Modern medical science has a habit of rejecting the time-tested remedies of ancient cultures. These folk medicines are derided as superstitious practices unsubstantiated by hard science. This claim is usually just an excuse for Western medicine to declare itself superior, though—because when these ancient medicines are put to the test in the laboratory, they often pass with flying colors.
One such treasure is Tulsi, the sacred Indian herb also known as Holy Basil. This highly medicinal plant is considered so central to Ayurvedic medicine that it is often called “the Mother medicine of nature.” It’s been prized as a longevity herb for centuries, and is even used integrally in spiritual rituals.
Even these high compliments weren’t enough to convince mainstream medicine of its merits, though—that is, until they were proven by hard scientific evidence.
The science behind Holy Basil
What first drew the attention of modern researchers to Holy Basil was its potent anti-inflammatory properties. It turns out that it functions as a COX-2 inhibitor, meaning that it inhibits one of the primary enzymes responsible for inflammation in the body. Many OTC and prescription anti-inflammatories share this quality, but Holy Basil lacks the side effects of its pharmaceutical counterparts, which include stomach issues, headaches, increased risk of heart attack, vision problems, anxiety, hypertension, drowsiness, insomnia, and more.
Holy Basil avoids these nasty effects because it works in a much more holistic fashion, rather than simply “turning off” one of the body’s essential enzymatic processes without balancing this effect in other ways. It also functions as a powerful protector against oxidative stress, which can underlie all of the symptoms and conditions listed above.
It accomplishes these feats with its rich and varied profile of healing phytonutrients, one of which has even been shown to exhibit anti-cancer properties. Researchers have demonstrated that eugenol, apigenin, luteolin, rosmarinic acid, myretenal, beta-sitosterol, and carnosinic acid all work together to heal cancer on nearly every level—a 2013 study showed that these compounds prevent cancer, boost the body’s own ability to fight cancer, inhibit the growth and spread of cancer, and even induce apoptosis (or “programmed cell death,” in which cancer cells essentially kill themselves). Extracts of Holy Basil even protected mice exposed to direct radiation against tumor formation.
But Holy Basil isn’t just for cancer patients
While its anti-cancer properties alone make Holy Basil a worthy natural medicine, it’s got plenty of other tricks up its sleeve too. Research (not to mention thousands of years of use in Ayurvedic medicine) suggests that it’s well-worth trying out even if you aren’t battling cancer.
It’s profoundly balancing for brain chemistry—it lowers cortisol levels, balances catecholamine and monoamine oxidase, and increases levels of dopamine and serotonin. For this reason, it’s incredibly effective for managing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and mood imbalances.
These benefits are amplified when Holy Basil is taken on a daily (or at least frequent) basis, because it functions as an adaptogen. This means that over time, it modulates the overall function of the body’s stress management system, in turn boosting the immune system, amplifying natural detoxification processes, and strengthening the body’s resistance to stress of all kinds.
Its adaptogenic effect is precisely what has given Tulsi its reputation as the paragon of longevity herbs in Ayurveda. Ongoing use protects the body against disease and degeneration, and facilitates emotional balance. It even improves energy levels without acting as a stimulant (it simultaneously calms the body, and can improve sleep quality, thanks to its neurotransmitter-balancing abilities).
How to make Holy Basil part of your life
There’s plenty of great ways to try out Holy Basil (and as continuing research reveals just how amazing this herb really is, there’s bound to be more and more products that incorporate it).
The fresh leaves are definitely worth a try—they have a very interesting, spicy flavor, and make a great addition to soups, curries, and stir-fry dishes. You can source them from well-stocked health food stores, and from online herb suppliers (just make sure you can verify that they’re as fresh as possible).
Powders and pre-made teas are easier to find, and are the route taken by most people (again, just be sure to purchase from a trustworthy brand). Tulsi tea still gives you the taste experience of fresh leaves, and can be a much more convenient way to use the herb therapeutically.
While all of these choices are great for starting out, you’ll achieve the best results by seeking out a high-quality Holy Basil extract. Try to find one that’s at least 10:1, meaning that 1 gram of extract powder contains the amount of eugenol and other constituents usually found in 10 grams worth of fresh leaves.
However you choose to take Holy Basil, you’ll be tapping into an ancient, sophisticated lineage of holistic healing to which mainstream medicine is only just beginning to catch up.