Tulsi is an herb belonging to the mint family with over 100 varieties around the world. It releases a spicy scent when it’s bruised. It’s also believed to purify expectorants, and is considered as a “wonder herb.” This herb is pungent and bitter in taste.
Also known as holy basil, this herb is a medicinal herb used in Ayurveda, which is a traditional alternative medicine from India. It’s closely related to the culinary basil, and it’s native to India and Southeast Asia. Tulsi has been a present and constant cure used in Ayurveda for thousands of years to support natural detoxification, decrease stress, restore balance, and increase stamina, endurance, and energy. It has rich Ayurvedic roots and made its way into western medicine.
Other than the health benefits, this ancient herb has a huge significance to Hindu culture. It’s considered a sacred plant worshipped by the Hindu people. Tulsi is the Hindu name for the plant, and when translated, it means “the incomparable one.” Tulsi medicine is made from the seeds, leaves, and stems of the plant.
Tulsi as an Adaptogenic Herb
Modern medicine and research classified tulsi, especially the Ocimum sanctum variety, as an adaptogenic herb. Adaptogens support the body’s healthy reactions to stress, and adaptogenic herbs promote and maintain wellness. Tulsi has been referred to by herbalists as a rejuvenating herb and a therapeutic herb. It helps the body adapt to physical, environmental, and emotional stressors while supporting the normal functioning of the body and restoring balance.
Tulsi contains different beneficial compounds, including:
- Eugenol – a terpene that contains pain-relieving properties
- Lutein – an antioxidant carotenoid that helps improve eye health
- Ursolic and rosmarinic acid – two compounds with anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and antioxidant properties
- Apigenin – a flavonoid that can help remove waste at a cellular level
- Ocimunosides A and B – compounds that help reduce stress and balances the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin
History of Tulsi
Tulsi or holy basil has a rich and fanciful history. Ever since the Vedic age in India, this herb is known for its curative and multiple abilities. It’s called the “herb royale” by the French, considered as a sign of love by the Italians, and a holy and sacred herb to the Indians.
For more than 5,000 years, tulsi has been considered as one of the most sacred herbs in India, thanks to its restorative powers. It has been used as medicine for centuries.
Besides its use in Ayurveda, tulsi is revered and considered sacred in Hinduism. Even the soil around the plant is considered holy. According to a genre of Hinduism text, any person cremated with tulsi twigs in his funeral gains a place in Vishnu’s abode. If a person makes paste out of tulsi leaves and smears it all over his or her body and worships Vishnu, it’s equivalent to several ordinary pujas (ceremonial worship) and donation of cows. The dying are given water mixed with tulsi leaves to raise their departing souls to heaven.
Hindus consider tulsi as a goddess and a manifestation of Lakshmi in the form of a plant with great spiritual powers. According to legend, no amount of gold can surpass Krishna’s power, but a single leaf of tulsi placed on the pan in loving devotion tilted the scales. Today in India, tulsi is often planted in the courtyard of homes and placed in a unique clay pot. It’s used in their daily lives not just with rituals and offerings, but also in tenderly caring for the plant, and in drinking tea from its leaves and flowers.
In the first century A.D., tulsi is reported by Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder to relieve flatulence, which was later proven out to be true. In the Far East, it has been used as a cough medicine, while in Africa, it has been used to expel worms.
As tulsi traveled to the West along with the early trade routes from the Orient to Europe, it became known as “holy basil” by the Christians because of its Latin name Ocimum sanctum. The people from the West hailed tulsi as “The King of Herbs” instead of a queen. Tulsi became routinely included in offerings and worship rituals and was considered by many as a gift of Christ.
Benefits of Tulsi
Tulsi has been used as a medicine for thousands of years. The minute your body has a problem, tulsi can be helpful. This herb is anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, adaptogenic, antioxidant, anti-depressant, decongestant, neuroprotective, and radioprotective. These reasons are why it’s called the “elixir of life.”
Here are some of the many benefits of tulsi:
As an adaptogenic herb, tulsi can relieve anxiety and improve overall mood. It helps counter negative stress on the body and provides a calming and uplifting effect. Early research has found that the tulsi leaf extract can reduce anxiety and associated stress and depression in people with anxiety. In a 2008 study involving adults with a generalized anxiety disorder, researchers found that taking tulsi capsules twice a day for 60 days reduced levels of anxiety significantly. A clinical trial in 2015 involving healthy adults found that tulsi eases tress and improve cognitive function.
Decreases stress levels
Early research shows that taking holy basil extract orally in the morning and night decreases symptoms of stress, including exhaustion, forgetfulness, sexual problems, and sleep problems.
Reduces plaque and gingivitis
Research shows that using a mouthwash containing 4% of tulsi leaf extract twice a day reduces plaque and gingivitis better than a saline solution. It offers even a better result than a mouthwash that contains 0.12% chlorhexidine, which is considered as a gold standard for reducing plaque. If the holy basil leaf extract is mixed with tea tree oil and clove, it even becomes more active.
Keeps cholesterol levels in check
Tulsi may help keep cholesterol levels normal, according to a study conducted in 2006 on rabbits. The study showed that tulsi had a significant antioxidant and cholesterol-lowering effect.
Prevents metabolic syndrome
Some studies reported on the therapeutic effects of tulsi on metabolic disorders, immunity, cardiovascular diseases, and neurocognition.
Alleviate symptoms of diabetes
For people with type 2 diabetes, adding tulsi to their diets can help alleviate symptoms of diabetes. Holy basil is shown to regulate blood sugar levels, according to early research.
Prevents respiratory infections
Research has shown that dietary supplementation of tulsi and clove protects the lungs against colonization with Klebsiella pneumoniae – common bacteria usually acquired from hospitals, known to cause pneumonia and urinary tract infections. It’s useful when you’re battling with the flu thanks to its anti-viral properties combined with its ability to move congestion.
Protects against mercury poisoning
A study on mice in 2002 suggests that treatment with tulsi can protect against mercury-induced toxicity. When a person is poisoned by mercury, it can cause damage to the central nervous system, kidneys, endocrine system, and other organs.
Studies have shown that tulsi has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can help the body repair skin tissues and DNA damage. It helps relieve joint pains and inflammation of any kind.
Thanks to its anti-inflammatory benefits, tulsi can help alleviate skin problems and infections. Tulsi has been known to treat wounds and infections because it also comes with anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. It can detoxify skin, keep it clean, and treat skin infections. In India, it’s used topically to heal snake bites. Soaking in a tulsi bath can also help soothe bug bites.
Slows the progression of cancer
Early research suggests that the holy basil seed oil can slow down the progression of cancer and improve survival rates. Researchers link this benefit to its ability to act as an antioxidant.
Ways to Use Tulsi
Tulsi, or holy basil, it offers many valuable benefits, so you may consider adding this herb to your collection. Here are some neat ways to make use of tulsi:
1. Drink as tea
Dried tulsi leaves can be used as herbal tea, and you may combine it with other herbs. Tulsi teas and concoctions can be used to treat coughs, stomach upset, and skin diseases. The energy-enhancing qualities of tulsi do the same effect as ginseng and jiao-gu-lan. You can use a bag of dried tulsi and mix it with a few dried rosebuds to make a delicious drink. During the hot weather, you can also make iced herbal tea. Tulsi contains vitamins A and C, as well as calcium, so you’ll be getting this with your herbal tea.
2. Use as a mask
Herbal masks are considered superfoods for your skin. You can see and feel the benefits of healthy skin. Simply grind up dried tulsi and mix with equal parts ground oats. Add a few drops of plant oil and pour in droplets of hot water until it forms a creamy consistency. The hot water will brew your mask. Let it sit for a few minutes, letting it cool, then apply this paste onto your skin. Leave it for 15 minutes, and then rinse off and wash.
3. Enhance meals
In cooking, holy basil is added to stir-fry dishes and spicy soups because of its hot an peppery taste. Sometimes, cookbooks refer to tulsi as “hot basil.”
4. Mix it with the bathwater
Soaking in a tulsi bath will infuse your skin and your senses with the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and vitamin-rich goodness. Add a scoop of dried tulsi in a cloth bag, then drop it to your warm bath. This will brew with your bathwater, letting your skin soak all the benefits of the herb.
5. Use as an essential oil
Unless you’re skilled in using essential oils, do not use a holy basil essential oil topically. The best way to use a tulsi oil is to diffuse it into your home to reap the cleansing, purifying, and detoxifying benefits.
Side Effects and Safety
Though tulsi is an herb, you may want to take precautions when using it, especially in high doses. Here are some special precautions and warnings when it comes to taking tulsi:
Pregnancy – Tulsi is possibly unsafe for pregnant women and for women trying to conceive. In animals, large doses of tulsi taken orally appear to reduce the chances of fertilizing the egg. It also seems to lessen the number of full-term pregnancies. Though it’s not tested for humans, it’s better to stay on the safe side.
Hypothyroidism – People who have low levels of thyroxine, the thyroid hormone, may not benefit from tulsi. Holy basil can lower thyroxine levels, which may worsen hypothyroidism.
Diabetes – Holy basil may lower blood sugar levels so that it can interfere with your anti-diabetes drugs. If you want to take tulsi regularly, then you may need to adjust dosing for insulin and your medications.
Surgery – Tulsi can cause a lowering of blood clotting, making it a concern if you’re going to undergo surgery. It may increase the risk of bleeding, so avoid using holy basil for at least two weeks before surgery.