Talking about holy basil benefits, you could not have grown up in an Asian household without your grandma offering you juice made from leaves of holy basil every time you came down with a cough and cold or fought a blocked nasal cavity. As a form of expressing gratitude, the holy basil is addressed as Mother Tulsi in the Indian subcontinent, for its many blessings for humankind. Holy basil or Ocimum teniuflorum or Tulsi holds a pride of place in Ayurvedic pharmacopeia for its ability to heal physical illnesses; remove mental afflictions; remove stress as a powerful adaptogen; detoxify the body; enrich any cuisine it is added to; and purify the soul, according to the orientalists.
An aromatic herb that has been in use for thousands of years for healing respiratory, digestive, and mental ailments related to Vata and Kapha imbalance, has more recently caught the fancy of researchers, who are now studying the wide-ranging uses of holy basil for health, wellness, and cosmetic purposes. Let us see what top research studies are saying about the prolific benefits of tulsi or holy basil.
This bitter-tasting member of the mint family originally grew in Southeast Asia and combines within it qualities of an excellent culinary herb, medicinal properties for various ailments, and a sweet heady aroma.
According to Ayurveda, tulsi balances Kapha (earth and water element) and vata dosha (air and ether elements), by drying out excess Kapha and penetrating deeply into tissues. Consuming tulsi daily helps you live longer and healthier, brightens your skin tone, is said to give mental peace, and helps you fight with a range of physical and mental conditions such as anxiety, health conditions, digestive problems, eye problems, bronchitis, rheumatism, backache, skin diseases, insect bites, nausea, bloating and cough, wounds, and inflammation, among others.
Holy basil benefit: A powerful adaptogen
Not just physical and mental, but Tulasi is also said to counter metabolic and even chemical stress that our body undergoes due to exposure to industrial pollutants and toxic chemicals, some of which can cause severe endocrine disruptions.
Metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes ails almost one-third of the world population, with the growing threat of obesity, cholesterol elevation, hypertension, and high glucose levels. Tulsi fights metabolic stress by helping in regularizing blood sugar levels, lipids and blood pressure.
The latest research shows, tulasi also lowers physical stress in chronic variable stress settings, by inhibiting the release of stress hormone (cortisol.) Animal studies also showed this basil variety has potential in healing stress-induced anxiety and depression. It has a positive effect on one’s memory and cognitive function. Studies have also shown, tulsi increases physical endurance in high-stress settings and increases resistance against stress induced by loud sounds. Research also found the antidepressant and anxiety lowering effect of tulsi was comparable to that diazepam and just about 500mg of tulsi leaf extract lowered stress, anxiety, and depression.
Holy basil benefit: It has ursolic acid, a favorite with the cosmetics industry
A key compound present in tulsi is the triterpenoid ursolic acid, which has recently been used widely in the cosmetic industry for its skin healing, anti-aging and cleansing benefits. Importantly, it is said to have anti-tumor properties as it ‘suppresses protein C activity, down-regulates MMP-9 and induces apoptosis (helps with cancer cells.)’ Research shows, ursolic acid also helps protect the liver, reduces inflammations, reduces ulcers, is anti-microbial and antiviral, and regulates lipid levels.
Holy basil benefit: It has powerful antioxidants
Studies confirm that Tulasi comes loaded with plenty of important antioxidants and polyphenols like rosmarinic acid, a powerful antioxidant that protects cells from oxidation, damage done by free radicals. It also has carvacrol that has antiviral, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties that make tulsi useful in fighting flu, cold, acne, urinary tract infections, diarrhea, bacteremia, arthritic pain, and inflammations like cholangitis (swelling in the bile duct), and Cholecystitis (inflamed gallbladder.) B-caryophyllene, naturally present in Tulsi, is an FDA-approved additive for foods and is a powerful antimicrobial and antibacterial compound.
Tulasi also has eugenol, which is a key anti-inflammatory compound present in the herb that also helps control blood sugar levels. Studies have shown the eugenol present in the tulsi plant to have myriad healing dispositions like reducing oxidative stress; reducing inflammation; fighting hyperglycemia; reducing elevated cholesterol levels, and neural disorders. It is also a strong antimicrobial agent.
Great for gut health
Tulasi is known for its carminative property that is it reduces flatulence. Its strong antibacterial and antimicrobial phytochemicals help fight harmful bacterial strains that cause diarrhea, dysentery, and other stomach infections. One of the lesser-known holy basil benefits is, it also facilitates the removal of toxins from the body by activating liver detoxification enzymes such as cytochrome P450. Tulsi-infused teas along with ginger are usually known to help improve digestion and regulate appetite. Holy basil has plenty of phenolic compounds that have antiulcer properties, which strengthens gut health by reducing stomach acid; increasing the number and longevity of mucus cells, and supporting mucus secretion for aiding digestion. Animal studies showed, 200mg of tulsi extract can reduce the number of gastric and duodenal ulcers in most animals.
Holy basil benefits: Helps detoxify the body, skin and mind
Thanks to the presence of high phenolic compounds and antioxidants, one of the greatest holy basil benefits is its ability to protect the body against various pathogens and toxins that can potentially enter the body. Tulasi is said to protect the body from toxic chemicals by pumping up antioxidants like glutathione and increasing the antioxidant activity of enzymes such as superoxide dismutase and catalase, to clear off and neutralize free radicals. Like we discussed earlier, tulsi supports the body’s natural detoxification function by supporting the liver function, as the liver processes and metabolizes all the chemicals that enter our body. The free-radical scavenging also helps reduce aging of the skin, helps maintain texture and elasticity of the skin.
Stronger immune system
Our immune system is complex and protects the body from the invasion of foreign pathogens in numerous ways. But the immune system can get compromised from exposure to stressors, erroneous lifestyle, chronic stress, and accumulation of toxins or ama.
But several studies have now attested to the immune-boosting properties present in tulasi, as one of the most powerful holy basil benefits. Five clinical studies showed the use of tulsi increased immune response with a higher natural killer and T-helper cells count, after participants took 300 mg of tulsi extract before food, for four weeks. T-helper cells (white blood cells) support the activation of other immune system cells.
In another study, young adult subjects were given tulsi-fortified nutrition bars. The participants reported improved utilization of oxygen reflected in higher VO2 max tests; lower fatigue and better immune response to specific viral infections. Yet another study reported a better survival rate in patients with acute viral encephalitis, who were administered 10g of extract of tulsi leaves daily.
Supports the respiratory function
Another of the holy basil benefits mentioned in Ayurveda is that Tulsi balances Kapha by drying out excess body fluids. For example, it helps mobilize and liquefy the phlegm and mucus in cases of allergic bronchitis, asthma, or other lung diseases. In a particular study, consumption of holy basil in 20 asthma patients showed improvement in lung vital capacity and relief in labored breathing. Just chewing tulsi leaves or drinking a few drops of tulsi extract helps relieve cold and flu due to its antiviral and antibacterial action.
Holy basil benefits are enhanced if you take it as a decoction with honey and ginger which can help with multiple respiratory disorders including asthma, bronchitis, flu, cough, and cold.
Protects the kidneys
Animal studies have also shown, one of the holy basil benefits also is that it has nephroprotective properties that help reduce nephrotoxicity, which is kidney dysfunction owing to increased toxins in the body brought in by chemicals and medications. Due to its antioxidant activities, basil extracts were able to prove their protective role in the body in dealing with biochemical changes induced by chemical toxins in protecting kidney function.