Holy Basil: Sacred Versatility
By Allen Studzinski, NOW Quality Assurance, September 23, 2004
Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum), also called Indian Basil or Sacred Basil, is known as Tulsi in Sanskrit, which means “the incomparable one”. As an important symbol in Hindu religious traditions it is worshiped and used in various religious rituals. The tradition of Ayurvedic Medicine recognizes the tremendous medicinal significance of Holy Basil, where it is considered an elixir that is healing to mind, body, and spirit. Ayurvedic medicine sees Holy Basil as an herb with bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes used as a major respiratory support herb that helps to mobilize mucus with colds, flu, and other respiratory ailments. It is also traditionally used to bring down fever, for earaches, digestive disorders such as bloating or colic, ringworm, malaria, and even as a mosquito repellant.
Modern research finds Holy Basil to have potent therapeutic potential for peptic ulcer sufferers due to its anti-ulcerogenic and ulcer healing properties.1 Through its various neurotransmitter-modulating effects it may have analgesic properties2 as well as anti-stress effects. Stress related changes in levels of hormones such as cortisol and the corticosteroids are generating interest due their negative impact on everything from weight management, to healing, and memory. Studies show Holy Basil to have anti-stressor properties and a normalizing influence on stress induced changes in these problematic corticosteroid hormone levels.3
Holy Basil supports healthy carbohydrate metabolism as well as healthy blood sugar levels.4 Studies suggest diabetics may benefit from Holy Basil’s blood sugar lowering properties and one study also showed cholesterol-lowering effects.5 Laboratory studies looking at sugar metabolism in the eye suggest Holy Basil may positively influence cataract formation.6
Antioxidants are believed to be key ingredients for health and longevity and Holy Basil contains a variety of components with free radical neutralizing and antioxidant activity.7,8 Many of the potential benefits attributable to Holy basil are believed to be due to it containing a component called Ursolic acid. Many studies have been performed showing ursolic acid’s protective qualities on nerve, liver, and skin tissues as well as immune modulatory effects. Holy Basil seems to offer significant protection against cancer and cancer causing substances.9 Lastly, Holy Basil derivatives have been shown to inhibit the inflammatory COX-2 and LOX enzyme systems.10 Sufferers of arthritis and inflammatory diseases usually are given side effect ridden prescription drugs to inhibit these very same enzymes.
Precautions: Holy Basil is a very safe herb with thousands of years of historical use. Ayurveda cautions its use in individuals with overly heated conditions and some studies suggest an anti-fertility potential so those looking to conceive may wish to not overdo Holy Basil.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
1 J Ethnopharmacol. 2004 Aug;93(2-3):197-206
2 J Ethnopharmacol. 2003 Oct;88(2-3):293-6
3 Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 1997 Apr;41(2):139-43
4 J Ethnopharmacol. 2004 Jan;90(1):155-60
5 Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther. 1996 Sep;34(9):406-9
6 J Ethnopharmacol. 2003 May;86(1):113-6
7 Biochem Int. 1991 Jul;24(5):981-90
8 Biochem Int. 1992 Dec;28(4):735-44
9 Indian J Exp Biol. 1990 Nov;28(11):1008-11
10 J Ethnopharmacol. 1996 Oct;54(1):19-26