If you've never heard of tulsi (Ocimum sanctum), you might be missing out on some serious health benefits! Tulsi is an herb from India that can be made into a delicious tea, and it is also called sacred basil, holy basil, and “The Incomparable One”. With a name like that, why drink anything else?
Tulsi is often used as a health tonic, and this article will shed some light on why that is. Read on to find out:
- What tulsi holy basil is
- The real, scientifically-backed health benefits of tulsi holy basil
- How to brew tulsi holy basil
- Some more important quick facts about tulsi holy basil
Ready to learn more? Let's go!
What Is Tulsi?
Tulsi is a famous herb and tisane in the Indian herbal medicine philosophy called Ayurveda - one of the oldest methods of herbalism. This adaptogenic tea was known as “the elixir of life,” and taken for longevity long before the term “adaptogen” was ever coined.
What's an adaptogen, you say? Put simply, it's a class of herbs that can help us "adapt" to stress. To learn more about how adaptogens work, and how they can energize without caffeine, check out our post about them here.
True to its title as “adaptogen”, tulsi can be taken safely as a tonic (a fancy way to say drinking a tea or tisane for health purposes) over long periods of time, and has virtually no side effects. This means that it:
- Increases endurance
- And yet, it contains no caffeine!
High in antioxidants, tulsi is a "protective" herb. This means it contains phytochemicals that exhibit anti-inflammatory properties, and it has even shown protective action for human blood lymphocytes by reducing chromosomal damage due to radiation. Whoa!
It's also ridiculously high in antioxidants, scoring a whopping 2550 on the ORAC scale (matcha is 1384 by comparison). Tulsi's primary antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin A, rosmarinic acid, caryophyllene, eugenol, and ursolic acid.
Note: ORAC is a measure of antioxidant levels that allows for an easy comparison between foods, teas, etc. To learn more about the ORAC scale, how it works, and how to spot when a health food company might be fudging the numbers, check out my post on the subject.
Why Is Tulsi Holy Basil Good For You?
The health benefits of tulsi are seemingly endless! One of the best properties of adaptogenic herbs are their modulating activity - this means that they bring balance to the body.
This property is responsible for a lot of the good things that tulsi does to your body. Tulsi's main benefits include:
- Most adaptogens act in a broad way on all body systems, but usually have an affinity for a specific one. Tulsi has an affinity for the lungs.
- Traditionally, tulsi has been used for respiratory tract infections, strengthening the lungs, and for improving lung health in recovery. It is considered warming, drying, and stimulating.
- Tulsi has immunomodulatory action, making it a great choice if your immune system needs a nudge or if it needs to back down a bit. This immune regulation makes it safe in moderation even for those with an overactive immune system.
- By reducing the negative impact of stress on the body (and improving the body’s adaptability to chronic stressors), tulsi acts as a preventative against chronic illness.
- By reducing stress, tulsi can improve sleep quality.
- Tulsi is initially stimulating, but ultimately calms and restores the nervous system.
- Tulsi's lack of caffeine, coupled with its ability to increase endurance, improves energy levels and restores health after long-term illness, making this tea a great option for anyone dealing with chronic fatigue.
- In regard to the psychotherapeutic effects, tulsi has been found to have anti-anxiety and anti-depressant properties, making it one of the best herbal teas for anxiety.
Is Tulsi Holy Basil Safe During Pregnancy?
More research still needs to be done on the safety of tulsi holy basil during pregnancy. The limited studies that we do have suggest mixed results, with some showing that tulsi has benefits during pregnancy, and some showing that tulsi produces possible negative side effects.
Due to this incomplete information, it is NOT recommended for you to consume tulsi if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
A much better tea option for pregnancy is honeybush tea. For the full story about why that is, check out my post about honeybush and rooibos tea during pregnancy.
Spiritual Aspects of Tulsi Holy Basil
Ayurveda sees tulsi as a holistic herb, meaning that its properties go beyond the physical. It is considered a healthy tonic both emotionally and spiritually. Ceremonially, it has been used in different traditions as a connection between the mind, body, and spirit.
Additionally, in the Hindu faith, tulsi is believed to ward off negativity. As such, it is planted in ceramic pots called "Tulsi Vrindavan" that are placed outside every home (see photo above).
The leaves are also used in religious practices worshipping Krishna, Vishnu and Vithoba. It is such a sacred plant that a married Hindu woman will wear a gold chain with a golden tulsi leaf on it to signify she is married (along the lines of wedding rings in the West).
How to Brew Tulsi Holy Basil Tea
The only rule when steeping tulsi is: don't burn it. Apart from that, the time and quantity of tea are quite flexible!
Start with 1-2 tsp of the loose leaf (heaped) for one mug of tea and 2-3 tsp (heaped) for a pot. Boil the water, then let it sit for a minute to cool down a little. You can also pour it into another vessel before pouring it over your rinsed leaves.
Avoid using water that's hotter than 200F (93C). Because boiled water initially cools down very fast, just leaving it for a couple of minutes will do the trick.
Steep the tea for 5-8 minutes. If you want a stronger flavor, add another teaspoon of leaves and steep for 5-6 minutes (better to increase the amount of tea rather than the brewing time if you're after the maximum amount of antioxidants).
To get the full antioxidant hit, ensure that your tea steeps for a minimum of 5 minutes.
For more information on brewing teas and tisanes, check out our "Ultimate Guide to Brewing Tea and Tisanes" blog post here.
Fun Facts About Tulsi
- Tulsi has shown anti-diabetic properties in clinical trials by stimulating insulin secretion
- It helps reduce the physiological response to stress (stress is an underlying principle in disease)
- It helps protect your heart (cardioprotective)
- It has wound-healing properties
- It can help prevent weight gain
- Tulsi helps prevent oxidative damage
- It has shown protective action and increased recovery time in rats exposed to gamma radiation
- Its leaves help reduce “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and increase “good” (HDL) cholesterol
- Tulsi even has beauty applications, and can add luster to your complexion
- Its ORAC (antioxidant) level is ~1.8x that of matcha tea
A Note From The Herbalist...
Adaptogenic herbs are some of my favorite herbs! I love the fact that I can make a blend of stimulating adaptogens and drink those in the morning in place of caffeine.
While caffeine-containing teas are not bad by any degree, caffeine acts as an unregulated stimulant, which will actually deplete and weaken your nervous system over time and ultimately make you more susceptible to stress.
Adaptogens do the opposite! They support the nervous system and provide nutrients to help it thrive, they stimulate in a modulatory fashion, and are protective against non-specific forms of stress.
If you haven't heard of adaptogens before now (meaning you skimmed this blog post!), don't fear: here's the link again to my two-part series on adaptogens where you can learn all about this class of plants (including ginseng and moringa as well).
So, if you are feeling run down or depleted, I’d recommend skipping the midday caffeine in favor of an adaptogen like tulsi tea instead. :-)
Tulsi teas to get you started
Here are Matcha Alternatives' two tulsi teas, plus MA's moringa, which is also a really tasty adaptogen (you can learn more about moringa in my post on it here):
Deep Breath Rooibos Tulsi - Tulsi tea has a rich, warm, herbaceous flavor with a light spice and thick roundness (if that's a word!). The rooibos tempers this powerful fragrance with added sweetness and depth.
'The Purist' Organic Tulsi Holy Basil - Classic tulsi, entirely organic, and with a light spice and sweetness.
Superior Organic Moringa Tea Powder - Not a tulsi, but still an adaptogen! Made of the powdered leaves of the Moringa oleifera plant, so you are consuming 100% of the nutrients and antioxidants on offer as you drink the entire leaf. More antioxidants than matcha, too.
And of course... All of the information regarding the herbs, botanicals, minerals, vitamins, etc., is information drawn from traditional use data or academic research and should be regarded as such. If you, the reader, has a health or medical concern, please consult your healthcare professional. The information found here is not meant to diagnose, treat, prescribe or cure and has not been evaluated by the FDA. The information here is for educational use only.
NOTE: Tulsi is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women. For mamas or mamas-to-be, reach for honeybush instead.
Tulsi Holy Basil References and Further Reading
Pattanayak P, Behera P, Das D, Panda SK. Ocimum sanctum Linn. A reservoir plant for therapeutic applications: An overview. Pharmacogn Rev. 2010;4(7):95–105. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.65323. Accessed September 17, 2019.