What Is Holy Basil?
Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) is a plant native to Central America and Mexico. It grows up to 3 feet tall with white flowers. Its leaves are edible when cooked or eaten raw. The leaves have been used in religious ceremonies since ancient times, but its popularity increased after it was introduced into Europe during the 16th century.
The plant’s name comes from the Latin word “sacrum” which means “holy.” The term is also used to refer to other plants that resemble the leaves, such as olla, aloe vera and calendula. Some of these plants contain compounds similar to those found in holy basil.
However, they do not produce flowers or taste sweet like holy basil does. They are sometimes called “spiritual” herbs because their medicinal properties seem mystical rather than magical.
Some people believe that holy basil contains the same active ingredients as St. John’s Wort, a plant commonly known as “witch weed,” which is illegal in many states due to its psychoactive effects. Other sources say that holy basil may contain a chemical called salvinorin A, which is similar to LSD.
Salvia divinorum, another hallucinogenic herb, is often sold under the brand name “Salvia”. People are warned that salvinorin A may be dangerous for people with heart conditions and people have suffered heart attacks after using the herb.
Holy basil also contains essential oils such as beta-caryophyllene, which is an anti-inflammatory similar to those found in lavender oil. It is also high in antioxidants such as apigenin, luteolin and rosmarinic acid. The presence of these chemicals can help prevent cancer and lower blood pressure.
People have used holy basil as an antidote for several hundreds of years. It is believed to be a cure for at least 40 types of diseases and conditions, including the “common cold,” malaria, diarrhea and infectious wounds. Many people believe that the herb can provide relief from depression, anxiety, stress and fatigue.
Holy basil may cause seizures, especially in people who are susceptible to this condition. It should not be given to children or women who are pregnant or nursing.
How Is Holy Basil Used?
People take holy basil in capsule or tablet form. It is also available as an essential oil. The amount of holy basil to take depends on the condition being treated.
Most people drink one cup of holy basil tea every day to relieve symptoms of depression and fatigue. In addition, a small glass of holy basil tea before bedtime can enhance sleep quality.
The herb can be made into a paste with water or olive oil. The paste should be applied to the skin two times a day to reduce symptoms of an itchy, irritated rash (such as poison ivy).
Holy basil can be added to dishes such as curries, cereals or soups.
People who want to “get high” should not take holy basil because it has psychoactive effects and can produce hallucinations. These effects are similar to those caused by salvia divinorum (“Salvia”).
Does It Actually Work?
There is some evidence that holy basil may be useful in lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Other studies have found that it can help relieve anxiety and stress. There are not enough reliable studies to verify these claims.
If you suffer from a serious medical condition, stomach ulcers or serious psychological disorder, you should consult your physician before using holy basil as medicine.
Holy basil should not be used in place of traditional medicine, such as anti-depressants.
Where Can I Find It?
Most health food stores sell holy basil in the form of capsules. Some people grow their own plants at home.
You can make a cup of holy basil tea by steeping 1 tsp. of dried herb per 8 oz. cup of boiling water for 7-10 minutes.
Strain the herbs and add honey or lemon for flavor.
What Else Should I Know?
While some people are opposed to taking drugs for their condition, many others want the quick fix. Aspirin is an easy and traditional example of this. Many people want something that provides quick pain relief with few side effects (if any).
There has been a natural supplement craze over the last couple of decades as more people look for “all-natural” products. Holy basil fits into this niche quite well.
There are many negative reports about pharmaceutical medicine. Some people find that herbal medicine is a good compromise between “all-natural” and man-made drugs.
Holy basil may be able to help people with depression, anxiety, stress, sleeplessness and the common cold (among other conditions). Many people find it very helpful.
However, there have not been enough studies done on holy basil. It may be many years before we know enough about this herb to recommend it to patients.
Until then, holy basil should be used for pleasure or out of curiosity rather than for self-treatment of medical conditions.
In general, people should:
- Use caution when taking holy basil.
- Do not take it in large amounts or for a long time.
- Do not mix it with other drugs or alcohol.
- Talk to a trusted health care provider before taking it.
- Holy basil should not be used as a substitute for traditional medicine, such as birth control pills and antidepressants.
- People with the following conditions should not take holy basil:
- Pregnancy or breastfeeding
- A history of liver or kidney problems
- A history of heart disease
- A history of seizure or epilepsy
- A history of mental illness
- Personality disorders (such as borderline, schizoid or antisocial)
If you are considering taking holy basil, speak to your doctor first. They will help you decide if this is right for you and help you get the dosage right.
Holy basil may not be the miracle drug that some people think it is. It is still a relatively new product, so more studies need to be done on it. However, there is some evidence that it can help with certain medical conditions.
Sources & references used in this article:
Radioprotective, anticarcinogenic and antioxidant properties of the Indian holy basil, Ocimum sanctum (Tulasi) by PU Devi – 2001 – nopr.niscair.res.in
Chemical composition and antioxidant property of holy basil (Ocimum sanctum L.) leaves, stems, and inflorescence and their in vitro callus cultures by FL Hakkim, CG Shankar, S Girija – Journal of agricultural and food …, 2007 – ACS Publications
Ocimum Sanctum L (Holy Basil or Tulsi) and Its Phytochemicals in the Prevention and Treatment of Cancer by MS Baliga, R Jimmy, KR Thilakchand… – Nutrition and …, 2013 – Taylor & Francis
Radio protective effects of the Ayurvedic medicinal plant Ocimum sanctum Linn.(Holy Basil): a memoir by MS Baliga, S Rao, MP Rai… – Journal of Cancer …, 2016 – cancerjournal.net
Micropropagation of ‘Holy Basil'(Ocimum sanctum Linn.) from young inflorescences of mature plants by NK Singh, CB Sehgal – Plant growth regulation, 1999 – Springer
Constituents of the essential oil from the holy basil or tulsi plant, Ocimum sanctum. by I Laakso, T Seppänen-Laakso, B Herrmann-Wolf… – Planta Medica, 1990 – cabdirect.org
The antioxidative properties of Holy basil and Galangal in cooked ground pork by T Juntachote, E Berghofer, S Siebenhandl, F Bauer – Meat science, 2006 – Elsevier
Antioxidative properties and stability of ethanolic extracts of Holy basil and Galangal by T Juntachote, E Berghofer – Food Chemistry, 2005 – Elsevier
Evaluation of the gastric antiulcer activity of fixed oil of Ocimum sanctum (Holy Basil) by S Singh, DK Majumdar – Journal of ethnopharmacology, 1999 – Elsevier