What is Tulsi or Holy Basil?
Tulsi or holy basil [Ocimum sanctum or Ocimum sanctum Linn) is an important herb in Ayurvedic medicine (the traditional medicine of India). It is especially known as an adaptogen, an herb that supports the body’s stress response (whether physical, chemical, metabolic, or psychological) .
It is known as the “Queen of Herbs” and in Sanskrit means ‘the incomparable one.’ In fact, Hinduism links the tulsi plant to the figure of a goddess .
Tulsi is believed to promote long life and is taken as an elixir to promote balance and resilience to all of life’s challenges .
Traditional indications for this herb include common colds, bronchitis, diarrhea, stomach disorders, headaches, inflammation, arthritis, heart disease, skin diseases, eye diseases, various forms of poisoning, insect bites, and malaria .
Tulsi is from the Lamiaceae (mint) family of herbs and alternatively may be called Ocimum tenuiflorum Linn, Tulasi, or Holy Basil (a direct translation from the Latin, Ocimum sanctum) .
Different parts of the herb have been used medicinally, including the leaves, stem, flower, root, seeds, and even the whole plant .
It may be taken as an herbal tea, dried powder, or fresh leaf used in cooking traditional dishes .
Constituents of Tulsi (Holy Basil)
- Eugenol (1-hydroxy-2-methoxy-4-allylbenzene) is largely responsible for the therapeutic effects of the herb
- Oleanolic acid
- Ursolic acid
- Rosmarinic acid
- β-caryophyllene [6, 2):
- Eugenol (67.4% – 72.8%)
- β-elemene (11.0% – 10.9%)
- β-caryophyllene (7.3% – 8.4%)
- Germacrene D (2.4% – 2.2%)
- Linalool (54.95%)
- Methyl chavicol (methyl carvicol – also called Estragol) (11.98%)
- Methyl cinnamate (7.24%)
- Linolen (0.14%) .
Holy Basil Benefits
1) Lowers Stress and Anxiety
Tulsi is a calming herb that produces relaxation effects. However, on its own tulsi does not induce drowsiness or sleep.
Tulsi prevented stress-induced changes in blood levels of corticosterone (in rats; comparable to cortisol levels in humans) .
Tulsi constituents ocimarin and the ocimumosides A and B show antistress activity including normalizing blood sugar levels and cortisol levels at a dosage 40 mg/kg (in rats) .
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 158 patients ages 18 – 65, OciBest, the whole plant extract of Tulsi, was found to be 1.6 times or 39 percent more effective in the management of stress symptoms than the placebo over a six-week time period .
In a study of 35 subjects with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, taking tulsi (500 mg) with two meals daily reduced anxiety and feelings of depression over a two-month period .
An alcohol extract of Tulsi root (400 mg/kg) is a CNS stimulant or an anti-stress agent in mice. It was as effective as the antidepressant desipramine, commonly sold as Norpramin .
2) Anti-Inflammatory Effects
Tulsi essential oil had strong anti-inflammatory effects in an animal model of granulomatous disease .
A study on tulsi extract showed significant anti-inflammatory activity in human cells, validating its traditional use in treating cardiovascular disease .
A purified extract of the fresh leaves and stems of tulsi yielded appreciable amounts of eugenol, as well as the following compounds: cirsilineol, cirsimaritin, isothymusin, isothymonin, apigenin, and rosmarinic acid .
The anti-inflammatory activity of these compounds was comparable to ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin at 10-, 10-, and 1000-microM concentrations, respectively .
3) Improves Cognitive Function
In rats, tulsi promotes memory and attention by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase, thus increasing acetylcholine levels .
A water extract of dried tulsi protected against drug- and aging-induced memory problems in mice, indicating that tulsi may be beneficial in the treatment of cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia .
4) Helps Protect the Heart
An alcohol extract of tulsi leaves reduced heart tissue inflammation in a mouse model of a heart attack (myocardial infarction), possibly due to its high phenol content .
Tulsi extract may prevent cardiovascular disease by inhibiting myeloperoxidase (MPO), an oxidative enzyme that may cause plaque accumulation in the arteries (known as atherosclerosis) .
A study on tulsi extract showed significant anti-inflammatory activity in human cells, validating its traditional use in treating cardiovascular disease .
Tulsi leaf essential oil was shown to lower cholesterol and protect the heart via its antioxidant effects (in rat studies) .
In a study of rabbits, tulsi leaf significantly decreased blood levels of cholesterol, triacylglycerol (formerly called triglycerides), and LDL cholesterol with a significant increase in HDL cholesterol .
5) Addresses High Blood Pressure
Because tulsi is rich in potassium (18,991 µg/g), according to a trace element study, it may be useful for balancing high blood pressure .
The fatty oil from tulsi seeds has blood pressure-lowering (hypotensive) effects .
6) Helps Diabetes and Blood Sugar Imbalance
In Type 2 diabetes patients (DB-RCT), tulsi lowered fasting blood sugar levels by 17.6% and post-meal blood sugar levels by 7.3% .
A water-based extract of tulsi decreased blood sugar levels in a study of diabetic rats .
7) Protects the Liver
An alcohol extract of tulsi leaf at 200 mg/kg body weight per day was shown to protect the liver from toxin-induced damage (in rats) .
8) Protects Against and Heals Stomach Ulcers
Tulsi decreases problematic acid-pepsin secretion, and breakdown of cells that line the stomach. In addition, tulsi increases the protective mucus in the stomach .
In rats, tulsi extract healed stomach ulcers after 5 and 10 days’ treatment at a dose of 100 mg/kg .
An alcohol extract of tulsi leaves (eugenol content 5%) at a dose of 50 – 200 mg/kg, twice daily for five days orally, was dose–dependently protective against some types of stomach ulcers (alcohol-induced, but not aspirin-induced) .
In a study of rats and guinea pigs, tulsi protected against a variety of ulcer-inducers, including aspirin, alcohol, and histamine .
9) Works As an Antioxidant
Strong antioxidant capacity was measured from Tulsi essential oil and was particularly correlated with its eugenol content .
Tulsi leaf powder was shown to combat cadmium-produced free radicals and restored liver and kidney functions in a study of broiler chickens .
10) May Help Reduce Pain
Animal studies (mice) showed an alcoholic leaf extract of tulsi reduced signs of pain, indicating effectiveness as an analgesic .
Another rat study showed that for both an alcohol extract of tulsi and an aqueous suspension of tulsi (500 mg/kg) were as effective as 300 mg of the NSAID, sodium salicylate .
11) Increases Immune Function (Both Th1 and Th2)
Daily ingestion of 300 mg capsules of tulsi leaf extract significantly increased IFN-y, IL-4, and T-helper cells, and natural killer cell activity – all important components of the immune system – after four weeks of intervention in 24 healthy volunteers .
Tulsi increases both the Th1 and Th2 immune responses .
A review study of tulsi’s anti-cancer activity found effectiveness against skin cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, and preventative effects against liver cancer, stomach cancer, and oral cancer .
An alcohol extract of tulsi raises levels of skin glutathione .
In addition, a number of phytochemicals in tulsi, including eugenol, apigenin, luteolin, and rosmarinic acid, are also protective against chemical- or UV- induced inflammation, damage, and tumor growth .
In mice, an alcoholic extract of tulsi leaves applied topically was protective against chemically-induced skin cancer .
Pre-treatment with an alcoholic extract of tulsi leaves decreased the number of tumors induced by a range of skin carcinogens in a mouse model of skin cancer .
In another study, a water-alcohol extract of tulsi reduced tumor size and increased survival rates of mice with melanoma .
Tulsi seed oil was also protective against the development of skin cancer and improved survival rates of mice with tumors .
In a review study, a tulsi alcohol extract induced cell death in human lung cancer cells and suppressed the growth of lung cancer cells in mice .
In mice, tulsi extracts reduced MMP9 activity, thus reducing the formation of tumors when tumor cells were injected into the animals .
Tulsi extract reduced the formation of tumors in mice injected with lung cancer cells .
Phytochemicals contained in tulsi, including carnosic acid, rosmarinic acid, and luteolin are able to inhibit the growth of lung cancer .
Cell studies have shown that tulsi leaf extract prevented the spread of breast cancer and prevented an increase in the levels of COX–2/inflammation .
Carnosic acid and rosmarinic acid were shown to inhibit the growth of human breast cancer cells .
In rats, tulsi significantly prevented chemical-induced liver cancer .
Additional anti-cancer effects were also observed in liver cells from the tulsi phytochemicals apigenin, luteolin, carnosic acid, and rosmarinic acid .
Studies have shown that including tulsi leaves in the diet prevented chemically–induced stomach cancer in mice .
An alcohol-based 70% tulsi leaf extract reduced chemical–induced stomach cancer in rats .
In an animal study (rats), tulsi selectively induced cell death in chemical-induced stomach cancer, but not in the normal stomach tissue .
Cell culture studies have shown that phytochemicals in tulsi, luteolin, β-sitosterol, ursolic acid, and apigenin also inhibit growth and kill stomach cancers .
In a study of 41 patients in India (aged 17 – 56 years), tulsi combined with turmeric was shown to be highly potent against Oral Submucous Fibrosis (OSMF), which if not treated, can progress to oral cancer .
In hamsters, water extract of tulsi taken by mouth had the greatest anticancer activity against papillomas and squamous cell carcinomas .
In a cell study, tulsi water extract was shown to be highly effective against oral cancer cells .
18) Protects Against Radiation
Two flavonoids in tulsi, orientin (a derivative of luteolin) and vicenin (an apigenin), have been shown to protect human blood cells from radiation-induced DNA damage .
19) Accelerates Bone Healing
A tulsi extract significantly reduced the healing time after a jaw fracture. Tulsi may increase calcium uptake, bone calcification, or enzymes involved in bone remodeling, such as alkaline phosphatase .
Tulsi essential oil showed strong antibacterial activity against antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus, Enterococcus, and Pseudomonas bacteria species .
A fatty (not essential) oil of tulsi also showed strong antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus pumilus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and had the greatest effectiveness against the S. aureus .
A water extract of tulsi (60 mg/kg) was more effective than an alcohol-based extract against Klebsiella, E. coli, Proteus, S. aureus and Candida albicans. However, the alcohol-based extract showed better inhibition of Vibrio cholerae (the bacteria that causes cholera) .
In a cow model of mastitis, tulsi extract injected into the breast tissue lowered the total bacterial count and enhanced the immune system .
Tulsi extract was as effective as penicillin and ciprofloxacin against Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the cause of the sexually transmitted disease, gonorrhea .
In a two-week randomized controlled study, young adult volunteers were provided with nutrition bars fortified with 1 gram of an alcohol-based tulsi leaf extract. The intervention group had an improved immune response to viral infection as indicated by a reduced load of human herpesvirus 6 in saliva .
Apigenin, a compound derived from Tulsi, has shown effectiveness against H1N1 and Swine Flu .
An alcohol- or solvent-based extract of tulsi inhibited genital herpes (Herpes Simplex Virus type 2) in a cell-based study .
An aqueous extract of tulsi leaves prevented the cell damage and the growth of New Castle Disease (NCD) virus in chickens .
22) Helps Clear Candida Overgrowth
This may in part be due to its constituent, eugenol, which on its own has been found to inhibit candida .
23) Disrupts Biofilms and Works as a Quorum Sensing Inhibitor
Breaking down biofilms and disrupting quorum sensing is important for eradicating bacterial infections.
Rosmarinic acid, another compound found in tulsi, also disrupts biofilms, but only in higher concentrations (in mouse intestinal cells) .
Tulsi has the ability to work as a quorum sensing inhibitor (in cell studies) [83).
24) Boosts Testosterone
In a rabbit study, treatment with 2 g/day of fresh tulsi leaves significantly increased testosterone levels over a 30 day period .
25) Helps Those with Histamine Intolerance
The fatty oil from tulsi seeds has antihistamine effects .
26) Protects Against Cataracts
In rats, 5 and 10 mg/kg of tulsi extract reduced the incidence of cataracts by 20% and 60% respectively, in part by raising levels of antioxidant enzymes .
Tulsi was shown to possess significant anticataract activity in rat lenses, which may be due to its inhibition of aldose reductase – an enzyme that caused cataracts in diabetes .
27) Protects Against Graying Hair
Tulsi Gene Interactions
Genes that have a direct role in the buildup of plaque in the arteries (atherosclerosis) include LDRL, LxRalpha, PPARs, and CD-36, because these genes control fatty acid metabolism, the production of substances that are toxic to cells, and the activities of cells in the walls of the arteries .
Polyphenols in tulsi were found to have the inherent ability to inhibit the cellular production (transcription) from these genes .
The authors of the study concluded, “on the basis of these results, we propose for the first time that HPLC purified polyphenolic fraction IV of tulsi may have a profound antiatherogenic effect” .
Protein: 30 Kcal, 4.2 g
Fat: 0.5 g
Carbohydrate: 2.3 g
Vitamins: vitamin C (25 mg vitamin C per 100 g) and vitamin A
Minerals: Calcium: 25 mg; Phosphorus 287 mg; Iron: 15.1 mg
Phytonutrients: Chlorophyll and many other phytonutrients 
500 mg of tulsi leaf extract taken twice daily is most often recommended for neurological and adaptogenic effects based on the scientific literature.
Since most other studies are in rats at dosages of 100-200 mg/kg for general health or 500 mg/kg for raising testosterone, for humans that translates into an estimated dosage of:
150lb person: 1,100 – 2,200 mg
200lb person: 1,500 – 2,900 mg
250lb person: 1,800 – 3,600 mg
150lb person: 5,500 mg
200lb person: 7,300 mg
250lb person: 9,100 mg
Taking Tulsi with Valium may increase its effects on the immune system. Co-administration of diazepam (1 mg/kg, sc), a benzodiazepine, with Tulsi seed oil (1 ml/kg, IP) enhanced the effect of the tulsi on the immune system (in rats) .
Flumazenil (5 mg/kg), an antidote to benzodiazepines (central benzodiazepine receptor antagonist), inhibited the immune system enhancement of tulsi seed oil (in rats) .
Tulsi Side Effects
Studies using rats have not shown any toxicity at the highest dose (1000 mg/kg/day of alcohol/aqueous extract over 28 days) .
Another study using a standardized extract of Ocimum sanctum (OciBest™) showed no destructive effect on genes .
The safety of taking tulsi during pregnancy and breastfeeding has not yet been studied, and so taking tulsi during those times is best avoided until more is known .
Tulsi may not be good for those with thyroid disease. An animal study found that tulsi at the dose of 0.5 g/kg body weight for 15 days significantly decreased serum T4 concentration; however, no marked changes were observed in serum T3 level, T3/T4 ratio and in the concentration of serum cholesterol .
Reviewer2960963: “Tulsi is supposed to be anti-inflammatory, and I believe it. My back pain has completely gone away after drinking 1 – 2 cups a day for the past few weeks.”
Reviewer 5562111311136571916: “I take one capsule, twice daily. My doctor had prescribed a diuretic because I have high blood pressure that was getting worse. However, the diuretic she prescribed had so many side effects and I seemed to suffer from all of them. Holy basil does the job without ANY side effects – and I feel much better with less bloating, swelling – and the general health benefits of holy basil are a plus.”
Reviewer2039313: “Holy basil helps prevent catching viruses. This works well!”
Reviewer1588146: “I love this for a sleep aid! OTC drugs cause horrible nightmares, grogginess etc. Holy basil just allows me to sleep, it is the epitome of “power nap,” even if my sleep gets interrupted, the sleep I do get is so refreshing! I alternate sometimes with Ashwagandha (that seems more of a lightweight), and Rhodiola during the day – these adaptogens do as they are reported to. My ability to deal with stress is so much improved it’s incredible!”
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