The Holy Basil herb (Ocimum sanctum), also called Tulsi, is one of the oldest and most used medicinal herbs. It has provided the backbone of many treatments among Ayurvedic physicians from thousands of years ago, as it was used to treat numerous disorders. It has also been revered for its spiritual potency, and has been dubbed among ancient Ayurvedic texts as “elixir of life.” The word Tulsi is translated to “incomparable.”
The plant grows in warm and tropical regions, but also up to 6,000 feet among mountainous regions. There are actually two general cultivars of the herb: One has green leaves and the other has purple leaves.
One might be tempted to compare Tulsi to Culinary Basil – Ocimum basilicum. Holy Basil, however, is quite different. A 2014 DNA sequencing study was conducted at the CSIR-Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants genetically compared the two species. The research found significant genetic differences between the two species. While they may share a few of their constituents, their genetic sequences have significant differences.
In terms of active constituents, Holy Basil’s stronger pungency is due to its content of eugenol along with sesquiterpenoids such as beta-caryophyllene. Other medically active constituents of Tulsi include oleanolic acid, ursolic acid, carvacrol, linalool, rosmarinic acid, myretenal, luteolin, germacrene D, beta-sitosterolorintin, beta-elemene, vicenin, carnosic acid, several apigenins, luteolin-glucuronic acids, luteolin-glucopyranosides, glucopyronosyl-hydroxybenzenes, dimethoxy-flavans, methoxyphenoxy-dimethoxyflavans, methoxyphenoxymethyls, methoxyphenyl-dihydrobenzofurans, methoxyphenoxy-methoxyphenyl-methoxypropanes and many others.
Tulsi is also rich in calcium (25 mg per 100 grams), phosphorus, iron and vitamin C.
Ancient Ayurvedic texts have advised Tulsi be used to combat a myriad of conditions.
Stress and anxiety
Coughing and asthma
Intestinal issues and diarrhea
Heart and artery conditions
Various bites from insects, snakes, scorpions and others
Okay this list is huge. And yet there are even more conditions that Tulsi is recommended for by Ayurvedic physicians. The question now is whether scientific research supports these various uses for Holy Basil. Does the ancient medicinal remedy stand up in the face of modern science? Let’s review some of the research and see. Some of these studies are animal or laboratory studies, but many are also human studies. Together these validate Tulsi’s history of human clinical use in Ayurveda.