Top 15 Benefits & Uses of Holy Basil (Tulsi)

by Meenakshi Nagdeve last updated - Medically reviewed by Dr. Sandesh Krishna Bhosale (BAMS, PGDHA)

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The health benefits of holy basil, also known as tulsi, include oral care, relief from respiratory disorders, fever, asthma, lung disorders, heart diseases, and stress.

What is Holy Basil (Tulsi)?

Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) or tulsi is a powerful herb that has been used in Ayurveda and other traditional medical treatments in India for thousands of years. The small holy basil shrub with tiny lavender flowers is considered a sacred plant in India. It was believed that the holy basil leaves had potent powers to flush out toxins from the body. Even now in India, people have tulsi water (water which has tulsi leaves soaked overnight) or chew on a tulsi leaf to improve overall health. Several health products are available with tulsi extracts to help treat cold, cough, and the flu.

Holy basil is incredibly beneficial for our health, primarily due to the unique composition of its essential oil, containing eugenol, camphor, flavonoids, nerol, and various terpenes. This rich blend of organic compounds delivers several health benefits. It can help relieve acne, asthma, inflammation, respiratory issues, lower your chances of heart diseases, and atherosclerosis

Holy basil differs from the basil used in Italian dishes or Thai basil used in curries in Southeast Asia. Holy basil or tulsi has a pungent and bitter taste and it is not usually used for cooking. It is however used to make tulsi tea which has adaptogenic properties. 

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7 Amazing Benefits Of Tulsi You Should Definitely Know | Organic Facts

Nutrition Facts

Basil, fresh
Serving Size :
NutrientValue
Water [g]92.06
Energy [kcal]23
Protein [g]3.15
Total lipid (fat) [g]0.64
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]2.65
Fiber, total dietary [g]1.6
Sugars, total [g]0.3
Calcium, Ca [mg]177
Iron, Fe [mg]3.17
Magnesium, Mg [mg]64
Phosphorus, P [mg]56
Potassium, K [mg]295
Sodium, Na [mg]4
Zinc, Zn [mg]0.81
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]18
Thiamin [mg]0.03
Riboflavin [mg]0.08
Niacin [mg]0.9
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.16
Folate, DFE [µg]68
Vitamin B-12 [µg]0
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]264
Vitamin A, IU [IU]5275
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) [mg]0.8
Vitamin D (D2 + D3) [µg]0
Vitamin D [IU]0
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) [µg]414.8
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]0.04
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]0.09
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]0.39
Fatty acids, total trans [g]0
Cholesterol [mg]0
Caffeine [mg]0
Sources include : USDA

Holy Basil Nutrition

Holy basil is highly nutritious and according to USDA it is a good source of potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin C. It also contains iron, sodium, zinc, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and vitamin B6, A, and K.

Health Benefits of Holy Basil

Let us look at the most powerful health benefits of holy basil or tulsi.

Reduces Fever

The miraculous healing properties of holy basil come mainly from its essential oils and the phytonutrients in it. Holy basil has antibiotic, germicidal, fungicidal, and disinfectant properties. It is very effective in protecting our body from all sorts of bacterial, viral, and fungal infections.

Severe fever is mainly caused due to infections from protozoa (malaria), bacteria (typhoid), viruses (flu), and even allergic substances and fungus. Fever is not an ailment in itself. It is just a symptom that shows that our body is fighting against less visible infections. The disinfectant, germicidal, and fungicidal properties present in tulsi can help in fighting the pathogens discussed above and heal the resulting fever. It is an old practice in India to have a decoction of tulsi leaves and flowers in case anyone is suffering from a fever.

Relieves Symptoms of Respiratory Disorders

Tulsi, along with curing viral, bacterial, and fungal infections of the respiratory system, gives miraculous relief from congestion due to the presence of components like camphene, eugenol, and cineole in its essential oils. It is very effective in curing almost all respiratory disorders including bronchitis, both chronic and acute.

Helps with Treatment of Asthma

Tulsi is very beneficial in the treatment of asthma since it relieves congestion and facilitates smoother breathing. The phytonutrients and essential oils, along with the other minerals in it, help cure some of the underlying causes of asthma as well.

Prevents Lung Disorders

The compounds like vitamin C, camphene, eugenol, and cineole present in the essential oils of tulsi not only provide relief from the infections in the lungs but also help clear the lung congestion. Furthermore, they can help in healing the damages caused to the lungs due to damaging effects like smoking.

Close up of tulsi or holy basil leaves

Prevents Heart Diseases

A 2017 review published in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal throws light on the use of tulsi for chronic cardiovascular diseases. Holy basil contains vitamin C and other antioxidants such as eugenol, which protect the heart from the harmful effects of free radicals. Additionally, eugenol is very beneficial in reducing cholesterol levels in the blood.

Reduces Stress

Vitamin C and other antioxidants in holy basil, apart from repairing damages done by free radicals, also minimize the stress caused by these oxidants. A study published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine says that tulsi soothes the nerves, lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation, and thus reduces stress. Potassium, in Tulsi, also reduces blood pressure-related stress by replacing sodium and loosening the tensed blood vessels.

Mouth Freshener

Tulsi is an excellent mouth freshener and an oral disinfectant. Holy basil destroys more than 99% of germs and bacteria in the mouth and this effect can last all day. It also aids in providing relief from mouth ulcers. A study shows that chewing on tulsi leaves is an effective, safe, and economical option for maintaining good oral health.

Chemopreventive Properties

According to a review published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer, tulsi contains phytochemicals like apigenin, eugenol, rosmarinic acid, β-sitosterol, myretenal, luteolin, and carnosic acid that can help in inhibiting the growth of cancer in the body. Other studies also support that it may have anticancer potential.

Dental Care

Holy basil destroys the bacteria that are responsible for dental cavities, plaque, tartar, and bad breath. It also protects the teeth. It has astringent properties which make the gums hold the teeth tighter, thereby keeping them from falling. However, tulsi also has certain compounds like mercury, which has rich germicidal properties. It can harm the teeth if kept in direct contact for too long. Therefore, it is advised to avoid chewing these leaves. According to the Ayurveda, chewing tulsi leaves robs them of their holiness. It is better to consume as a decoction.

Reduces Risk of Kidney Stones

Tulsi, being a detoxifier and a mild diuretic, helps to reduce the uric acid level in the body, which is the main culprit as far as kidney stones are concerned. It also helps clean out the kidneys through increased frequency of urination. Acetic acid and certain components in Tulsi essential oil facilitate the dissolution of the stones. The analgesic properties of tulsi also help in bearing the pain of kidney stones passing the body.

Skincare

You can build a skincare regime centered around tulsi. You can create a bath with a decoction of holy basil mixed with your bath water or washing your face with the same mix. Apply the paste of its leaves on an infected area of the skin in case of skin diseases. You can just consume tulsi leaves and still manage to keep your skin free from all infections. Rubbing holy basil leaves or its extracted oil on the body keeps mosquitoes and other insects away. It helps cure skin disorders both internally and externally, without any side effects. This property mainly comes from its essential oils, which are highly antibiotic, disinfectant, antibacterial, and antifungal in nature. External application on the skin also removes extra oil from the surface of the skin. The camphene component in the oil gives it a soothing and a cooling effect.

Relieves Headache

A headache caused due to a migraine, sinus pressure, cough, and cold or high blood pressure can be effectively controlled by the use of a single tulsi serving. Camphene, eugenol, cineol, carvacrol, and methyl-chavicol, in holy basil, have excellent analgesic, sedative, anti-congestive, and disinfectant properties.

Prevents Premature Aging

Vitamin C and A, phytonutrients, and the essential oils in holy basil are excellent antioxidants. Antioxidants protect the body from damages caused by free radicals in the body. Free radicals are hazardous byproducts of cellular metabolism that are responsible for a wide swath of diseases, including cancer. In Ayurveda, tulsi is considered a tonic to retain youthful vigor and avoid premature aging.

Boosts Immunity

Holy basil is one of the most powerful natural sources for building immunity. It protects against nearly all infections from viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protozoa.

Eye Care

Tulsi is very effective in providing relief for eye infections like conjunctivitis, boils, and other disorders. It is especially effective viral, bacterial, or fungal infections. To use, soak some basil leaves in water for about a couple of hours and then use this water to wash your eyes. It also soothes eye inflammation and reduces stress. Regular consumption can protect your eyes from the damage done by free radicals, such as cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, vision defects, and ophthalmia. These protective properties are due to the high antioxidant content of its essential oils, vitamin A, and vitamin C.

Other Benefits

It can protect your body from radiation poisoning, helping in healing the damages. It can be administered post-surgery to help heal wounds prevent infections. Holy basil is perhaps best known as an expectorant. It is used most frequently in treating cough and cold. It is beneficial in reducing labor pain, treating gastroenteritis, nausea, and different infections. Furthermore, the dried leaves can be mixed with food grains as an insect repellent.

Uses of Holy Basil

  • Holy Basil Tea – You can use holy basil as a relaxant, typically in the form of a tea. The tea also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. Holy basil tea can be used to clear up congestion and respiratory conditions, while also boosting the strength of your immune system. It is often used when detoxifying the body.

Where to Buy Holy Basil?

You can buy holy basil from a nearby health store or a specialist Asian grocer. In fact, basil is grown on every continent and is one of the most common herbs in the world. If you cannot find fresh basil, look for tulsi tea, preferably organic. This should be available at health food stores. Alternatively, you can also get it online.

How to eat holy basil or tulsi leaves?

You can consume tulsi leaves in various ways. You can chew them raw. However, don’t do this frequently or take a high quantity. Holy basil tea is perhaps the most common and popular use of this herb. You can brew the dried leaves or use a dried leaf powder. You simply put a teaspoon of the powder in one cup of boiling water and allow it to steep for 5-6 minutes. The flavor is strong, but its health effects are undeniable.

How to Grow Holy Basil?

Those who want to use holy basil should try to grow the plant. You need a spot that receives sunlight for at least six hours daily and has enough space away from other plants. Avoid overwatering the basil plants. Basil is a shrub and if allowed, it can grow rapidly. Keep pruning the plants so that there are roughly 18 inches between each plant. Removing the matured leaves several times every week is essential to encourage fresh leaf growth.

Historical Significance of Holy Basil (Tulsi) in India

Holy basil, known as tulsi in India, is believed to have multiple medicinal properties. It is worshiped and highly valued in Hindusim. Many Hindus believe it is very holy, worshiping the plant twice a day. They light lamps near the plant in the morning and evening. It was and still is, believed to protect the whole family from evil and bring good luck.

Holy basil or tulsi leaves are also used in holy ceremonies since ancient times. Keeping in view the ultra-disinfectant and germicidal properties of this legendary herb, perhaps there is a deeper scientific value in these traditions. Many modern practitioners believe that these practices were useful in keeping people safe from day-to-day infections. A few leaves dropped in drinking water or food can purify and kill the germs in them. Many believed that it purified the air, protecting people from infections, cough, cold, and other viral infections.

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About the Author

Meenakshi Nagdeve, Co-Founder, Organic Facts is a health and wellness enthusiast and is responsible for managing it. She has completed the Nutrition And Healthy Living Cornell Certificate Program, Cornell University, US. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore and B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. Prior to this, she worked for a few years in IT and Financial services. An ardent follower of naturopathy, she believes in healing with foods. In her free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.

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