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Holy Basil Health Benefits, Dosage & Side Effects

As the name suggests, holy basil is an herb revered for its healing and balancing properties. Research shows that it may be a promising natural treatment for chronic stress, diabetes, and even cancer. While holy basil is well-known and widely used in India, it’s still relatively unknown in many parts of the United States. However, the herb is gaining popularity and attention as more people discover its widespread healing power.

Let’s look at why using natural remedies like holy basil is so advantageous and how improved health can save you money over the long-run.

Natural Remedies Can Improve Health, Saving You Money

There are literally thousands of over-the-counter and prescription medications available to treat common medical conditions like chronic stress, depression, diabetes, and heart disease. Many of these drugs work very effectively, while others come with a long list of side effects that can be worse than the condition they’re treating. This is one reason why using natural herbal remedies can be so beneficial. Many herbs can effectively treat some of our most common ailments – without the debilitating side effects.

Another advantage of using natural remedies is that they can help you save money. Regular use of natural herbs can improve your health, resulting in fewer doctor’s visits (and less money spent on prescription and over-the-counter medications), fewer work and school absences, and greater energy and productivity. Most natural remedies also cost far less than commercial drugs; this is especially true if you forage them or grow your own.

What Is Holy Basil?

Holy basil, or Ocimum tenuiflorum is not the same as the basil you likely have growing in your herb garden. Holy basil is native to India and Southeast Asia, and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over 3,000 years.

In the Hindu religion, holy basil is referred to as Tulsi, and Hindus believe that the plant is the incarnation of the goddess Lakshmi. Because of this, holy basil is believed to have many spiritual powers, and it is one of the most sacred and revered plants in India. The herb is also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s considered a “Shen tonic,” a term used for herbs that support the spirit and nervous system.

The taste is less sweet than the basil we typically grow here. The taste of holy basil is spicier – more like cloves. This is because it contains a volatile oil that’s 70% eugenol, a compound also found in cloves. Holy basil is part of the mint family, and its taste contains mint undertones.

Holy Basil Ayurvedic Medicine

The Health Benefits of Holy Basil

Holy basil is considered an adaptogen. In herbal medicine, an adaptogen is any herb that helps the body respond to physical and emotional stress. It also normalizes your physiological functions and restores balance, while causing few, if any, negative side effects.

Holy basil contains hundreds of phytochemicals that have been proven to be beneficial to human health. These compounds have strong antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, and immune enhancing benefits. Holy basil is also high in vitamins A and C, as well as calcium and zinc. WebMD states that holy basil might help with the following conditions:

  • Anxiety
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • The common cold
  • Influenza
  • Asthma
  • Earache
  • Heart disease
  • Fever
  • Insomnia
  • Headache
  • Ringworm
  • Malaria
  • Stomach upset

It’s important to realize that the scientific study of holy basil is still in its infancy. While Ayurvedic medicine has been treating these conditions with holy basil for thousands of years, Western scientists, doctors, and researchers are only now starting to explore the many health benefits of the herb. However, there are many scientific studies supporting what Eastern healers have known for millennia; holy basil is a powerful tonic for the body and mind. Let’s look at the research behind holy basil’s healing potential.

1. Stress Relief

Holy basil can help combat stress, and it can be especially effective at combating long-term, or “chronic,” stress.

During a stressful situation, your adrenal glands release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones instantly sharpen your focus and provide a burst of energy. This “fight or flight” response was lifesaving for our ancestors, but in today’s high-stress world, the constant release of these hormones can quickly become toxic to your body.

For example, chronic stress can negatively affect your nervous system, leading to anxiety and depression. It can cause inflammation in all areas of the body, leading to increased pain and stiffness. It can negatively affect the digestive system, causing you to overeat. It can also damage your immune system. You can even experience stress when you’re exposed to constant noise. A study published in NeuroToxicology found that holy basil was effective at regulating the body’s response to long-term noise exposure.

As an adaptogen, holy basil helps your body function effectively in times of stress. It can help you feel calmer and more relaxed, and it can even help with insomnia. Holy basil’s ability to combat stress is one of its most promising aspects, and research suggests that holy basil’s reputation as a stress reliever is not unfounded.

A study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that, over a six-week trial, participants taking a supplement of holy basil reported significantly less stress-related symptoms, such as forgetfulness, exhaustion, insomnia, and sexual dysfunction compared to those on a placebo.

2. Diabetes

Holy basil might be an effective supplemental treatment for diabetes.

A study published in International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics found that holy basil significantly lowered blood glucose levels, and mildly lowered cholesterol levels, in participants. Another study, this one published in the Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry, had similar findings. Researchers found that that there was a “significant reduction in fasting blood glucose, serum lipid profile, lipid peroxidation products, (LPO) and improvement in glucose tolerance.”

3. Cancer

Holy basil might also be an effective treatment for cancer, and for combatting the side effects of some aggressive cancer treatments.

One study, published in Nutrition and Cancer, found that holy basil prevented chemical-induced skin, liver, oral, and lung cancers by increasing antioxidant activity, altering gene expression, and inhibiting angiogenesis and metastasis. Another study, published in the journal Cancer Letters, found that holy basil extracts inhibited the proliferation, motility (the ability of cells to move freely and spontaneously), and invasive capability of pancreatic cancer cells.

Holy basil might also be effective at minimizing the destructive side effects of radiation treatment. A paper published in International Journal of Pharma and Bio Sciences combined and reviewed many of the most recent, leading studies surrounding holy basil. Within this review, researchers report that one flavonoid found in holy basil, Orientin, was shown to help protect the body against radiation. Another study, published in the same paper, found that holy basil induced cytotoxicity in cancer cells, meaning that it shrank and even destroyed parts of existing cancer cells.

4. Improved Memory and Focus

Chronic stress, insomnia, and even your genes can negatively affect your memory and ability to focus. Holy basil might be an effective natural remedy to improve mental capacity.

A study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology found holy basil to have significant cognition-enhancing properties, especially when participants were tested on reaction time. Error rates were also much lower in non-placebo participants.

Improved Memory Focus

5. Ulcers

Holy basil might also be a powerful natural remedy for stomach problems, especially ulcers. A study published in the journal Ethnopharmacology found that holy basil decreased the incidence of ulcers, and completely healed existing ulcers, within 20 days of treatment.

6. Acne

When mixed with a carrier oil (such as coconut or olive oil), holy basil can be an effective treatment for acne. This is likely due to its antimicrobial properties.

To use holy basil to combat acne, mix several drops of the essential oil with a teaspoon of carrier oil, and apply it directly to your skin. You can also mix several drops of the essential oil with an ounce of water and use it as a daily toner to combat acne.

How to Take Holy Basil

Holy basil can be taken in a variety of ways.

1. Tea

In India, holy basil is most often consumed as a tea made from the dried leaves. You can purchase holy basil tea online. You can also buy dried holy basil in bulk and make tea; Mountain Rose Herbs offers organic, high quality holy basil at reasonable prices.

Holy basil tea can get expensive, especially if you want to drink a cup or two every day (which is often recommended by herbalists). A more economical option is to grow holy basil in your garden and harvest the leaves on a regular basis. You’ll be able to find holy basil at a farmer’s market or local nursery; you can also purchase holy basil seeds online.

Holy basil requires moist soil and full sun, similar to other varieties of cooking basil. It will also thrive indoors on a sunny windowsill. To make tea, pick several leaves and let them dry for a few days in a cool, dark closet, then steep them in hot water for 10 minutes.

2. Tincture

Holy basil can be consumed as a tincture. Tinctures are often a better choice than supplements because the extraction process retains the most beneficial compounds from the plant. While tinctures are a bit more expensive than supplements, you’ll experience results more quickly.

3. Supplement

Taking holy basil in supplement form is another option. However, like with any herbal supplement, quality counts. Lower quality supplements often destroy key compounds through improper or hasty processing. Higher quality supplements will cost more, but you will get a better product and benefit from all the active compounds found in holy basil.

Final Word

I recently ordered some holy basil seeds online and am devoting a section of my herb garden to growing this miracle herb. I also regularly drink loose holy basil tea, and can honestly say it helps alleviate feelings of stress and promote feelings of relaxation and calm.

Do you have any personal experience with holy basil? How has it helped you physically or emotionally?

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.

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