Also called Holy Basil or Tulsi, this is one of the most prominent herbs in the Indian subcontinent. And the most revered too – for the benefits of basil are that potent. But what are they? Let’s look into them.
Table Of Contents
- What Is Holy Basil?
- What Are The Different Types Of Basil?
- What About The History?
- The Nutrition Data
- How Does Basil Benefit My Health?
- What Are The Benefits For My Skin?
- What About The Benefits For Hair?
- How To Use Basil In Cooking
- Any Recipes?
- How To Consume Holy Basil Leaves
- Any Super Facts?
- How To Grow Basil Leaves
- How To Buy And Store Them
- What Are The Side Effects?
What Is Holy Basil?
Also called the niazbo plant in certain regions, the holy basil plant, most commonly known as Tulsi or Tulasi in India, is a leafy herb belonging to the mint family. There are three variants of tulsi (in India) – Rama Tulsi, Krishna Tulsi, and Vana Tulsi – and each of them has its own distinctive taste.
And guess what – there are differen types.
What Are The Different Types Of Basil?
Here, are some of the most popular types across the globe.
Western sweet basil – Also known as Mediterranean basil, it is most famously used in Italian pesto. Many cultivars of this type exist – with different leaf shapes and sizes.
Thai sweet basil – This type of basil has purple stems, dark purple flower spikes, and green leaves. When cooked, this one is spicier than Western sweet basil.
Holy basil – The most common variety. This type of basil is sharp and peppery and hot to taste when fresh. It has a piercing aroma that intensifies when it is heated or very lightly cooked.
Lemon basil – There are two kinds of lemon basil (Western variety and Indonesian and Malaysian variety). The Western variety has pale green leaves while the other variety has slightly slimmer and darker green leaves. Both kinds of lemon basil complement seafood, soups, and mild curries.
Cinnamon basil – This type of basil has green leaves with serrated edges. It has a unique fragrance and blends very well in savory dishes like stews, salads, and soups and even sweet dishes like fruit salads, sauces, and ice cream.
Purple basil – There are several cultivars of this type in different parts of the world, and they all differ in leaf shapes and shades.
That’s with the types. But did you know that holy basil has a history worth knowing?
What About The History?
Also called the “king of herbs” or the “royal herb”, the holy basil is possibly native to India. It has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years and is best known as a culinary herb predominantly used in Italian and Southeast Asian cuisines.
The scientific name of the holy basil is Ocimum tenuiflorum. There are numerous varieties of this herb (as we already saw), most of which are annual plants.
That’s a little about the history. But whatever benefits you saw are a direct consequence of the herb’s ingredients.
The Nutrition Data
Insert nutrition table
And now we head to the most important part of this post – how holy basil can make your life better.
How Does Basil Benefit My Health?
Holy basil is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It helps combat a plethora of serious ailments like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. It even fights inflammation. And guess what, there are so many other benefits. Most of the benefits of tulsi are medicinal, which means it can be used as a medicine as well.
1. Is Good For The Heart
Basil contains flavonoids, which reduce the risk of platelets forming clots on the arterial walls – this eventually prevents coronary heart disease and heart attacks.
As per an Australian study, basil can help prevent several features of the metabolic syndrome, with heart disease being one of them. The herb is also credited with preventing numerous cardiac disorders (1).
Basil is also known to lower cholesterol levels, preventing heart ailments as a consequence. Ingesting basil leaves can lead to significant changes in the fat molecules – the leaves can lower bad cholesterol and increase the good cholesterol.
2. Treats Sore Throat
Tulsi can be an excellent cure for sore throat. All you need to do is boil the leaves in water and drink it. You can also gargle the water while it is warm.
3. Relieves Stress
In most countries, basil is considered a powerful adaptogen (anti-stress agent). The herb also possesses significant anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties, which can help manage stress. Basil can also regulate the cortisol levels in the body (cortisol is known as the ‘stress hormone’). Lower cortisol levels can result in reduced anxiety and emotional stress.
Basil also works to increase energy and enhance focus, both of which help one deal with stress. Another Australian study states that basil can address psychological stress (in addition physical, chemical, and metabolic stress) through a powerful combination of pharmacological actions. It also protects the organs of your body against chemical stress (2).
Another Indian study attributes the anti-stress properties of basil to its antioxidants. The study, which was conducted on albino rabbits, found positive results (3).
As per a report, basil tea can promote energy and alleviate feelings of stress (4).
4. Helps Fight Cancer
Surprisingly enough, basil could be your answer to cancer. One study states that basil extracts can have radioprotective properties, which can help kill tumor cells in the body.
Basil contains eugenol, which was found to have anticancer properties. Other phytochemicals in basil (like rosmarinic acid, myretenal, luteolin, and apigenin) also have the potential to prevent various forms of cancer (5). In another study, supplementation of basil (at a dosage of 300 mg per kilogram of bodyweight) was found to significantly reduce the formation of cancerous enzymes. Additionally, healthy enzymatic activity saw an increase post the supplementation.
In another study, basil leaf extract was found to decrease tumorigenicity and metastasis of human pancreatic cancer cells (6). It was also found to retard breast cancer development in yet another study (7).
5. Regulates Blood Sugar Levels
Basil might help increase insulin secretions in people with type 2 diabetes, as per some research. The herb can also lower fasting and post-meal levels of blood glucose (8).
Another report by the University of Washington states that basil can support blood sugar regulation (9).
6. Protects The Liver
In one study, basil leaf extract had shown hepatoprotective properties. Albino rats (with paracetamol-induced liver damage) that were fed this extract showed signs of improvement. There was a reduction of sinusoidal congestion and cloudy swelling within the liver of the rats (10).
However, a few studies state otherwise. Individuals taking basil supplements might experience some adverse liver effects. Hence, consult your doctor before taking basil (the supplements, especially) for treating your liver condition.
7. Aids Weight Loss
Some research says that basil can help lower blood glucose and blood cholesterol levels – two factors that can lead to weight gain. And as we saw, it also reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, which can also induce weight gain. You can use tulsi water to aid weight loss.
Do talk to your doctor before using basil for this purpose – as there is no concrete scientific evidence in this regard.
8. Boosts Immunity
Numerous animal studies have found basil leaf to have potent immunomodulatory effects. The extract also showed promise in improving immunity in bovine (related to cattle) models (11).
Basil is also found to treat a wide range of respiratory disorders – asthma being one of them. Others include bronchitis and lung infections, which are caused primarily because of a weakened immune system. Basil liquefies the phlegm and is effective in treating allergic bronchitis, asthma, and eosinophilic lung disease (12).
As a traditional remedy, tulsi leaves are also used for treating fever and the associated common cold. You just have to chew a few of the leaves to get relief from the symptoms of cold and flu. Especially in the rainy season, when the risk of contracting a fever is high, you can boil some basil leaves in water and drink it. And if you are suffering from severe fever, a decoction of basil leaves and a pinch of powdered cardamom can help.
Basil leaf extract can also be used to heal wounds quickly (in addition to cuts and burns). It can especially heal wounds post surgery and even protect them from any potential infection.
9. Protects Against Inflammation
Basil leaves help fight inflammation, so much that they can even help relieve joint pains caused by inflammation. Basil achieves this, thanks to eucalyptol, one of its main ingredients. Eucalyptol reduces inflammation and the associated pain by enhancing blood circulation around the wounded area (13). Basil also works as an analgesic and relieves pain.
10. Protects Blood Vessels
As it possesses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, basil can help the muscles controlling blood vessel function to contract and relax. It also helps remove the plaque in blood vessels, protecting them from damage. However, more research is required in this regard.
11. Improves Oral Health
According to an Indian study, basil serves as an excellent mouthwash to control oral plaque. This is because the extract has a very high antibacterial activity (14).
Another study focuses on the antimicrobial activity of basil. The herb is found to offer preventive properties to patients with periodontal disease. The upside of the herb is that it doesn’t cause any undesirable effects – which otherwise happens with the use of OTC antibacterial agents (15).
12. Prevents Eye Disorders
We know how vulnerable our eyes are. They are susceptible to numerous fungal, viral, and bacterial infections. Basil can help fight these infections, one of them being conjunctivitis. And the soothing and anti-inflammatory properties of basil protect the eye from free radicals and environmental damage.
Basil leaves also help prevent serious eye ailments like glaucoma and macular degeneration. They can play an important role in treating cataracts and other vision issues.
13. Improves Abdominal Health
Basil works great for abdominal health. These include stomach ache, flatulence, acidity, and constipation. It was also found to act against stomach ulcers (16).
For treating stomach ache, all you need are the juice of basil leaves (10 ml) and 20 ml of lime juice and ginger juice (as required). Mix well and drink it up. Also, basil seeds cooked in water can give relief from hyperacidity.
14. Treats Ear Infections
Basil works wonders to treat minor earache and ear infections. You just have to crush a few basil leaves and extract the juice. Apply the juice to the infected ear. Ensure the juice doesn’t get into the ear canal, though.
Another way to treat ear infections is mixing a few drops of basil oil with an equal amount of a carrier oil (like coconut oil). Soak a cotton ball in the mixture and apply it just inside the ear. You can also rub it around the outer edge and behind the ear. Repeating the process twice daily can give you relief.
15. Treats Headache
Research highlights the traditional use of basil to treat headache. Basil can be taken in numerous forms – either as a juice or dried powder or as a herbal tea mixed with other herbs or honey to enhance its beneficial properties (17).
16. Helps Quit Smoking
There is limited research on this, but still, using basil for kicking the butt is definitely worth a try. You just need to keep a few leaves in your pocket. When you get the urge to smoke, eat one of the leaves. Here’s the trick – when you smoke later, the leaf makes your throat burn. This might help you give up the habit eventually.
What Are The Benefits For My Skin?
Holy basil has anti-aging properties. It restores your skin’s lost glow by detoxifying it. Its anti-inflammatory properties also help treat acne.
17. Slows Down Aging
The anti-aging properties of basil are not unknown. The herb is super-rich in antioxidants, which give it the ability to rejuvenate the skin. It also protects the skin against the effects of oxidative damage. You can either consume basil water (boil a few leaves in water and drink it) or apply the extract to your face and wash it off.
18. Adds Glow To Your Face
Basil powder can have great benefits for your face. You just need to rub finely powdered dry basil leaves on your face. Doing so renders a glow to your face and might even help remove dark spots. You can also mix a few drops of water with the powder and apply the paste on your face like a mask.
19. Prevents Acne
Basil leaves purify your blood by removing toxins. The antibacterial and antifungal agents in the leaves help you achieve this. You just need to apply the paste made from basil leaves (along with sandalwood paste or rose water) on your face. Leave it on for about 20 minutes, post which you can wash your face with cold water. Using tulsi tea for this purpose can also help treat acne. You can consume tulsi tea as well.
This remedy can also help remove blackheads, acne scars and marks, and pimples.
20. Relieves Skin Infections
Basil also possesses antibiotic properties, which play a role in treating infections. The leaves restrict the growth of bacteria like B anthracis and E coli that cause skin infections. A simple concoction prepared by grinding and boiling 250 grams of basil leaves along with sesame oil of equal quantity can help treat infections like itching.
Another simple mixture of ground basil leaves and an equal amount of lemon juice can help treat ringworm.
21. Lightens Skin Tone
You can make a paste out of basil leaves (mixed with water) and combine this with besan. The former cleanses the skin while the latter lightens the tone. Applying this paste on your face and neck improves your skin tone.
22. Treats Vitiligo And Eczema
Though we have limited research, regular intake of basil leaves can improve the symptoms of vitiligo. It can have similar effects on eczema as well. But hey, do consult your doctor before you use basil for this purpose.
23. Tightens Skin Pores
If your skin has blemishes, you sure can benefit from basil. Combine one egg white and paste from basil leaves. Rub this mixture gently on your face and leave it on for about 20 minutes. Basil, along with egg white, helps tighten skin pores. It also disinfects the skin and prevents infection.
What About The Benefits For Hair?
Holy basil prevents hair loss by strengthening the hair follicles. It also treats dandruff and itching, in addition to preventing premature graying of hair.
24. Prevents Hair Loss
Making a paste of basil leaves and mixing it with your hair oil can work wonders for your hair. Apply this oil to your scalp and leave it on for about 30 minutes and then shampoo as usual. This mixture rejuvenates your hair follicles, keeps your scalp cool, and also promotes circulation to your scalp.
25. Treats Dandruff
Simply add a small amount of basil oil to your regular hair oil and massage it thoroughly into your scalp. Basil improves blood circulation and reduces dandruff and the scalp itchiness that accompanies it. This remedy also treats dry scalp.
26. Prevents Premature Graying Of Hair
All you need to do is soak dried holy basil powder (you can prepare it at home by grinding a few basil leaves) along with amla powder in water overnight. The next morning, wash your hair with the mixture (after straining it). This helps prevent premature graying of hair and treat hair fall.
Well, you saw the benefits. Which are great. But how about how to use this herb in your cooking?
How To Use Basil In Cooking?
If you ever had Italian cuisine, you would know how incredible basil can be. If properly used. Which is what we will see now.
- It is the ultimate complement to tomatoes. It also pairs exceedingly well with garlic, onions, and olives.
- Thicker stems of the plant need to be discarded as they tend to be bitter. Small stems are okay.
- The creamy white flowers of the plant are edible. Hence, you can use them in your recipes.
- If you want the most intense flavor, add basil at the end of the cooking process.
- If you want the full flavor, never use dried basil. Keep this in mind when substituting dried basil for fresh. Also, while substituting, triple the amount of dried basil. One half-ounce of dried basil leaves equals one cup of chopped fresh basil.
Now that you know how to use the herb in cooking, how about trying some recipes?
Some of the popular basil recipes include basil pesto, basil orange salmon, and the holy basil tea. All taste wonderfully delicious and are super-healthy.
1. Basil Pesto
What You Need
- 3 cups of basil leaves
- 1 cup of fresh parsley
- 2 crushed garlic cloves
- ½ cup of toasted pine nuts
- ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil (you can have more to use while storing)
- ¼ cup of finely grated parmesan cheese
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Except for the cheese, salt, and pepper, combine all the ingredients in a blender and process into a smooth paste.
- Stir in the cheese and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour into an airtight container and add the extra olive oil to cover the surface.
- You can store in the fridge for up to 7 days or freeze for 3 months.
2. Basil Orange Salmon
What You Need
- 6 tablespoons of melted butter
- 2 tablespoons of orange juice
- 1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh basil leaves
- 1 tablespoon of freshly grated orange zest
- 3 fresh salmon fillets (each should be cut crosswise into 2)
- 1 tablespoon of garlic pepper
- Heat the grill on medium-high.
- In a bowl, combine the butter, orange juice, chopped basil leaves, and orange zest. Reserve 3 tablespoons of butter mixture. Brush the remaining butter mixture onto the fish and sprinkle with garlic pepper.
- Place the fish on the grill. Grill it by turning it once every 10 minutes. Keep doing this until its edges flake easily with a fork.
- Drizzle the fish with the reserved butter mixture.
- If desired, you can sprinkle with almonds and basil leaves.
3. Holy Basil Tea
This is pretty simple. Just steam one teaspoon of holy basil leaves in a cup of water for about 10 minutes. Take three cups of this tea every day.
How To Consume Holy Basil Leaves
You can take 4 leaves (6 to 12 grams) daily, in water as a decoction. If you are taking a supplement, take 1 capsule (250 to 500 mg) daily, or better, as recommended by your doctor or therapist.
If you are taking tulsi extract (also called tulsi ark, which has similar benefits), you can go for 6 to 12 grams of it.
What fun would it be without some fun facts?
Any Super Facts?
- Basil is versatile. It can be used fresh or in its dry form. It can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.
- Basil contains certain chemicals that insects don’t like (but they don’t affect humans, by the way). Especially mosquitoes. So, if you want to keep mosquitoes away, keep basil nearby.
- Basil is worshiped in different religions. Apart from being considered holy by the Hindus, basil is also used to prepare holy water in certain orthodox churches in some countries like Bulgaria, Serbia, and Macedonia.
- Basil is part of the mint family – some other herbs in the family are rosemary, lavender, and oregano.
- Different kinds of basil emit different scents. Since each type of basil has a combination of essential oils, they can smell like lemons or licorice or cloves or camphor.
How To Grow Basil Leaves
- To plant outside, wait until the soil is at a temperature of at least 70o F. The plant won’t grow without heat.
- Basil needs to be in an area that is exposed to 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily. The soil must be moist and well-drained.
- Plant the seeds about ¼-inch deep and about 10 inches apart.
- If you are planning to cook with these plants, plant the seeds in clean soil (don’t use fertilizers that leave harmful residues).
- Basil plants like moisture. If you live in a hot area, use mulch around them.
- Every time a branch has six to eight leaves, prune the branches to the first set of leaves. Repeat this.
- After 6 weeks, pinch off the center shoot. This prevents early flowering. You can cut the flowers off if they do happen to grow.
- In case the weather is going to be cold, ensure you harvest your basil beforehand.
- Start picking the leaves as soon as they are 6 to 8 inches tall.
- Ensure to pick the leaves regularly to encourage growth during summers.
- Even if you don’t need the leaves, just pick them to let the plant grow. You can freeze the leaves.
- The best method to store basil is freezing.
In case you can’t grow basil, you can buy it. But then…
How To Buy And Store Them
Look for fresh and vibrant green leaves. They must have no dark spots or any signs of decay.
- You can layer fresh basil leaves in damp paper towels inside a plastic bag and refrigerate for up to 4 days.
- If it is basil with stalks attached, place in a glass of water and cover with a plastic bag (it must be secured to the glass). Store them in the refrigerator. Change the water daily and use them within a week.
- Don’t wash the leaves until you are ready to use them.
You can buy basil leaves from your nearest supermarket. Or you can buy tulsi syrup as well. Tulsi syrup has the same benefit as the leaves – and some people find it easier to consume. You can also buy tulsi tablets from the nearest drugstore (after consulting your doctor, obviously). But before you do so, you also need to know something else…
What Are The Side Effects?
- Might Cause Complications In Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women
Though safe in normal amounts, basil can cause issues in pregnant and breastfeeding women if taken in large amounts. To stay safe, avoid use. One chemical in basil, called estragole, had caused liver cancer in lab mice.
- Bleeding Disorders
Basil extracts might slow blood clotting and increase bleeding. Hence, avoid use if you are susceptible to bleeding. Also, stop use at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.
- Low Blood Pressure
Basil might lower blood pressure too much. Hence, if you are on blood pressure medication, use only after consulting your doctor.
More questions? Here you go!
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
Is chewing basil leaves good for your health?
What is panch basil?
It is one form of basil that is known to cure cold and cough.
Why are Hindus told not to use basil on Sundays?
As per the religion, tulsi plant fasts on Sundays and hence, must not be used.
What are the benefits of drinking basil water?
It is nothing but basil tea. And the benefits are whatever we spoke of in this post.
What is the proper way to pick basil leaves off of a basil plant to ensure it will continue to grow?
The best way to pick leaves off the plant is by pinching off a piece of the stem.
What is a good substitute for Holy basil?
Mediterranean basil – as it is the easiest to find and versatile as well.
Holy basil. Its benefits are as holy as its name. That is why you must include this in your routine. You sure are going to do that, aren’t you?
Do tell us how this post has helped you. Your comments will only help us serve you better. Cheers!
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- “Anti-microbial Activity of Tulsi…”. Mahatma Gandhi Dental College and Hospital, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. 2016 March.
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