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Not your basic basil
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. This green leafy plant, also known as Ocimum sanctum L. and tulsi, is native to Southeast Asia. It has a history within Indian medicine as a treatment for many conditions, from eye diseases to ringworms.
From the leaves to the seed, holy basil is considered a tonic for the body, mind, and spirit. Different parts of the plant are recommended for treating different conditions:
- Use its fresh flowers for bronchitis.
- Use the leaves and seeds, with black pepper, for malaria.
- Use 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.
Many studies support the use of the entire plant of holy basil for human use and its therapeutic value. The nutritional value is also high, as it contains:
- vitamin A and C
Always talk to your doctor before taking supplements. Like many supplements, holy basil is not approved as a first-line treatment. It may also interact with medications you’re already taking.
Read on to learn why holy basil is called the “Queen of Herbs.”
All parts of the holy basil plant act as an adaptogen. An adaptogen is 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 cope with many types of stress.
The source of your stress can be:
In the case of physical stress, holy basil is known to increase endurance in animals. Animals who had holy basil leaf extracts and went through environment-induced stress scenarios showed:
- enhanced metabolism
- improved swimming time
- less tissue damage
- lower stress levels in loud environments
Human and animal studies saw reduced:
- sexual problems
- sleep problems
According to the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, holy basil has antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties comparable to diazepam and antidepressant drugs. 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 social.
Ayurvedic practitioners recommend drinking holy basil as tea using the leaves. And since it’s caffeine-free, it’s okay and even recommended to drink daily. The act of drinking tea can be ritualistic and as calming as yoga. It fosters clear thoughts, relaxation, and a sense of well-being.
But if the basil’s bitter and spicy flavor isn’t your cup of tea, a supplement in pill form or as an alcohol extract is available. There is less risk of contamination when taking an herb in natural form.
Holy basil has been shown to have antidepressant and antianxiety properties similar to antidepressant drugs. Studies have shown that it can help people feel more social and less anxious.
Holy basil is also high in anti-oxidants and helps your body detox.
Protect against infection and treat wounds
Extracts made from its leaves are thought to boost wound healing speed and strength. Holy basil is:
- analgesic (a painkiller)
Some people even use holy basil after surgery to heal and protect their wounds. Holy basil increases your wound’s breaking strength, healing time, and contraction. Breaking strength refers to how much pressure or weight a wound can take before it breaks.
Research shows that holy basil may work against infections and wounds, such as:
Lower your blood sugar
If you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, all parts of the holy basil plant can help reduce your blood sugar. Animal and human trials have shown that holy basil can help prevent symptoms of diabetes such as:
- weight gain
- hyperinsulinemia, or excess insulin in the blood
- high cholesterol
- insulin resistance
In these studies, rats that received holy basil extract saw a 24 percent decrease in blood sugar after 30 days. Blood sugar in rats that were fed holy basil leaf powder also decreased after a month.
Talk to your doctor before adding holy basil to your diet. If you’re already taking medications to control blood sugar, it may lower your blood sugar levels even more.
Lower your cholesterol
Since holy basil targets metabolic stress, it can also help with weight loss and cholesterol levels. Animal studies saw significant changes in rabbits’ fat molecules when they ate fresh holy basil leaves. They had lower “bad” cholesterol (LDL-cholesterol) and higher “good” cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol).
One animal study found that the oil in holy basil (eugenol) lowers stress-induced cholesterol levels. There was a reduction of total cholesterol in the kidney, liver, or heart in rats with and without diabetes after they ate holy basil leaf powder.
Ease inflammation and joint pain
Imagine being able to tackle stress, anxiety, and inflammation with a relaxing cup of tea made with 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.
Protect your stomach
Holy basil can counteract the effects of stress-induced ulcers. It naturally increases your stomach’s defense by:
- decreasing stomach acid
- increasing mucus secretion
- increasing mucus cells
- extending life of mucus cells
Many drugs for peptic ulcers have side effects and can cause discomfort in some people. Holy basil may be a preferred alternative. One animal study showed that 200 mg of holy basil extract reduced both the number and index of ulcers significantly in two-thirds of the animals.
Holy basil has been shown to boost your body’s health in a variety of ways. It can help protect against infection, lower your blood sugar, lower your cholesterol, ease joint pain, and protect your stomach.
Supplements of holy basil extract are available in pill or capsule form. The suggested dosage ranges from 300 mg to 2,000 mg per day for general preventative purposes. When used as a treatment, the recommended dosage is 600 mg to 1,800 mg taken in multiple doses throughout the day. All parts of the plant might be used in supplements and topical ointments.
Essential oil of holy basil is distilled from leaves and flowers of the plant.
You can also make holy basil tea using the leaves, flowers, or dried leaf powder. The herb can also be used to make freshly brewed tea by placing 2–3 teaspoons of holy basil in a cup of boiling water and letting it steep for 5–6 minutes.
The leaves are also commonly used in cooking, though some people eat the leaves raw. Holy basil tastes spicy and bitter.
There are many ways to incorporate holy basil into your daily life. You can cook with it, take it in supplement form, or make a tea with it. Holy basil is also available as an essential oil.
Always make sure to speak with your doctor before incorporating holy basil or any other supplement into your diet. There is not enough research to recommend use for infants, children, and pregnant or breastfeeding women. Processing, quality, purity, and effectiveness of herbs or supplements are not monitored by the FDA.
Buy holy basil from a reputable source that’s grown organically in a rural, unpolluted environment. Holy basil grown in a polluted area may contain twice the toxicity.
No negative side effects have been reported during human clinical trials. However, you should avoid holy basil if you’re lactating, pregnant, or trying to conceive. Animal studies have shown that holy basil may affect fertility and stimulate uterine contractions.
Negative side effects haven’t been reported in human trials but it’s recommended that you speak to your doctor before incorporating holy basil into your diet. Try to buy it from a reputable source when possible.