Holy Basil Ocimum Sanctum

old message Holy Basil Ocimum Sanctum - Traditional Use Darrell Miller 08/31/06

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Date: August 31, 2006 04:07 PM
Subject: Holy Basil Ocimum Sanctum - Traditional Use

Traditional Use

While largely unknown in the United States, Holy Basil (Ocimum Sanctum) is one of the most widely used and highly revered herbs of Ayurvedic herbalism in India, where it is predominantly used to reduce stress, promote general health and vitality, and support a peaceful state of mental health.

Like other basils, Holy Basil is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae). In India it is known as Tulsi. In actuality, there are three different types of tulsi: two varieties of Ocimum sanctum, and another species of basil, Ocimum grandiflorum. Planetary Herbals uses the most highly regarded species, Ocimum sanctum.

Historically, Holy Basil has been highly revered for its ability to calm the spirit and it is a central accoutrement in many religious ceremonies, much in the way that other botanicals, such as myrrh gum, are used in other religions. It is so highly regarded that in some parts of India the Holy Basil harvest season is considered as a ceremonial holiday.

Modern Research

Like other basils, Holy Basil is rich in essential oils. Modern research has reported that these possess marked antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activity, at least partially due to the essential oil eugenol. Holy basil also contains ursolic acid and a host of flavonoids such as apigenin, polyphenols, and anthocyanins (Juliani and Simon 2002) which elicit powerful free-radical squelching activity, possibly supporting the traditional use of this botanical as a longevity and general health-promoting tonic. There are numerous studies demonstrating Adaptogenic and anti-stress activity. It is this latter use that has stimulated widespread interest in the botanical since it was introduced in the popular magazine Women’s World.

Adaptogenic Activity

Adaptogens are a key class of botanical compounds that elicit a general tonifying effect on the body, generally enhancing one’s resistance against physical and psychological stressors. The most noted adaptogens in modern times are the various species of ginseng—American and Asian—as well as Siberian eleuthero. The mechanisms by which adaptogens work remain elusive but they are thought to act through a mechanism that modulates the pituitary-adrenals and hypothalamus. Simply stated, adaptogens increase the ability of an organism (e.g. humans) to adapt to environmental stresses and changes and minimize damage from the stresses (Panossian and Wagner 2005).

Holy Basil As An Adaptogen

Adaptogens are ideal as part of a preventive health program since they protect against many of the stress induced challenges of modern life, such as pollution, noise, hectic pace of life, and environmental chemicals. Numerous studies have demonstrated that Holy Basil has marked Adaptogenic activity. In one study, an ethanol extract was shown to decrease stress-induced reductions in acetylcholine content and acetylcholinesterase activity, thus reducing the negative effects that noise pollution has on physiology (Sembulingam et al. 2005). In another study, Holy Basil was shown to decrease cortisol production. Cortisol is produced from the adrenal cortex in response to stress. It increases blood pressure and blood sugar levels and also has a suppressive effect on the immune system. Today, cortisol is widely being considered as a major contributor to a large number of disease conditions. In reducing cortisol production, Holy Basil was specifically shown to lower blood sugar and act as an antioxidant (Gholap and Kar 2004). Blood sugar-lowering effects were also reported in humans (Agrawal et al 1996). Numerous other activities have been reported such as immune-supporting, increased endurance, protections against radiation, improved cognitive function, and increases in glutathione, the body’s primary antioxidant defense system.


Holy Basil is undoubtedly one of the most highly regarded botanicals in the Ayurvedic herbal system of India. Its broad-spectrum activity as an all-around general health promoting botanical suggests it is worthy of greater respect in the west as well. It can be taken as tablet, capsule, or delicious tea. A wide range of dosages are reported to elicit beneficial effects and typically range from approximately 900mg – 1500mg.


Agrawal P, Rai V, Singh RB, 1996. randomized placebo-controlled, single blind trial of holy basil leaves in patients with noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Int. J Clin Pharmacol Ther 34(9):406-409.

Gholap S, Kar A. 2004. hypoglycaemic effects of some plant extracts are possibly mediated through inhibition in corticosteroid concentration. Pharmazie 59(11): 876-878.

Juliani HR, Simon JE, 2002. Antioxidant activity of basil. In trends in new crops and new uses. (Janick & Whipkey eds.); ASHS Press, Alexandrea, VA.

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