Holy basil, or tulsi, plays an important role in Ayurveda. This sattvic plant has many uses, from physical to spiritual. Ayurvedic practitioners Dr. Lad and Dr. Frawley (2001) aptly summarize holy basil’s honored place in Ayurveda:
“Next to the lotus, basil is perhaps the most sacred plant of India. Its quality is pure sattva. Basil opens the heart and mind, bestowing the energy of love and devotion.” (1)
As if that that isn’t enough, read on to learn more about holy basil!
Holy Basil Leaf Health Benefits
Holy basil leaf has been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years to promote wellbeing and longevity. In addition, it is used to address a variety of health imbalances. Here are just a few of the reasons why this plant is so powerful.
Holy Basil Leaf for Anxiety
Researchers who have studied the effects of holy basil leaf on anxiety have consistently found that it is genuinely helpful. This is partially because holy basil leaf is an adaptogen. An adaptogen is a botanical that improves your body’s ability to handle and resist the effects of stress. Adaptogens work to balance out cortisol and support your adrenals.
Beyond helping with mental stressors, adaptogens are also beneficial when it comes to easing physical stress. When you’re exposed to extreme demands or otherwise stressful conditions, your body is forced to respond. Adaptogens boost strength and endurance and help balance your body chemistry so that you can better endure physical stress.
Holy basil leaf does more than soothe anxiety and jangled nerves. Anxiety and stress, especially when chronic, can precipitate a host of other health issues. Reducing stress and anxiety can truly address the root cause of many health imbalances. And when you are less stressed, your overall vitality and wellbeing will get a big boost over time!
Specifically, studies have shown that holy basil leaf when administered for anxiety can improve memory, correct sexual dysfunction, improve sleep, and reduce fatigue. Additionally, studies have shown that holy basil leaf has an antidepressant effect similar to that of major medications.
In Ayurveda, holy basil is used for asthma, cough, colds, sinus congestion, bronchitis, headaches, stress, sore throat, skin issues, and heart disorders (2). This is by no means an exhaustive list! Holy basil is a versatile plant ally indeed. These are just some of the many holy basil leaf uses in Ayurveda.
Respiratory and Heart Support
As mentioned above, holy basil is used for both respiratory ailments and to support heart health. In fact, Ayurvedic practitioner and author Vishnu Dass (2013) mentions that holy basil can be used to release grief and sadness lodged in the pericardium and lungs (2).
Furthermore, holy basil is helpful for clearing excess phlegm from the respiratory tract. And, it can serve as a vasodilator and heart tonic (2).
Holy basil is often used for its herbal properties, and is equally revered for its spiritual significance.
Tulsi tea (holy basil tea) is often called “liquid yoga” because of its ability to calm and harmonize the body, mind, and spirit. Tulsi/holy basil is also honored as a sacred plant in Hinduism. Hence, one of its nicknames, “incomparable one.”
Essential Facts about Holy Basil Leaf
- Botanical: Ocimum tenuiflorum
- Sanskrit & Hindi: Tulsi is derived from a Sanskrit word, which means “matchless one”
- English: Indian Basil, Holy Basil
- Other: The Incomparable One, Mother Medicine of Nature, and Liquid Yoga
- Rasa (taste): Pungent, bitter
- Guna (qualities): Light, dry, piercing
- Virya (action): Warming
- Vipaka (post-digestive effects): Pungent
- Dosha (constitution): Pacifies Vata and Kapha
Look for holy basil in warm and tropical areas; it grows up to 1800 meters above sea level. Holy basil is a sacred plant in India. Also, many people of Hindu faith grow tulsi as a religious plant in their homes, temples and farms.
Holy basil is an aromatic perennial that grows up to 30-60 cm. The leaves of the plant are simple and grow opposite in green or purple colors along hairy stems. The flowers are small with a purple to reddish color and grow in small clusters.
Leaves, roots, and seeds.
Tulsi is rich in various phytochemicals, including phenolic compounds and flavonoids. Furthermore, it also contains vitamin C, carotene and minerals like calcium, phosphorus, copper, chromium, zinc, iron, nickel and insoluble oxalate.
Holy Basil in Ayurveda: Usage and Dosage
Holy basil leaf isn’t the type of herb that you take when you’re experiencing a sudden bout of anxiety or stress. Studies indicate it tends to be more effective when taken on a regular basis daily. Additionally, you may need to adjust your dosage several times before finding the sweet spot. Depending on your sensitivity, you may not experience results immediately. However, researchers have found that people who take holy basil leaf every day typically notice improvements over time.
Ayurvedic practitioners and herbalists alike often recommend holy basil leaf tea. It is quite tasty! Plus, you can jazz it up and make tulsi chai, tulsi-ginger tea, tulsi-rose tea, or a number of other delish combinations! Tea is one of the most convenient, efficient, and tasty ways to enjoy holy basil’s calming, clearing effects. You can even add milk and a bit of honey for a real treat.
In addition, consider consuming Chyawanprash to get your daily dose of holy basil. Chyawanprash is a revered Ayurvedic remedy that boosts overall health and wellness. Its ingredients include a wealth of benefical botanicals, as well as spices, ghee, honey, and sesame oil.
Calm Mind, Cool Nerves, Strong Heart
If you are looking for a tasty herbal tea that can help clear your mind, and support your lungs, nerves, and heart, holy basil might just be your new best plant friend! Consider holy basil tea for calming jitters, soothing colds, and helping you through stressful situations.
(1) Lad, V. & Frawley, D. (2001). The yoga of herbs. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
(2) Dass, V. (2013). Ayurvedic herbology: A practical guide to Ayurvedic herbal medicine. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
Reviewed by Dr. Jayant Lokhande, MD (Botanical Drugs), MBA (Biotechnology)