The two main types of basil are closely related: Ocimum basilicum (sweet basil), which is a staple of Italian and Asian cooking, and Ocimum sanctum (holy basil), which has a religious use or origin in different cultures. Both forms are native to Asia, although they are grown around the world.
Holy basil has been used medicinally by many cultures. Chinese medicine uses holy basil for stomach spasms, kidney conditions, to promote blood circulation, and to treat snake and insect bites.
In India, holy basil is known as tulsi and is used in religious ceremonies. It is believed to protect any home where it is grown. According to Ayurvedic tradition, tulsi is one of the best herbs to prepare the heart and mind for spiritual practices, treat colds and flu, relieve various skin conditions, and reduce fever.
Research on holy basil suggests that it contains powerful antioxidants and may provide protection to the liver. Also, early studies are looking into holy basil's effects on ulcers, blood sugar levels in diabetics, anxiety/stress, cavity prevention, and changes in immune response.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Limited research suggests holy basil extract may improve symptoms of stress and/or anxiety. Further studies are needed in this area.
Holy basil extract may help prevent dental cavities. A solution containing holy basil extract reduced the number of a particular bacterium that lives in the mouth and contributes to tooth decay. Further research is needed before a conclusion may be made.
Holy basil may have blood sugar lowering effects and may be useful as an adjunct to diet and drug treatment in mild to moderate diabetes. It is unknown whether sweet basil, a similar type of basil used in cooking, would have similar effects. More research is needed.
Holy basil may stimulate an immune response. Early research suggests capsules or tea containing holy basil increases immune system activity. Further studies are needed before conclusions may be made.
* Key to grades
A: Strong scientific evidence for this use B: Good scientific evidence for this use C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work) F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)
Tradition / Theory
The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.
Adaptogen (helps prevent stress-induced illness), allergies, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antispasmodic (suppresses gut spasms), anti-tumor, appetite stimulant, arthritis, asthma, bad breath, birth control, blood disorders, bronchitis, cancer, canker sores, cardiopathy (disease of the heart), cardiovascular health (heart protecting), carminative (digestive aid), cataracts, catarrh (inflammation of the mucous membranes), cholera, circulatory/blood flow disorders (brain tissue damage), clogged arteries, common cold, conjunctivitis (pink eye), constipation, cough, demulcent (soothes inflamed tissue), diarrhea, dry eyes, dysentery (severe diarrhea), earache, eczema, enteritis (inflammation of the small intestine), exercise performance, expectorant (relieves cough/congestion), eye disorders, eye infections/inflammation, fever (chronic), fever reducer, flu, genitourinary disorders, gonorrhea (sexually transmitted infection), gum disease, headaches, heart disease, heavy metal/lead toxicity (mercury poisoning), hiccups, high cholesterol, improving circulation, increasing lifespan, indigestion, insect bites, insect repellent, kidney disorders, kidney stones, liver disorders, liver protection, lower back pain, malaria, metabolic disorders, mouth sores, nausea and vomiting, neuroprotection (brain protection), pain relief, parasites and worms (verminosis), parasite infection, promoting flow of breast milk, quality of life, radiation protection, ringworm, skin diseases, skin disorders, skin inflammatory conditions (psoriasis), snakebite, sore throat, stomach problems, tonic, tuberculosis, ulcers, whooping cough, wound healing.
Traditionally, 300-2,000 milligrams as a single dose of holy basil dried leaves has been taken by mouth daily for preventive therapy, and 600-1,800 milligrams in divided doses has been taken by mouth daily as a healing therapy. As a tea, 2 grams holy basil has been infused in one cup of water. Also, 10-20 milliliters of fresh leaf juice or 1 ounce of dried herb in 16 ounces of water, three times daily in 5 ounce doses has been taken by mouth.
For anxiety/stress, 1,200 milligrams of OciBest® has been taken by mouth in two divided doses (400 milligrams after breakfast and 800 milligrams after dinner) daily for six weeks. A 500 milligram holy basil leaf extract capsule has been taken by mouth twice daily following meals for 60 days.
For diabetes, 2.5 grams of dried holy basil leaf powder mixed in water has been taken by mouth every morning for four weeks. Also, 1 teaspoon dried herb brewed in one cup of water three times daily has been used.
For immune function (changes in immune response), capsules containing 300 milligrams of holy basil extract have been taken by mouth daily for four weeks on an empty stomach.
Children (under 18 years old)
For dental cavity prevention, a 10 milliliter solution containing 4% holy basil extract has been used as a mouth rinse twice daily for eight days.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.
Avoid in people with a known allergy or sensitivity to holy basil, its parts, or other members of its plant family.
Side Effects and Warnings
Holy basil seems to be well tolerated in most people, based on its Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status in the United States.
Holy basil may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised in people with diabetes or low blood sugar, and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar. Blood sugar levels may need to be monitored by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist, and medication adjustments may be necessary.
Holy basil may increase the risk of bleeding. Caution is advised in people with bleeding disorders or taking drugs that may increase the risk of bleeding. Dosing adjustments may be necessary.
Holy basil may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised in people taking drugs or herbs and supplements that lower blood pressure.
Holy basil may interfere with the way the body processes certain drugs using the liver's "cytochrome P450" enzyme system.
Drowsiness or sedation may occur. Use caution if driving or operating heavy machinery.
Use cautiously in people trying to become pregnant.
Use cautiously in people with stomach or intestinal disorders or thyroid disorders (underactive thyroid).
Use cautiously in people taking agents that suppress the immune system.
Use cautiously in people receiving radiation therapy.
Avoid in pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Avoid in people with a known allergy or sensitivity to holy basil, its parts, or other members of its plant family.
Holy basil may cause birth control effects, bitter taste, diarrhea, decreased sperm production, nausea, sexual dysfunction, and uterine contractions.
Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
Avoid in pregnant or breastfeeding women, as holy basil may stimulate uterine contractions.
Holy basil may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with drugs that increase the risk of bleeding. Some examples include aspirin, anticoagulants ("blood thinners") such as warfarin (Coumadin®) or heparin, anti-platelet drugs such as clopidogrel (Plavix®), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) or naproxen (Naprosyn®, Aleve®).
Holy basil may interfere with the way the body processes certain drugs using the liver's "cytochrome P450" enzyme system. As a result, the levels of these drugs may be altered in the blood, and may cause potentially serious adverse reactions. People using any medications should check the package insert, and speak with a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist, about possible interactions.
Holy basil may increase the amount of drowsiness caused by some drugs. Examples include benzodiazepines such as lorazepam (Ativan®) or diazepam (Valium®), barbiturates such as phenobarbital, narcotics such as codeine, some antidepressants, and alcohol. Caution is advised while driving or operating machinery.
Holy basil may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using medications that may also lower blood sugar. People taking drugs for diabetes by mouth or insulin should be monitored closely by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary.
Holy basil may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised in people taking agents that lower blood pressure.
Holy basil may also interact with adriamycin, agents for arthritis, agents for the ears, agents for the nervous system, agents for the stomach and intestines, agents that affect the immune system, agents that treat nausea and vomiting, agents used to treat epilepsy, anesthetics (agents for pain relief during surgery), antianxiety agents, antibiotics, anticancer agents, anti-inflammatory agents, anti-parasite agents, anti-ulcer and stomach acid-reducing agents, birth control, cholesterol-lowering agents, cloxacillin, COX 2 inhibitors, dexamethasone, fertility agents, fever reducers, laxatives, pentobarbital, radioactive agents, scopolamine, thyroid hormones, and wound healing agents.
Interactions with Herbs & Dietary Supplements
Holy basil may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with herbs and supplements that are believed to increase the risk of bleeding. Multiple cases of bleeding have been reported with the use of Ginkgo biloba, and fewer cases with garlic and saw palmetto. Numerous other agents may theoretically increase the risk of bleeding, although this has not been proven in most cases.
Holy basil may interfere with the way the body processes certain herbs or supplements using the liver's "cytochrome P450" enzyme system. As a result, the levels of these herbs or supplements may be altered in the blood, and may cause potentially serious adverse reactions. It may also alter the effects that other herbs or supplements possibly have on the P450 system.
Holy basil may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using herbs or supplements that may also lower blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may require monitoring, and doses may need adjustment.
Holy basil may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised in people taking herbs and supplements that lower blood pressure.
Holy basil may increase the amount of drowsiness caused by some herbs or supplements.
Holy basil may also interact with anesthetics (pain relief during surgery), antianxiety herbs and supplements, antibacterials, anticancer herbs and supplements, anti-inflammatory herbs and supplements, antioxidants, anti-parasite herbs and supplements, anti-ulcer and stomach acid-reducing herbs and supplements, birth control, cholesterol-lowering herbs and supplements, COX inhibitors, fever reducing herbs and supplements, herbs and supplements taken for arthritis, herbs and supplements taken for fertility, herbs and supplements taken for nausea and vomiting, herbs and supplements taken for the ears, herbs and supplements taken for the nervous system, herbs and supplements taken for the stomach and intestines, herbs and supplements that affect the immune system, herbs and supplements that protect against radiation damage, herbs and supplements used to treat epilepsy, laxatives, thyroid herbs and supplements, and wound healing herbs and supplements.
Agarwal P and Nagesh L. Comparative evaluation of efficacy of 0.2% Chlorhexidine, Listerine and Tulsi extract mouth rinses on salivary Streptococcus mutans count of high school children--RCT. Contemp.Clin Trials 2011;32(6):802-808.
Agrawal P, Rai V, and Singh RB. Randomized placebo-controlled, single blind trial of holy basil leaves in patients with noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Int J Clin Pharmacol.Ther 1996;34(9):406-409.
Bhattacharyya D, Sur TK, Jana U, et al. Controlled programmed trial of Ocimum sanctum leaf on generalized anxiety disorders. Nepal.Med.Coll.J 2008;10(3):176-179.
Goel RK, Sairam K, Dorababu M, et al. Effect of standardized extract of Ocimum sanctum Linn. on gastric mucosal offensive and defensive factors. Indian J Exp.Biol 2005;43(8):715-721.
Mondal S, Varma S, Bamola VD, et al. Double-blinded randomized controlled trial for immunomodulatory effects of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.) leaf extract on healthy volunteers. J Ethnopharmacol 7-14-2011;136(3):452-456.
Mukherjee R, Dash PK, Ram GC. Immunotherapeutic potential of Ocimum sanctum (L) in bovine subclinical mastitis. Res Vet.Sci 2005;79(1):37-43.
Narendhirakannan RT, Subramanian S, Kandaswamy M. Mineral content of some medicinal plants used in the treatment of diabetes mellitus. Biol.Trace Elem.Res 2005;103(2):109-115.
Ravindran R, Rathinasamy SD, Samson J, et al. Noise-stress-induced brain neurotransmitter changes and the effect of Ocimum sanctum (Linn) treatment in albino rats. J Pharmacol.Sci 2005;98(4):354-360.
Rosenbaum CC, O'Mathuna DP, Chavez M, et al. Antioxidants and antiinflammatory dietary supplements for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Altern.Ther Health Med 2010;16(2):32-40.
Samson J, Sheela Devi R, Ravindran R, et al. Biogenic amine changes in brain regions and attenuating action of Ocimum sanctumin noise exposure. Pharmacol.Biochem.Behav. 2006;83(1):67-75.
Saxena RC, Singh R, Kumar P, et al. Efficacy of an Extract of Ocimum tenuiflorum (OciBest) in the Management of General Stress: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Evid.Based.Complement Alternat.Med 2012;2012:894509.
Sembulingam K, Sembulingam P, Namasivayam A. Effect of Ocimum sanctum Linn on the changes in central cholinergic system induced by acute noise stress. J Ethnopharmacol. 1-15-2005;96(3):477-482.
Shokeen P, Ray K, Bala M, et al. Preliminary studies on activity of Ocimum sanctum, Drynaria quercifolia, and Annona squamosa against Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Sex Transm.Dis. 2005;32(2):106-111.
Singh S, Malhotra M, Majumdar DK. Antibacterial activity of Ocimum sanctum L. fixed oil. Indian J Exp.Biol. 2005;43(9):835-837.
Udupa SL, Shetty S, Udupa AL, et al. Effect of Ocimum sanctum Linn. on normal and dexamethasone suppressed wound healing. Indian J Exp.Biol. 2006;44(1):49-54.
The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.