Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) is an adaptogen. It helps your body cope with stress by reducing the cortisol levels and increasing the release of happiness hormones like dopamine and serotonin. Stress dampens immunity, but holy basil flavonoids counter by increasing the number of immune agents like natural killer cells, neutrophils, and T helper cells. It also helps protect the liver from drug-related damage and tilts the lipid balance in favor of the good HDL cholesterol.
Well deserving of the title “The Queen of Herbs,” holy basil or tulsi is quite the multitasker in the health department. You’ll reap the most benefits if you’re patient with it, but even a single cup could perk up your energy levels.
The mojo is in the leaves, more specifically the oil of the leaves.
Eugenol, a phenolic compound, deserves the most accolades. But the rule of thumb for herbs, or any natural food, though is that whole is always better than isolated active ingredients; so think of it as a team of compounds working together.
Why It’s So Great
1. Reduces Stress
Stress is a real challenge even for the healthiest among us. Not only do you have to tackle emotional stress on a day-to-day basis, you also have physical stressors like environmental toxins testing your limits. Adaptogens are herbs that help your body respond to stress in a less harmful way. Holy basil is one such adaptogen.
- Decreases cortisol: Taking the most direct approach, holy basil can reduce the stress hormone cortisol in your system.
- Regulates your mood: Kindling positivity, holy basil also modulates the natural “happy” chemical messengers in your body, namely, serotonin and dopamine. They carry messages to the brain regions controlling mood and mental well-being.
The compounds ocimarin and ocimumosides A and B seem to make the most difference here.
2. Amps Up Immunity
The immune system can always use a hand to fight off invaders (bacteria, viruses, parasites, and the like). The helping hand could be extended by flavonoid-rich foods – usually, the colorful fruits and veggies – and herbs. Holy basil is one such. It’s especially good for fighting viral infections.
- Levels up fighter cells: The flavonoids fortify the immune system’s first line of defense by increasing the number of fighter cells called natural killer cells and neutrophils. They also increase the T helper cell population, evoking a more specialized attack.
- Increases immune system conversation: Once the T helper cells are triggered by the flavonoids, they send SOS signals via the chemicals IFN-γ and IL-4 to call in other immune cells.
3. Supports Liver Health
Being a focal detox organ, your liver takes quite a beating because the process of detoxing itself generates highly reactive cell-damaging molecules called free radicals. You can reduce the liver’s toxic load with the right foods and herbs, including holy basil. It could give your liver a breather. Here’s how.
- Scavenges cadmium: Cadmium exposure is not as far-fetched as you may think. You’re exposed to trace amounts of it through foods like shellfish and liver and kidney meats as well as cigarette smoke. It is extremely harsh on your liver. Holy basil, as well as other herbs like garlic and cilantro, can help protect your liver by binding to cadmium. The resultant compound is then removed from your system.
- Stabilizes the liver membrane: This is important for protection from drug-induced liver damage.
4. Stabilizes Blood Glucose
Your blood glucose levels fluctuate daily in response to what you eat and the activities you do. Keeping the levels balanced is a big job your body performs daily. You could assist it in this process with holy basil.
Holy basil’s leaves are capable of helping your pancreas produce more insulin. Insulin is the key that opens cell doors for glucose, so more insulin means less glucose out and about in the blood – basically, stable blood glucose levels.
5. Manages Cholesterol
Don’t go by the bad name cholesterol has earned in relation to heart disease. Cholesterol is necessary, but in the right amounts and in the right ratio. One crucial function your body has is to maintain optimum levels of different types of cholesterol as well as the balance between them. Holy basil can help out.
It reduces total cholesterol and the “bad” LDLs while also increasing the “good” HDLs. Here again, eugenol gets the most credit.
Naturally, fewer LDLs means low chance of oxidation (modification) by free radicals. The oxidized LDLs are what block arteries.
Moreover, holy basil spurs antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase and catalase to work harder. It also tackles oxidative stress caused by emotional stress.
Have up to half a teaspoon (about 2.5 gm) of the dried leaf powder daily. There are hints of holy basil’s active ingredients being fat-soluble, so it may make sense to have it with ghee.
If you prefer drinking holy basil tea, add a teaspoon of the dried herb to hot water. The warmth may be comforting as well.