Holy Basil:

Or Tulsi, the Incomparable Basil Plant

For many people, basil immediately conjures up green pesto, classic Italian tomato sauce and sweet and sour Thai basil soup.  From the many varieties of basil that exist, one in particular offers phytotherapeutic properties that are unsurpassed.  Closely related to culinary sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum), also commonly known as Tulsi has been revered in India for centuries. It is considered to be one of the most sacred plants in the Ayurvedic Tradition and as such is known as the “Incomparable One.” Not only regarded as a highly medicinal herb in India, it is a sacred plant that is found in homes and temples and is widely used in ceremonies and important rites of passage.

This herb is one of the key rejuvenating tonics found in Ayurveda. Classified as a true Rasayana, it goes beyond providing nourishment and healing benefits for the body, and acts as a catalyst for transformation by expanding the mind and enhancing consciousness.  For centuries, sages and yogis have used the herb before meditation in order to calm the mind and encourage a blissful state.  This balancing herb supports many systems of the body and is beneficial for all three doshic constitutions.  Although it is considered to be a heating herb, in small amounts it will not aggravate Pitta and is particularly good for removing excess Vata and Kapha. Holy basil increases Agni in all three doshas. Agni is defined as digestive fire or the fire that governs metabolism. When strong, agni facilitates efficient digestion with greater assimilation of nutrients.

There is a vast body of research validating Holy Basil’s many benefits.  Considered to be a key adaptogen, Holy Basil has the ability to increase resistance in the body to a variety of stressors. It has been shown to increase endurance and reduce the stress hormone cortisol. In one study, extracts of Holy Basil prevented increases of corticosterone levels in animals exposed to chronic and acute noise stress.  Holy Basil is very useful as an immune supportive herb during cold and flu season and is particularly beneficial for respiratory issues.  It is indicated as an expectorant for those with bronchial mucus and bronchitis.  

Holy Basil has been shown to reduce both fasting and postprandial blood sugar levels with a reduction in serum cholesterol.  It also shows promise for those with stress related arterial hypertension.  In animal models, research suggests that Holy Basil is anti-carcinogenic and provides protection to DNA from radiation damage. It also increases cellular antioxidants.  One of the key beneficial compounds in Holy Basil is a triterpenoid known as ursolic acid.  It has been shown to mediate inflammation through the inhibition of COX2.

Holy Basil is known for its refreshingly fragrant basil-citrus, anise-like flavour. There are two ways that I like to incorporate Holy Basil into my daily routine.  The first is to have a cup of Holy Basil tea every day.  This is lovely (hot or cold) in the morning for those that need to relax before the day even begins, during the day in a water bottle, as a base for smoothies, before meditation or yoga class; and at night just before bed.  The tea is wonderful on its own or with some ginger and lemon and a healthy sweetener of your choice such as Yacon Syrup. The second way I like to use Holy Basil is to add a concentrated dual extracted supercritical, hydro-ethanolic powder to my water bottle, coconut water, beverages, smoothies and recipes.  This is the ideal way to reap the full therapeutic benefits of this herb as both the water soluble and fat soluble components of the herb are represented in higher concentrations.

In traditional Ayurveda, the interaction with the herb in terms of taste is of critical importance.  This is discussed in many classical Ayurvedic texts. The herb’s taste profile and energetics is immediately recognized by the tongue and the true essence of the herb is experienced.  Science has shown that there is in fact an important taste receptor, neural connection that undoubtedly plays a role that is far more complex than what we currently have understanding of.  

We should certainly take a cue from the reverence that is expressed towards Holy Basil in India and add this sacred herb to our daily life.  Not only are the health benefits extraordinary, but you will feel its magic from the very first sip.

Renita Rietz is a health and nutrition writer and speaker who educates on the phytotherapeutic potential of indigenous foods and plants for prevention and regeneration.   renitarietz@gmail.com


Categories: Natural Remedies