Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum L. or Ocimum tenuiflorum L.), also known as “Holy Basil,” “The Incomparable One,” “The Herb for All Reasons,” and the “Elixir of Life,” is a close relative of culinary basil (Ocimum basilicum) but is differentiated by its medicinal properties, as well as a few physical characteristics. Tulsi is renowned for its incredible healing properties. It is a powerful adaptogenic herb, which helps in the reduction of stress and stabilization of the mind. It is anti-inflammatory, high in antioxidants, immune-modulating (able to increase or decrease the immune system's activity to the optimal level), and has antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties that are comparable to diazepam and other antidepressant drugs.
In Ayurvedic practice, common uses of tulsi include treatments for:
- sore throat and similar ailments
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol
- Headaches, earaches, and eye disorders
- Skin diseases and insect bites
- gastric disorders
- intestinal parasites
- mouth diseases
- Diabetes and blood sugar imbalances
- Joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis
- Kidney stones
Medical research conducted on tulsi confirms that it is:
- A powerful adaptogenic herb (an herb that reduces stress and increases energy)
- Able to reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks
- High in antioxidants
- Immuno-modulating (able to increase or decrease the immune system's activity to the optimal level)
- Protective of the liver, and more generally protective against certain chemical toxins and radiation, but not contraindicated by chemotherapy (so it's safe to use while receiving chemo)
- Tulsi is also sometimes used to decrease fertility in men and women, so it is not recommended that those who are trying to conceive to drink large amounts of tulsi.
Many of the physiological benefits of tulsi can be attributed to its ability to assist with the body's internal maintenance and protection of the body from toxin-induced damage. These functions are often attributed to tulsi's high content of phenolic compounds and anti-oxidant properties, with Krishna tulsi (black/purple variety) having a higher phenolic content and anti-oxidant capacity than white Vana (wild) tulsi.
Laboratory studies have shown that tulsi protects against toxic chemical-induced injury by increasing the body's levels of anti-oxidant molecules such as glutathione and enhancing the activity of anti-oxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase and catalase, which protect cellular organelles and membranes by mopping up damaging free radicals caused by lack of oxygen and other toxic agents.
Tulsi also helps to prevent cancers caused by toxic compounds by reducing DNA damage and inducing apoptosis in precancerous and cancerous cells, thereby reducing the growth of experimental tumors and enhancing survival. Additionally, tulsi not only protects against the damage caused by toxic compounds, but also enables the body to more effectively transform and eliminate them by enhancing the activity of liver detoxification enzymes such as the cytochrome P450 enzymes, which deactivates toxic chemicals and enables them to be safely excreted.
While these actions are vitally important for protecting against natural toxins produced within the body or by animals or plants, they are perhaps even more important in the modern age to protect against the vast range of pollutants, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, radiation and other industrial toxicants created from human activity.
With so many diverse and incredible uses, it is no wonder why tulsi has been given names such as “Holy Basil,” and “The Elixir of Life.” Utilized for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine, and studied extensively by modern researchers, tulsi is certainly a medicinal herb that should not be overlooked, and one that is well worth incorporating into your diet for its many health benefits.