Holy basil- proven health benefits and uses

The scientific name of the holy basil is Ocimum sanctum Linn.  It is also know as Sacred basil, Monk’s basil, and Red basil. Other names include

ARABIC: Dohsh, Schadjant, Vasub.
ASSAMESE: Tulasii.
BENGALI: Kalatulsi (as O. sanctum), Kalotulsi, Kural (as O. sanctum), Tulasi, Tulshi, Tulsi.
BURMESE: Lun, Pinsein-net, Kala-pinsein.
FRENCH: Basilic sacré, Basilic sacré à feuilles vertes, Basilic thaïlandais.
GERMAN: Indisches Basilikum.
GUJARATI: Tulsi, Talasi (as O. sanctum).
HINDI: Baranda, Jangalii tulasii, Kaalaa tulasii, Krishna tulasii, Tulasii, Varanda.
JAPANESE: Bajiru hoorii, Kamimebouki, Kamibouki.
KANNADA: Kalatulsi, Karitulasi, Sritulasi, Tulasi, Vishnu tulasi.
KHMER: Che tak, Che tak me, Mareah proeu, Mrea preu.
LAOTIAN Phak i tou thai, Saphaa, Sa phao lom deng, Sa phao lom khao.
MALAY: Kemangi, Selasih merah, Selasih Siam.
MALAYALAM: Krishnatulasi, Kunnakam, Punya, Shivatulasi, Shri tulasi, Sivatulasi, Trittavu, Tulasi.
MARATHI: Tulas, Tulasa, Tulshi.
NEPALESE: Krisna, Tulsii maa, Tulasii patra.
PORTUGUESE: Manjericão-branco, Tulase (Brazil).
SANSKRIT: Ajaka, Arjaka, Brinda, Gauri, Gramya, Haripriya, Krishnamula, Krishna tulasii, Laxmi, Madhavi, Manjari, Madurutala, Mudura tulla, Parnasa, Patrapuspha, Sri tulasi,
SINHALESE: Madurutala, Mudura tulla.
TAMIL: Alungai, Karuntulasi, Karut tulasi, Kullai, Nalla thulasi, Tiruttizhai , Tiruttilai, Tulasi, Tuzay.
TELUGU: Brynda, Gaggera, Krishnatulsi, Kukka pala, Oddhi , Tulasi, Tulsi, Tulsichettu.
THAI: Ka phrao, Ka phrao daeng khon, Ka phrao khon, Kom ko dong, Tu thai.
URDU: Janglitulshi, Kali tulsi.
VIETNAMESE: E rung, E tia, E do, Húng quế, Huong nhu tia, Cay e tia, Cay co e rung, E to, Rau quế.

Holy basil is an erect and herbaceous branched plant, 1 meter high or less. Stems and younger parts are covered with spreading hairs. Leaves are oblong-ovate and 2 to 4.5 centimeters long, with pointed or blunt tips, and somewhat toothed margins. Flowers are pink or purplish, about 7 millimeters long, borne on racemes 5 to 14 centimeters long. Calyx at the time of flowering is about 3 millimeters long and somewhat larger in fruit; the two lower teeth are long-awned, the upper one broadly-oblong, and the lateral ones very broad. Corolla is very small, scarcely longer than the calyx. Nutlets are somewhat rounded or broadly oblong, slightly compressed and nearly smooth.


Parts utilized

Rhizomes, leaves.


– Leaves yield a volatile oil (0.6%), to a large extent consisting of methyl homo anisic acid, plus cineol and linalool.

– Eugenol (1-hydroxy-2-methoxy-4-allybenzene), the active constituent, considered to be largely responsible for its therapeutic potential.

Medicinal properties of holy basil or tulsi

– Considered to possess antifertility, anticancer, antidiabetic, antifungal, antimicrobial, galactagogue, hepatoprotective, cardioprotective, antiemetic, antispasmodic, analgesic actions.

– Leaves are expectorant and stomachic.


Leaves are eaten sparingly as salad,or tea. While preparing tulsi tea add ginger or other herbs and spices along with tulsi leaves.

Folkloric traditional remedies and uses of holy basil

– In the Philippines, decoction of leaves used for aromatic baths.

– Decoction of roots and leaves used for gonorrhea; externally used for rheumatic pains and paralysis.

– Seed decoction used as demulcent.

– Dried plant in decoction used for croup, diarrhea, catarrh, bronchitis and diarrhea.

– Decoction of roots used as diaphoretic for malarial fevers.

– Leaf juice considered expectorant; used by Hindi physicians in catarrh and bronchitis.

– Leaf juice used for earache.

– Infusion of leaves used in malaria, and as stomachic in gastric affections in children and in hepatic affections.

– Fresh juice induces vomiting and expels worms.

– Mixed with honey, ginger and onion juice, used as expectorant for bronchitis and coughs.

– In Malaya, juice used externally in an imbrocation for rheumatism.

– In Java, used to increase milk secretion.

– In India, leaf juice traditionally used for cough, bronchitis, asthma, malaria, dysentery, stress situations, worm infestations, superficial fungal infections, and as diuretic.

Others uses

– Religion: It is the most sacred plant in Hindu religion.

– Insect repellent: In India and South Africa, plant is used as a mosquito repellent.

Scientific proven health benefits and uses of holy basil


The radioprotective effects of two flavonoids, orientin and vicenin from the leaves of OS were studied by evaluating chromosome aberration in bone marrow cells of irradiated mice. Results suggest ocimum flavonoids may be promising for human radiation protection.

Antidiabetic /Hypoglycemic:

In a study, one of 24 of 30 medicinal plants, OS showed significant blood glucose lowering activity.

Antidiabetic / Increased Insulin Secretion:

Study evaluated ethanol extract and fractions of leaves for insulin secretion and mechanisms of action. Results showed concentration-dependent stimulation of insulin secretion from perfused rat pancreas, isolated rat islets and a clonal rat ß-cell line.

• Anti-Cataract: Study of aqueous extract of O. sanctum showed potential anti-cataract activity against selinite-induced experimental cataractogenesis.


Ethanolic extract study showed leaves possess anti-anxiety effects probably through a central nervous system pathway that may involve the GABA-ergic system. Another study on noise-induced changes in rats were normalized with pretreatment with OS extract indicating its stress-alleviating effect.


Study shows an antitussive effect probably by central action mediated through both opioid and GABA-ergic system. There was also an increase in intracellular Ca2++ in clonal cells. Results suggest constituents in the leaf extract with stimulatory effects on physiologic pathways of insulin secretion.


Study of ethanol extracts showed antibacterial activity, greater in Gram positive bacteria than gram-negative, esp against B subtilis and S aureus; comparatively less than Origanum majorana.

Another study on OS essential oil showed marked antibacterial efficiency against all bacteria tested, maximum against S aureus and marked antibacterial efficacy against P mirabilis, P aeruginosa, Klebsiella sp and E coli.


Study of various extracts of leaves showed antibacterial activity. Results showed O. sanctum may be a better alternative as a preservative in Food Industries because it was equally effective against gram positive and gram negative bacteria.

CNS-Protective/ good for nervous system/ healthy brain:

A study showed the ethanol leaf extract of O sanctum to have a protective effect against haloperidol-induced catalepsy and indicates that OS may be used to prevent drug-induced extrapyramidal effects.


A study showed the leaves of OS to possess both superoxide and hydroxyl free radical scavenging effect and attributes the antioxidant property to be responsible for its hypoglycemic effect.

Good for heart/ Myocardial Salvaging Effect:

A study showed Ocimum sanctum has cardioprotective effects against ISP-induced myocardial necrosis probably through improved ventricular function, augmentation of endogenous antioxidants and suppression of oxidative stress.

Anti-cancer activity:

Administration of aqueous and ethanolic extracts of Ocimum sanctum to mice with sarcomatous tumor resulted in a significant reduction in tumor volume and increase in lifespan.

Anti-Fertility / Abortifacient:

Leaves of O sanctum are said to be abortifacient in women. The benzene and petroleum ether extracts of leaves have been reported to produce 80% to 60% antifertility activity in female rats. In male rats, benzene extract of leaves has been reported to reduce spermatogenesis by retarding sertoli cell activity.

Anti-Ulcer Activity:

Study showed the extract of OS possess antiulcerogenic properties with reduction of the ulcer index, free and total acidity in rats. Seven days of treatment increased mucous secretion.

Antidiabetic Activity:

A study indicated OS leaf extracts to have stimulatory effects on physiological pathways of insulin secretion to explain its antidiabetic action.

Wound Healing:

Study showed the ethanolic extract of leaves of Ocimum sanctum promotes wound healing significantly and able to overcome the wound healing suppressing action of dexamethasone.

Hepatoprotective Activity/ good for liver:

A study showed the leaf extract of OS to have a hepatoprotective effect on hepatotoxicty induced by antitubercular drugs. The exact mechanism has not been defined, but OS antioxidant activity seems to be the most important mode of its hepatoprotective effect.


Ocimum sanctum is a cheaper source for the commercial extraction of eugenol. The aerial parts (leaves, flowers and stems) contain essential oils with good percentage of eugenol. The use of O sanctum in the treatment of gastric ulcer has been attributed to the antiulcerogenic action of eugenol and essential oil from leaves.

Anti-Amnesic / Nootropic Activity:

Study showed whole plant extract to significantly decrease transfer latency and increased step down latency.

Anti-Noise / Stress Alleviating:

Study of ethanolic extract on noise stress induced changes in albino rats – leukopenia, increased corticosterone levels and enhanced neutrophil functions as indicated by increase in Candida phagocytosis and NBT reduction, showed normalization of the altered values by pretreatment with O S extract.

• Analgesic:

Study of an alcoholic extract of leaves of O. sanctum on glacial acetic-acid writhing and radiant heat-induced tail flick test showed analgesic activity.

• Cardioprotective on Combination Treatment:

Study of the combined treatment of Ginkgo biloba phytosomes (GBP) and Ocimum sanctum extract (OS) in isoproterenol-induced myocardial necrosis in rats demonstrated significant cardiac protection, decreased lipid peroxidation, restoration of antioxidant activities.

Anti-Haloperidol Induced Catalepsy:

Neuroleptic drugs used in the treatment of schizophrenia are known to cause extrapyramidal side effects. Study showed Ocimum sanctum has a protective effect against haloperidol-induced catalepsy. Results suggest its potential use in the prevention of drug-induced extrapyramidal side effects.


Essential oil of Ocimum sanctum and its dominant component, eugenol, tested inn vitro, exhibited potent anthelmintic activity in the Caenorhabditis elegans model.


Study in albino rats of a methanol extract and aqueous suspension of leaves for its immunoregulatory profile to antigenic challenge to Salmonella typhosa and sheep erythrocyte agglutination tests showed immunostimulation of humoral immunologic response shown by an increase in antibody titer as well as a cellular immunologic response. The immunostimulant capability was attributed to the plants adaptogenic action.


Study of aqueous extract of O. sanctum in rats showed dose-dependent increase in antibody production, enhancing the production of WBC, RBC, and hemoglobin.

Thrombolytic Potential:

Study evaluated four aqueous herbal extracts viz., O. sanctum, C. longa, A. indica and A. occidentale. Results showed significant clot lysis compared with vehicle control. O. sanctum showed moderate clot lysis activity (30.01±6/168%) where the standard streptokinase showed 86.2% clot lysis effect. Although all the herbal extracts exhibited in vitro thrombolytic properties, in vivo clot dissolving properties and active components are yet to be discovered.

Repellent / Anti-Termite:

Various crude extracts of flowers, leaf, root and stems were studied against the termite species, H. indicola. All extracts showed moderate toxic effects. Maximum repellency was seen in the methanol root extracts while water extracts showed minimum repellency.
Sperm Count and Reproductive Hormone Effects:

Study evaluated fresh leaves of O. sanctum for its effect on reproductive function in male albino rabbits. Results showed a significant derease in sperm count with marked increase in serum testosterone and significant reductions in FSH and LH. Results suggest a potential use as a male contraceptive agent.


A randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study evaluated the efficacy ofOciBest, an extract of Ocimum tenuiflorum in symptomatic control of general stress. Results showed OciBest (whole plant extract) to be 1.6 times or 39% more effective in the management of stress symptoms compared to placebo and was well tolerated by all patients over a six-week period study.

Corrosion Inhibitor:

Recent aqueous extracts of Cocos nucifera petiole, Fennel essential oil, Garcinia mangostana pericarp, ethanol extract of V. amygdalina and Ipomoea involcrata have been used as corrosion inhibitors. Study evaluated the inhibitory effects of O. tenuiflorum. Results showed O. tenuiflorum to act as a good inhibitor for corrosion of stell in 1M Hcl.

Holy basil availability
Seeds, capsules, powder  are available in the market.

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