Holy Basil

Well deserving of the title “The Queen of Herbs,” holy basil or tulsi is quite the multi-tasker in the health department. You’ll reap the most benefits if you’re patient with it – noticing that you fall sick less often and tire less easily. But there’s no denying that you may also feel instantly energized after a single cup of holy basil tea.

The mojo is in the leaves, more specifically the oil of the leaves.

Eugenol, a phenolic compound, gains the most traction when speaking of holy basil’s health benefits. The rule of thumb for medicinal herbs though is 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

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 chemical messengers 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 likes). Holy basil harbors a large group of plant compounds called flavonoids that can do just that – more so when 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, the liver takes quite a beating. It is often overworked because of toxins in your food or in certain medications. Holy basil can take on some of the responsibility and give your liver a breather.

  • 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 can help protect your liver by scavenging cadmium from your system.
  • Stabilizes the liver membrane: This is important for protection from drug-induced liver damage.

4. Stabilizes Blood Glucose

Holy basil’s leaves are capable of coercing your pancreas into producing more insulin. This may help make your blood glucose more manageable and prevent it from skyrocketing.

5. Offers Pain Relief

Modern painkillers are of little or no use when dealing with pain caused by nerve damage or disease (neuropathic pain). Holy basil, on the other hand, not only offers you relief but also comes without the baggage of side effects.

Eugenol, linoleic acid, and a group of compounds called saponins are likely to be at work here. Together, they inhibit a pro-inflammatory enzyme called COX-2 and reduce oxidative stress – all in all, reducing pain.

6. Normalizes Cholesterol

Normalizing your lipid profile, holy basil reduces total cholesterol and LDL “bad” cholesterol while also increasing HDL “good” cholesterol. Here again, eugenol gets the most credit.

  • Not only does it keep your cholesterol down but also reduces the likelihood of it solidifying into arterial clogs – good news for your heart. Antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase and catalase are forced to work harder.
  • It backs this by tackling a destructive environment of oxidative stress caused by emotional stress.

Lifestyle Tip

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.