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Holy Basil (Tulsi)

Holy Basil, Krishna (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
Holy Basil, Rama (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
Holy Basil, Vana (Ocimum gratissimum)


Common Names: Ajaka, Basilic Saint, Brinda, Green Holy Basil, Hot Basil, Indian Basil, Krishna Tulasi, Krishna Tulsi, Ocimum sanctum, Ocimum tenuiflorum, Rama Tulsi, Red Holy Basil, Sacred Basil, Sacred Purple Basil, Shyama Tulsi, Sri Tulasi, Suvasa Tulasi, Tulsi Patra.


Holy Basil, also known as Tulsi, is one of several annual basils that are native to Asia, with Krishna, Rama and Vana Tulsi being the three varieties regarded as tea basils. Like their botanical cousin, sweet basil, all of these varieties are members of the mint family. Tulsi Rama is the variety of holy basil first introduced to the U.S. and is the species most commonly found in cultivation in North America.


Tulsi has great significance in the Hindu religion and in Ayurveda, India's traditional system of healing. Ayurvedic texts describe Tulsi as sacred, even including the soil in which it grows. The herb is said to be the reincarnation of the Goddess Mahalakshmi, born in plant form as Vrinda, the Mother Medicine of Nature. The plant's common name, adapted from the Sanskrit word "Tulasi," translates to mean "the incomparable one." Tulsi is also referred to as "sacred fragrant lipped basil," the “Queen of Herbs” and "Elixer of Life." In India, holy basil is given a place of prominence in the garden and home altar.


In Ayurvedic medicine, Tusli is classified as a "Rasyana" that ensures good health and longevity, and as an adaptogen that helps the body maintain balance during times of stress. Although old texts describe the medicinal use of the leaves, stems and seeds, the fresh and dried leaf is the part most commonly harvested. Tulsi leaf has a spicy yet mint-like scent that has been described as a cross between licorice and cloves. Prepared as tea, Tulsi yields a mild, refreshing yet bright citrusy flavor. In cooking, Tulsi is added to soups and stir-fry or mixed with ghee. The powdered herb may be encapsulated. Holy basil is also tinctured and used topically to treat various skin conditions, including ring worm.


The antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties of holy basil have been the subject of numerous studies since the 1970s. Traditionally, holy basil is used to boost immunity as well as to address symptoms associated with cold and flu, bronchitis and asthma. There is some evidence to suggest that the herb may help to reduce serum glucose levels in people with Type II diabetes. Other studies indicate that Tulsi may have future application in the prevention and treatment of high blood pressure and heart disease.


A review published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer in 2013 examines the potential for holy basil as a therapeutic agent in the treatment of cancer. Specifically, the authors state that, "Preclinical studies have also shown that Tulsi and some of its phytochemicals eugenol, rosmarinic acid, apigenin, myretenal, luteolin, β-sitosterol, and carnosic acid prevented chemical-induced skin, liver, oral, and lung cancers and to mediate these effects by increasing the antioxidant activity, altering the gene expressions, inducing apoptosis, and inhibiting angiogenesis and metastasis. The aqueous extract of Tulsi and its flavanoids, orintin, and vicenin are shown to protect mice against γ-radiation-induced sickness and mortality and to selectively protect the normal tissues against the tumoricidal effects of radiation. The other important phytochemicals like eugenol, rosmarinic acid, apigenin, and carnosic acid are also shown to prevent radiation-induced DNA damage."


Another review published in the December 12, 2013 issue of Inflammation and Allergy Drug Targets discusses the hepatoprotective (liver-protecting) effects of the essential oils and extracts of Tulsi, of which the authors write, "could prevent oxidative stress [in the liver] by increasing glutathione peroxidae and catalase." The scientists also acknowledge the "anti-ulcer and anti-secretory characteristics" of holy basil as an herbal therapy to treat gastic ulcers.


The pharmacological effects of holy basil are primarily due to the presence of eugenol, carvacrol, ursolic acid, β-caryophyllene and rosmarinic acid.


Side Effects

This herb should not be used during pregnancy or while nursing, not should it be given to children. There is evidence that holy basil may produce anti-fertility effects. Consult your health care practitioner before using this herb if you have diabetes or heart disease. Note that this herb may increase the effects of pharmaceutical blood-thinning medications.



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Kar A, Choudhary BK, Bandyopadhyay NG. Comparative evaluation of hypoglycaemic activity of some Indian medicinal plants in alloxan diabetic rats. J Ethnopharmacol 2003;84:105-8.


Mediratta PK, Sharma KK, Singh S. Evaluation of immunomodulatory potential of Ocimum sanctum seed oil and its possible mechanism of action. J Ethnopharmacol 2002;80:15-20.


Muruganandam AV, Kumar V, Bhattacharya SK. Effect of poly herbal formulation, EuMil, on chronic stress-induced homeostatic perturbations in rats. Indian J Exp Biol 2002;40:1151-60.


Singh S, Rehan HM, Majumdar DK. Effect of Ocimum sanctum fixed oil on blood pressure, blood clotting time and pentobarbitone-induced sleeping time. J Ethnopharmacol 2001;78:139-43.


Baliga MS, Jimmy R, Thilakchand KR, et al. Ocimum sanctum L (Holy Basil or Tulsi) and its phytochemicals in the prevention and treatment of cancer. Nutr Cancer. 2013;65 Suppl 1:26-35.


Kamyab AA, Eshraghian A. Anti-Inflammatory, Gastrointestinal and Hepatoprotective Effects of Ocimum sanctum Linn: An Ancient Remedy with New Application. Inflamm Allergy Drug Targets. 2013 Dec;12(6):378-84.


Pattanayak P, Behera P, Das D, Panda SK. Ocimum sanctum Linn. A reservoir plant for therapeutic applications: An overview. Pharmacogn Rev. 2010 Jan;4(7):95-105.





"Every house, every village, every forest, wherever the plant of Tulsi is grown, there misery, fear, disease and poverty do not exist. Tulsi in all aspects and places is holier than holy...The three gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra reside in the roots, middle parts of the plant and in the flowering tops respectively. This is why the plant of Tulsi is the most holy plant of the earth."

-- Lord Shiva

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