Does Holy Basil Promote Non-Toxic Living—Plus, What Are Adaptogens?
Holy basil, as its name suggests, is a sacred plant in Indian traditional medicine, otherwise known as Ayurveda. Commonly used as an herbal remedy for infection, stress, and blood sugar, holy basil offers a wide range of medicinal, culinary, and spiritual benefits.
Followers of Hinduism refer to holy basil as tulsi, which translates to “the incomparable one.”
Ancient texts1 dating back thousands of years hold tulsi in high regard, hailing it as the queen of all herbs.2 This has paved the way for clinical studies, some of which are beginning to validate the superior value of incorporating herbal formulas with holy basil into the modern lifestyle.3
In today’s commercial-driven ecosystem, the pull towards constant productivity and convenience puts added stress on our already overstressed bodies. It’s no wonder why so many of us feel depleted after a day on autopilot. Rise, eat, work, rest, and repeat—this is the Monday through Friday pattern for many Americans.
On top of never-ending work, family, and social responsibilities, it’s up to us to navigate the imperfect healthcare system and be mindful of environmental toxins.
Studies are now starting to recognize how easy it can be to feel paranoid about the thousands of potentially toxic chemicals lurking in the air, water, and food supply, in addition to those found in household items, cosmetics, and cleaning products.4
So while it may be difficult to live 100% stress-free, it is possible to have some control when you use medicinal herbs, like holy basil. This article will explain the origins, benefits, and side effects of tulsi, plus what herbal medicine can do to protect you from psychological and environmental stressors.
Same Family, Different Basil
Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) belongs to the Lamiaceae family, which boasts thousands of different mint species. Although they’re classified under the same genus, holy basil is not the same as sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), the herb commonly associated with Italian cuisine.
Each herb has a distinguishing taste profile. Sweet basil, with its plump, rounded leaves, emits a minty, peppery flavor. Holy basil has serrated, hairy leaves that taste like cloves, peppermint, or licorice with hints of lemon.
The taste subtleties depend on the individual taster, though, owing to the familial likeness of Lamiaceae basil varieties.
Origins of Adaptogenic Holy Basil
Tulsi originally comes from tropical regions in North-Central India. Today, it’s found all over the world in the eastern tropics.
Tulsi cultivation provides a viable source of income for hundreds of farmers in the Chamoli district, a hilly area where tulsi farming succeeds because it’s less water-intensive and less prone to pests compared to other crops.5
One of the most well-known aspects of holy basil is its adaptogenic abilities. In Ayurveda, adaptogens help the body resist stress, ultimately restoring organ systems to their natural state of homeostasis.
Although Western medicine doesn’t always follow Ayurvedic wisdom, clinical evidence has started to come around to the concept of adaptogens for mind and body resilience.6
The medicinal benefits of holy basil are attributed to its high eugenol, ursolic acid, and terpene content. Because it has dozens of uses, the information below has been summarized and organized based on the effect and location of holy basil’s therapeutic action:
- Metabolism: In a 2017 review of studies7 in humans, multiple findings indicate that 250 mg to 300 mg of tulsi extract improves blood sugar after eight to twelve weeks of use. For people managing metabolic syndrome (prediabetic symptoms), daily herbal preparations with holy basil may reduce the risk of high cholesterol and inflammatory-induced obesity, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
- Mental health: Another clinical study8 reported that participants showed significant improvements in stress and anxiety levels after taking three 400 mg doses of holy basil capsule a day compared to the placebo group. Stress is associated with a multitude of symptoms that can affect sleep, concentration, libido, and mood. As an adaptogen, holy basil may be able to address all of these stress-related issues.
- Skin and mouth: There are many reported uses of holy basil for bug bites, ringworm, acne, and mouth ulcers.9
- Respiratory conditions: The same 2017 review of studies from above suggests that tulsi infusions may improve lung inflammation associated with asthma, bronchitis, and pleurisy.
- Cancer: Based on animal studies10, tulsi may protect the body against the harmful effects of radiation. As a radio-protective agent, it’s also been suggested that tulsi enables the body to eliminate toxic compounds from pesticides, heavy metals, and certain pharmaceuticals.11 From an ecological perspective, tulsi may reduce cellular damage and tumor growth as a result of environmental toxins.
Dosage and Side Effects
Based on clinical evidence, it’s safe to take 300 mg to 1,200 mg of holy basil a day, before or after meals. Only one of the clinical trials analyzed in the 2017 review of studies found that holy basil could cause mild nausea, but apart from that, the side effect profile appears to be minimal, even nonexistent.
That said, certain people may want to take precautions. There isn’t enough research to say for sure if it’s safe for children or during and after pregnancy. Studies haven’t looked at the long-term safety of holy basil, so it’s always a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider.
Recipes and Supplements
The most accessible way to supplement with holy basil is to buy pre-formulated blends. This includes teas, capsules, or juices. People with a green thumb can also pick up seed packs to grow holy basil at home.
If you’re interested in a polyherbal Ayurvedic blend, Dream+ has 1,200 mg of holy basil in addition to lemon balm, amla, and hemp. This is a fantastic supplement to prepare before bed, especially if you can’t shake stress and anxiety.
Holy basil is an adaptogen with the potential to ward off some of the damaging effects of psychological and environmental toxins.
It would be unrealistic to say that one herb can undo the harm of constant stress and exposure to various chemicals, but on a smaller scale, using adaptogens like holy basil certainly promotes mindful living.
You can follow the principles of Ayurveda by intentionally using plant medicine in a way that suits your health needs. Rather than favoring one medical system over the other, an integrated and holistic approach to stress, sleep, and diet may have more of a meaningful impact on your lifestyle.