Holy Basil or tulsi, scientific name Ocimum Sanctum (synonym - Ocimum tenuiflorum) is an aromatic perennial plant in the family Lamiaceae. It is native to the Indian subcontinent and widespread as a cultivated plant throughout the Southeast Asian tropics.
Tulsi is cultivated for medicinal and religious purposes and also for its essential oil.
The name Tulsi which in Sanskrit means ‘The incomparable One’, has got two varieties, Krishna Tulsi (black) and Rama Tulsi (green). Their chemical constituents are similar but Krishna Tulsi possesses great medicinal value as mentioned in Charaka Samhita, an ancient Indian literature. It is a herb that is bestowed with enormous antimicrobial substances and used to treat a variety of illnesses ranging from diabetes, arthritis, bronchitis, skin diseases.
Benefits of Tulsi
In ayurveda, tulsi is known as ‘queen of herbs’ and is referred to as the ‘elixir of life’. Tulsi is considered as an adaptogen. It is known to penetrate into the deep tissues and normalise kapha and vata. Daily consumption of tulsi is said to prevent disease, promote general health, well being and longevity and assist in dealing with the stresses of daily life. The benefits of tulsi include -
- As a powerful antioxidant
High content of phenolic compounds and flavonoids, more so in Krishna tulsi than in other varieties, are powerful antioxidants that scavenges the free radicals in the body. The extract of both leaves and stem of tulsi plant possess high antioxidant abilities1.
- Antistress activity
Tulsi is shown to have a high antistress/adaptogenic properties through its ability to stimulate the immune system. Studies using forced-swimming, restraint and cold-exposure stress in laboratory animals have shown that tulsi enhances aerobic metabolism, improves swimming time, reduces oxidative tissue damage and normalizes many physiological and biochemical parameters caused by physical stressors2.
Eugenol and caryophyllene are the most imperative adaptogen agents present in the chemical formula of Tulsi. These are very effective in lowering the corticosterone levels that are main cause of stress5.
- Anti-cancer activity
Tulsi helps to prevent cancer by reducing DNA damage and causing cell death of pre-cancer and cancer cells. The herb is also known to protect the healthy cells against the side effects of chemo/radiation therapy.
- Antimicrobial property
Research has shown that tulsi has anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties3. Experimental evidence suggests that tulsi can be used to treat various infections such as urinary tract infections, skin and wound infections, typhoid, cholera, herpes, various fungal infections, pneumonia and mosquito related infections such as dengue and malaria.
Tulsi also has anti-ulcer and ulcer-treating properties. It also is used as a herbal mouthwash in treating bad breath, gum disease and mouth ulcers. This property can be accounted for its anti-bacterial nature especially against Streptococcus mutans, the organism responsible for tooth decay4.
- As an air purifier
Tulsi is being used to help retain The Taj Mahal its pristine allure. Due to its air purifying, antioxidant and anti polluting nature, planting tulsi helps to remove the air pollutants and to purify air.
Other benefits of Tulsi
- Tulsi is effective for diabetics, helps in lowering blood sugar
- Also useful in reducing the total cholesterol levels and lowers the blood pressure
- The rama tulsi is useful in severe respiratory problems. It helps to give relief against cold, cough and bronchitis. Tulsi oil is used for ear pain.
- This herb also acts as anti-depressant.
- Tulsi contains ursolic acid, a compound that prevents wrinkles and helps retain the elasticity of the skin especially in young population5.
- Tulsi leaves extract taken along with honey helps to get rid of kidney stones.
There are multiple usage of tulsi for various conditions -
- Indigestion - consuming water boiled with 8-10 leaves of tulsi and ½ tsp of shunti relieves indigestion.
- Cold and cough - tulsi tea prepared with 8-10 leaves of tulsi, 1 clove, small piece cinnamon, 1 gm black pepper powder, ½ tsp shunti boiled in 100 ml water and reduced to half its quantity is a good remedy for cold and cough.
- Fever - juice of tulsi leaves mixed with pepper powder has been found to be useful in malarial fever.
- Pediatric disorders - Lavanga 1-2, tulsi leaves 5-6 and tankana powder 1/4th teaspoon - all pounded together should be given to the child. It alleviates fever, cough, asthma and abdominal disorders.
- Premature greying of hair - tulsi is used as one of the components in the hair oil to prevent greying.
- Wound healing - sprinkling with the juice of surasadi drugs (tulsi in combination with other herbs) or paste of garlic destroys the maggots in the wound.
Research indicates that tulsi has a very high safety margin with low toxicity levels. It provides high beneficial effect at the doses without any adverse reaction or side effects.
As per the research papers6 published on the benefits, uses and pharmacological application of Tulsi, it is indeed a ‘queen of herbs’ showing multiple benefits to overall health and well-being. It promotes longevity and millions of people have made it a practice of consuming tulsi leaves on a daily basis to reap the maximum benefit.
3 Vasudevan P, Kashyap S, Sharma S. Bioactive botanicals from basil (Ocimum sp.) J Sci Ind Res (C) 1999;58:332–8.
6 Research J. Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry 2010; 2(2): 103-108
7 Classical uses of medicinal plants by Prof.P.V.Sharma.