, mind and spirit. Different parts of the plant are recommended for the treatment of different ailments:
- Use the fresh flowers for bronchitis.
- Use the leaves and seeds, with black pepper, against malaria.
- Using the whole plant for diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
- Use the pill and ointment form for eczema.
- Use an alcohol extract for stomach ulcers and eye diseases.
- Use an essential oil made from the leaves for insect bites.
Numerous studies support the use of the whole basil plant for human use and its therapeutic value. Its nutritional value is also high, as it contains:
- vitamins A and C
Always talk to your doctor before taking supplements. Like many supplements, basil is not approved as a first-line treatment. It can also interact with medications you already take.
Health benefits of Holy Basil
1. Reduces stress and anxiety
All parts of the holy basil plant act as an adaptogen. An adaptogen is a natural substance that helps your body adapt to stress and promotes mental balance.
The concept of an adaptogen is a holistic approach. But scientific research shows that holy basil has pharmacological properties to help your mind deal with many types of stress.
The source of your stress may be:
In the case of physical stress, basil is known to increase endurance in animals. Animals given holy basil leaf extracts and subjected to environmental stress scenarios showed:
- an improved metabolism
- a better swim time
- less tissue damage
- lower stress levels in noisy environments
Human and animal studies saw reduced:
- sexual problems
- sleeping problems
According to the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine , holy basil has antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties similar to diazepam and antidepressants. These studies examined the leaves.
One study found that people who took 500 milligrams (mg) of holy basil extract each day felt less anxious, stressed and depressed. People also felt more sociable.
Ayurvedic practitioners recommend drinking holy basil as a tea with the leaves. And because it’s caffeine-free, it’s OK and even recommended to drink daily. Drinking tea can be ritualistic and as soothing as yoga. It promotes clear thoughts, relaxation and a sense of well-being.
But if you don’t like the bitter and spicy taste of basil, there is a supplement available in pill form or as an alcohol extract. There is less risk of contamination when an herb is taken in its natural form.
Holy basil has been shown to have antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties similar to those of antidepressants. Studies have shown that it can help people feel more sociable and less anxious.
2. Stimulate and vitalize your body
Holy basil is also high in antioxidants and helps detoxify your body. Studies show that holy basil can protect your body from toxic chemicals. It can also prevent cancer by reducing the growth of cancer cells.
Protects against infections and treats wounds
Extracts made from the leaves are said to accelerate and strengthen wound healing. Holy basil is:
- analgesic (a painkiller)
Some people even use basil after surgery to heal and protect their wounds. Holy basil increases breaking strength, healing time and wound contraction. Breaking strength refers to how much pressure or weight a wound can withstand before breaking.
Research shows that basil can work against infections and wounds, such as:
- mouth ulcers
- raised scars
Lower your blood sugar
If you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, all parts of the holy basil plant can help lower your blood sugar. Animal and human studies have shown that holy basil can help prevent symptoms of diabetes, such as:
- weight gain
- hyperinsulinemia, or an excess of insulin in the blood
- high cholesterol
- insulin resistance
In the first animal study cited, rats given the holy basil extract saw their blood sugar drop by 26.4 percent after 30 days. The blood sugar levels of rats fed basil leaf powder also dropped after a month.
Talk to your doctor before adding basil to your diet. If you’re already taking medication to control your blood sugar, it can lower your blood sugar even more.
3. Lower your cholesterol
Since basil addresses metabolic stress, it can also help with weight loss and cholesterol levels.
Animal studies showed significant changes in rabbit fat molecules when they ate fresh basil leaves. They had lower “bad” cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) and higher “good” cholesterol (HDL cholesterol).
An animal study showed that the oil in holy basil (eugenol) lowers stress-induced cholesterol levels. There was a reduction in total cholesterol in the kidneys, liver or heart in rats with and without diabetes after eating basil leaf powder.
4. Reduces inflammation and joint pain
Imagine tackling stress, anxiety and inflammation with a relaxing cup of tea made from the leaves of holy basil.
As an adaptogen with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, holy basil provides all of these benefits. It can even help people with arthritis or fibromyalgia.
5. Protects your stomach
Holy basil may counteract the effects of stress-induced ulcers. It naturally boosts your stomach’s defense by :
- reducing stomach acid
- increasing mucus secretion
- strengthening the mucous cells
- extending the life of the mucous cells
Many ulcer medicines have side effects and can cause discomfort in some people. Holy basil can be a good alternative. An animal study showed that 200 mg of basil extract significantly reduced both the number and index of ulcers in two-thirds of the animals. Basil has been shown to promote your body’s health in several ways. It can help protect against infections, lower your blood sugar, lower your cholesterol, relieve joint pain and protect your stomach.
Adding Holy Basil to Your Self-Care
Basil extract supplements are available in pill or capsule form. The recommended dosage ranges from 300 mg to 2,000 mg per day for general preventive purposes.
When used as a treatment, the recommended dose is 600 mg to 1,800 mg, taken in multiple doses throughout the day. All parts of the plant can be used in supplements and topical ointments.
Basil essential oil is distilled from the leaves and flowers of the plant.
You can also make basil tea from the leaves, flowers or dried leaf powder. The herb can also be used to make freshly brewed tea by adding 2-3 teaspoons of basil to a cup of boiling water and letting it steep for 5-6 minutes.
The leaves are also commonly used in cooking, although some people eat the leaves raw. Holy basil tastes spicy and bitter.
There are many ways to use basil in your daily life. You can cook with it, take it in supplement form, or make tea from it. Holy basil is also available as an essential oil.
Always check with your doctor before including basil or any other supplement in your diet.
Not enough research has been done to recommend its use in infants, children, pregnant or breastfeeding women. The FDA does not control the processing, quality, purity, and effectiveness of herbs and supplements.
Buy basil grown organically from a reputable source in a rural, unpolluted environment. Holy basil grown in a contaminated area can be twice as toxic.
No negative side effects have been reported in human clinical studies. However, you should avoid basil if you are breastfeeding, pregnant, or trying to conceive.
Negative side effects have not been reported in human trials, but it is recommended that you talk to your doctor before including basil in your diet. If possible, try to buy it from a reputable source.