Holy Basil (Tulsi)
A relative of aromatic culinary basil, Holy basil is also known as “the incomparable one” and tulsi, meaning “balance.” An adaptogen that supports your body’s healthy response to stress, it is native to India and Southeast Asia where it’s revered in traditional medicine.
What Is Holy Basil?
Holy basil is a medicinal, aromatic herb that originated in India. Today, it grows as a perennial in many different regions, including Australia, the Middle East and West Africa. Uses for holy basil range from reducing anxiety to helping manage diabetes to serving as a peppery spice.
Whether you prefer to enjoy some holy basil tea or add a chopped 'hot basil' leaf to spice up your stir-fry or soup, you'll reap the many tulsi benefits for health and well-being.
Benefits of Holy Basil
While holy basil has been used for years in traditional medicine systems, research into this ancient herb is helping us learn more about how tulsi benefits work. Many people today are turning to holy basil for sleep and anxiety, inflammation management and blood sugar control.
Holy basil is considered a natural anti-anxiety remedy, due to its adaptogenic properties. Adaptogens are found in most plants, and they’re believed to increase your body's resistance to psychological, environmental, emotional and biological stressors, as well as promote normal physiological functions.
Studies suggest that holy basil’s adaptogenic properties may be due to its ability to naturally regulate cortisol—a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Holy basil uses its phytochemical components to correct cortisol and other stress-related molecules in the body.
A 2017 review of existing research reported that several studies found a significant reduction in anxiety and stress levels after taking holy basil extract—particularly when administered in high doses over a longer period of time. One study found that participants who consumed 1,200 mg of holy basil daily over six weeks experienced a 39% decline in stress symptoms, as well as improvements in areas like forgetfulness, fatigue, sleep disorders and sexual dysfunction.
In addition to stress-relief, holy basil benefits extend to controlling inflammation, too. Research into the phytochemical makeup of holy basil has found the herb contains compounds like eugenol and ursolic and rosmarinic acids, which have pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties comparable to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen and naproxen.
Holy basil’s unique combination of medicinal properties makes it useful for everything from asthma to arthritis and has even been traditionally used for wound healing and peptic ulcers. Additionally, since inflammation is believed to be the root of many chronic diseases, holy basil may be a useful natural supplement for overall disease prevention and longevity.
Regulates Blood Sugar
Holy basil also appears to have a beneficial effect on blood sugar control, making it a potential remedy for diabetes and metabolic disorders. Several studies have found that holy basil has hypoglycemic properties, potentially helping to lower blood glucose levels. Holy basil also appears to have a positive effect on diabetes-related symptoms like cholesterol and weight gain.
The previously mentioned review of holy basil research reported that interventions where participants took holy basil for 12 weeks produced the most effective results in controlling blood sugar.
Researchers suggest that the blood-sugar-regulating benefits of holy basil come from the antioxidant content in the leaves. Particularly, the compounds eugenol, methyl eugenol and caryophyllene together help your pancreas cells respond appropriately to insulin. Additionally, the herb’s antioxidants fight oxidative stress, which is a contributor to metabolic disorders.
Studies on Holy Basil
Researchers continue to discover new and beneficial properties of holy basil, including interesting findings on tulsi for cognitive function, memory and learning.
Memory and Cognitive Performance
A 2015 trial found that participants who took 300 mg of holy basil for 30 days scored higher on cognitive tests compared to a placebo group. Improved working memory results were found after only two weeks.
Research suggests that the reason holy basil may be beneficial for memory and cognitive performance is due to its effect on acetylcholine—a neurotransmitter responsible for learning and memory, among other functions. Early research indicates that holy basil may promote an enzyme responsible for producing acetylcholine. Other research has found that holy basil inhibits the production of an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. By either mechanism, both these animal studies reveal that holy basil may promote this vital neurotransmitter.
Holy Basil in Summary
Holy basil is an impressive herb with proven benefits for the mind and body. Not only does it help to alleviate the physical effects of stress, but it’s also a promising remedy for mental health. Holy basil has shown to be an effective anti-anxiety and cognitive-enhancing herb.
With natural properties for blood sugar management and heart health, holy basil may be a valuable anti-aging herb that promotes overall well-being.