Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) is a member of the mint, or Labiatae, family. Though it is closely related to the sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) frequently used in cooking, holy basil has a much richer history. The plant, which is native to tropical Asia, is now found in most tropical parts of the world. It has only recently gained popularity in the United States although it has been grown in India for more than 3,000 years.
Also known as “Tulsi” or “The Incomparable One,” holy basil is one of the most sacred plants in India. In Hindu mythology, Tulsi symbolizes the goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Vishnu, who is one of the religion’s most important deities. The herb has been valued for centuries because of its benefits for the mind, body, and spirit.
But while its history is deeply rooted in religion and mythology, it has also been used in several ancient systems of medicine including Ayurveda, Greek, Roman, and Siddha for thousands of years.
For what health conditions can holy basil be used?
Holy basil is a powerful antioxidant with demonstrated antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.1,3 In Ayurvedic medicine, holy basil has been used to treat a variety of conditions – everything from the common cold to bronchitis to fever to certain digestive complaints, including ulcers.
Although many of these treatments are still unproven by conventional testing, modern science is now taking a closer look at this fascinating herb. In the past decade, a number of scientific studies have focused on the effects of holy basil. Some investigations have shown great promise – suggesting holy basil may indeed prove effective in those customary uses. But science has even looked beyond the traditional scope, studying the herb for its therapeutic potential in cancer, specifically as an adjuvant to radiation therapy, and even for its stabilizing effects in diabetes.
The most compelling data, however, suggests that holy basil possesses its greatest potential in the areas of stress relief and relaxation. And in the fast paced world in which we live, these findings may prove to be extremely significant.