Holy basil, which is also known as tulsi or tulasi, and has the generic name ocimum tenuiflorum, is a traditional medicine often consumed as an herbal tea. It has a long history of use in traditional Indian medicine and also plays a key role in the Hindu religion.
Health Benefits of Tulsi
Not to be confused with the Italian herb basil (although they are both in the same family), tulasi has been used in Ayurveda medical practices for hundreds of years and is said to possess a number of health benefits. Just like the Ayurveda medicine ashwagandha, many of those benefits have actually been backed by modern science, including:
1. It Could Reduce Your Cancer Risk
Tulsi contains a number of antioxidants, which are compounds thought to inhibit free radical activity and reduce the risk of chronic disease. You’ll find these compounds in all plant-based foods, and while they are available in synthetic form (with vitamin C being the most common supplemented antioxidant), recent research suggests that antioxidant supplementation simply doesn’t provide the same health benefits as consuming the compounds naturally, and may even have a negative effect. (1)
This is bad news for anyone looking for a quick fix in the form of a tablet, but it’s good news for anyone who consumes a diet rich in plant-based foods. As discussed later in this guide, a number of antioxidant compounds in holy basil have been shown to have a direct effect on tumour growth. This doesn’t mean that it can in any way cure or prevent cancer, and there have been no conclusive human studies hinting at that, but there is wealth of evidence out there to suggest that regular consumption of herbs like this can lower your risk.
2. It Can Reduce Inflammation
The antioxidant compounds in tulsi can also help reduce inflammation. In fact, chronic inflammation is the route of many known diseases and disorders, and it’s believed that by reducing this inflammation, you can reduce your risk of developing chronic disease.
It could also help reduce inflammation associated with arthritis, inflammatory bowel disorders, and other common issues. It’s not a painkiller as such and will not eradicate pain like a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, but depending on the source of that pain, it may help alleviate the issue.
3. It Can Ease Digestive Issues
A number of herbal teas, including the menthol-rich peppermint tea, will make symptoms of acid reflux worse, but tulsi is one that could actually make it better as it may reduce the levels of acid in your stomach, which in turn could stop that acid from overflowing. Of course, many cases of chronic reflux (known as GERD) result from leaky valves and other chronic conditions and this is not going to cure these, but it could provide some relief.
There have also been a number of studies looking at its effects on ulcers, with some animal studies showing that it possesses similar properties to the miraculous mastic in that it can inhibit the growth and spread of stomach ulcers.
4. It May Help Reduce Cholesterol
A lot of the compounds found within tulsi have been shown to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad cholesterol”) in both human and animal studies. Of course, we know that a diet rich in plant foods will reduce levels of bad cholesterol and, in turn, reduce the risk of heart disease, but these studies suggest that there is a more immediate effect where tulsi is concerned, and this is very promising for anyone on the verge of high cholesterol.
It’s not a replacement for prescription drugs and may not work for everyone, but it’s something that could provide some additional support as a complementary medicine under guidance from your doctor.
What Does Tulsi Contain?
So, what is it that makes this plant so healthy? Well, like all healthy herbs, it contains a number of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. Many of these can be found in varying degrees in other plants, including:
- Rosmarinic Acid: This is a potent antioxidant compound. It can be found in healthy herbs like marjoram and was isolated from rosemary, which is still one of the best sources of rosmarinic acid. It may be responsible for many of the purported health benefits of these herbs, and there is a lot of exciting research surrounding it.
- Oleanolic Acid: This compound can be found abundantly in nature and is one of the many health components of olive oil. It has been studied extensively for potential use as an anti-cancer drug, as it possesses some anti-tumour effects. It has also shown to possess some anti-HIV effects, albeit to a much lesser extent.
- Eugenol: An antiseptic and anaesthetic, eugenol has a number of uses in the food, cosmetics, and dental industry. It’s the main component of clove oil, which is used to numb dental pain, and is also added to mouthwash.
- Ursolic Acid: Another compound that can also be found in rosemary, ursolic acid is also present in oregano and lavender and has been studied for its potential as an anti-tumour drug.
As with all herbal teas, tulsi is generally very safe and well tolerated, but this is only true of “normal” amounts, and if you consume anything to excess, then you will increase the risk of developing an adverse reaction, such as nausea and sickness.
We recommend having a discussion with your doctor before using tulsi in medicinal doses. It’s also something you should avoid if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as there is simply not enough research out there to suggest that it is safe in such circumstances. This is true of most herbal teas, even red raspberry lea tea, which is predominantly consumed by pregnant women.
There have been concerns regarding the purity of supplements containing tulsi, as the supplement industry is simply not regulated as tightly as it should be, and when you consider that it is often extracted into highly concentrated doses, it means that any pollutants and contaminants from the soil, or from the production process, can also be extracted.
This is why it’s best to stick with reputable brands and products that can be traced from field to bottle. You can also simply avoid extracts altogether and purchase some pure dried organic tulsi leaf from a reputable tea or supplement company.
Tulsi in Religion
The herb tulsi is believed by Hindus to be a manifestation of the goddess of Lakshmi, who is the goddess of wealth and prosperity. It is ingrained in Hindu mythology and still plays a role in the religion to this day, where they worship it as the holiest of all plants and consider it to be a link between heaven and earth.
Reefs, garlands, and even jewellery are made using the tulsi plant as part of Hindu ceremonies, and the leaves themselves are also offered to the gods. It is said that the tulsi plant is so revered that even the soil around it is sacred, and it is considered taboo to destroy or in any way desecrate it.