The Spartan Guide to Holy Basil
Hailing from India, holy basil is revered in Ayurvedic medicine for its ability to quell inflammation and stress. Hindus consider it a sacred plant, and its Hindu name, tulsi, means “the incomparable one.” Holy basil is related to, but not same as, the sweet basil you know from Grandma’s pesto recipe.
Although overall research is still scant, early studies suggest that chemicals in holy basil may decrease pain and swelling. One small human study showed that consuming 300 milligrams (mg) of holy basil leaf extracts for four weeks led to an increase in cytokines, proteins that work on the immune system, which could explain why medicine made from the plant’s leaves, stems, and seeds are used to treat colds and flus, asthma, bronchitis, earaches, diabetes, and anxiety. Other research has found that 500 mg of holy basil leaf extract taken twice a day after meals reduced anxiety and stress after two months, and another study noted that taking 400 mg in the morning and 800 mg at night for 6 weeks decreased symptoms of stress—think forgetfulness, exhaustion, and sleep problems.
“Holy basil is considered a great respiratory, anti-inflammatory, expectorant drug,” says Svetlana Kogan, M.D., a family physician in New York City and author of Diet Slave No More. “It helps to get rid of phlegm, postnasal drip, and congestion. So if somebody comes in with sinusitis or bronchitis with lots of mucus, it’s a great alternative to Robitussin—it liquefies the phlegm and helps to move it.”
Some research even suggests that holy basil leaf extract might lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. It also seems to slow blood clotting, so taking holy basil in conjunction with drugs that do the same thing (like aspirin) might increase the risk of bruising and bleeding.
How to Use It
Many manufacturers recommend twice-daily doses of 500 mg. Few side effects have been reported when it’s taken at recommended levels.