Holy Basil: The Queen of Herbs

Posted by Emily van Oosterom on

If there's a herb that deserves the title of "queen", it's Holy Basil. Also known as Tulsi, this aromatic plant is a mainstay in Ayurvedic medicine and a cherished part of cultural and religious traditions in India. It is revered as an elixir of life for both its healing and spiritual properties.

Historical and Traditional Uses

Holy Basil has been an integral part of traditional Indian medicine for over 3000 years. It was described in the ancient Charaka Samhita, one of the oldest texts on Ayurveda, as an "elixir of life" and was recommended for promoting longevity.

The plant was traditionally used for a variety of ailments. Its leaves, seeds, and stems were used to treat fevers, bronchitis, asthma, and other respiratory disorders. It was also used for digestive issues, skin diseases, eye disorders, and even snake and insect bites.

Modern Research and Uses

Today, Holy Basil continues to be a popular adaptogenic herb. Research shows that it may help the body cope with stress and promote mental balance, thanks to its unique range of bioactive compounds.

Two of the most important compounds in Holy Basil are eugenol and ursolic acid. Eugenol has been shown to act as a powerful antioxidant, scavenging free radicals and protecting the body from oxidative stress. It also has analgesic properties, which may explain Holy Basil's traditional use for relieving pain.

Ursolic acid is believed to influence several signaling pathways involved in inflammation and immune response. It has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties. It's also been shown to inhibit the COX-2 enzyme, a key player in inflammation, similar to how nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work.

Holy Basil's adaptogenic properties are believed to stem from its ability to regulate cortisol levels. High cortisol levels are associated with chronic stress, and by helping to balance this hormone, Holy Basil may aid in stress management.

Another crucial benefit of Holy Basil is its potential impact on mental health. Some studies suggest that it may have anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effects, possibly due to its interaction with the neurotransmitter system.

Cautions and Considerations

As with any herb, Holy Basil should be used mindfully. It's generally safe for most people, but it does have some potential side effects and interactions. For instance, because of its potential blood-thinning properties, it's advised that those undergoing surgery or those on anticoagulant medications use caution.

Pregnant women should also exercise caution. While Holy Basil has been traditionally used to promote lactation, scientific evidence on its safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding is limited. As always, it's best to consult with a healthcare provider before using Holy Basil or any other herbal supplement or remedy.

Cultivation and Harvesting

Holy Basil thrives in full sun and prefers rich, well-drained soil. It's often grown from seeds sown in the spring after the threat of frost has passed. Regular watering and occasional feeding with an organic fertiliser will keep the plants healthy.

As for harvesting, it can be done as soon as the plant is about a foot tall. The leaves are typically harvested in the morning when the oil content is at its peak. To promote bushier growth and more leaves, pinch off the flowering tops as they appear.

Including Holy Basil in Your Routine

Holy Basil can be used in a number of ways. Its leaves can be brewed into a soothing tea or used fresh in salads. In supplement form, it's often found in capsules, tinctures, or as an essential oil. As always, it's important to choose high-quality products from reputable sources.

Recipes with Holy Basil

One simple way to enjoy Holy Basil is by making a tea. Here's a quick recipe:

Holy Basil Tea


  • 1-2 teaspoons of fresh or dried Holy Basil leaves
  • 1 cup of boiling water
  • Honey or lemon to taste (optional)



  1. Place the Holy Basil leaves in a teacup.
  2. Pour the boiling water over the leaves, cover, and let steep for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Strain the leaves from the tea. Add honey or lemon if desired, and enjoy!


For a more refreshing twist, you can also make a Holy Basil lemonade:

Holy Basil Lemonade


  • A handful of fresh Holy Basil leaves
  • 1 cup of lemon juice
  • 4 cups of cold water
  • Honey or sweetener of choice to taste



  1. Muddle the Holy Basil leaves in a pitcher to release their oils.
  2. Add the lemon juice, water, and sweetener to the pitcher. Stir until well combined.
  3. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. Enjoy this refreshing drink on a hot day!




  1. Cohen, M. M. (2014). Tulsi - Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, 5(4), 251–259.
  2. Jamshidi, N., & Cohen, M. M. (2017). The Clinical Efficacy and Safety of Tulsi in Humans: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2017.
  3. Pattanayak, P., Behera, P., Das, D., & Panda, S. K. (2010). Ocimum sanctum Linn. A reservoir plant for therapeutic applications: An overview. Pharmacognosy Reviews, 4(7), 95–105.
  4. Baliga, M. S., Jimmy, R., Thilakchand, K. R., Sunitha, V., Bhat, N. R., Saldanha, E., ... & Palatty, P. L. (2013). Ocimum sanctum L (Holy Basil or Tulsi) and its phytochemicals in the prevention and treatment of cancer. Nutrition and Cancer

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