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Medicinal Plants

Tulsi, holy basil: a gentle energy tonic

Dr. Ed Bauman, Shiela Moorthy


This article aims to enlighten readers on the many ways that tulsi, holy basil, can enhance health when taken internally as food and beverage or supplements to manage for daily use, and how when taken alone or with modern medicine, it can reverse chronic disease states.

Background and uses

Belonging to the genus Ocimum, basil is from the mint family, Lamiacea. Over 150 different types of basil are grown for their aromatic leaves and volatile oils. Native to south Asia, an important cultivar of this family is the holy basil (Ocimum Sanctum Linn./Ocimum Tenuiflorum/Ocimum gratissimum). Tulsi has been used in AAAyurvedic therapy for numerous health conditions as a medicinal tea or extract. Scientific findings have been widely reported on its salutatory benefits as an adaptogen (stress mediator) that is immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, hepato-protective, cardio-protective, neuro-protective, anti-microbial, and anti-diabetic (1).

Plant specifics

Tulsi is a perennial plant. It is an erect, and many branched sub-shrub, 30-60 cm (12-24 in) tall with hairy stems and leaves that are green or purple. The types of tulsi with medicinal benefits are Rama or Sri tulsi (green leaves), Krishna or Shyama tulsi (purplish leaves) Ocimum tenuiflorum/Ocimum sanctum L., and Vana or wild/forest tulsi (dark green leaves) Ocimum gratissimum (2). These contain high levels of eugenol (3). Tulsi leaves can be taken fresh or can be dried and made into a powder, that can be used in herbal formulas.

Active constituents

The primary phytochemical constituents of tulsi are oleanolic acid, ursolic acid, rosmarinic acid, eugenol, carvacrol, linalool, β-caryophyllene (about 8%) (4). The tulsi leaf’s active essential oils consist of eugenol (~70%), β-elemene (~11.0%), β-caryophyllene (~8%) and germacrene (~2%), with the balance being made up of various trace compounds, mostly terpenes (5).

Uses in traditional medicine

In Āyurveda, tulsi is referred to as ‘The Incomparable One’, ‘The Queen of Herbs’ and revered as ’The Elixir of Life’. Daily consumption of tulsi is renowned to be health-enhancing and disease-preventive. In traditional natural medicine, it is recommended in the management of bronchitis, bronchial asthma, chronic fever, malaria, dysentery, arthritis, skin diseases and painful eye diseases. Eugenol, the active constituent present in tulsi is largely responsible for its therapeutic effects.

Uses in Western medicine

The medicinal properties of tulsi are being studied in hundreds of scientific studies. In vitro and animal experiments and human trials have documented its value as being anti-diabetic, anti-arthritic, hepato-protective (protects against liver damage), anti-cancer, chemo preventive, radio-protective, cardio-protective, anti-hypertensive (lowering high blood pressure), anti-coagulant activities (blood thinner), anti-hypercholesterolemia (preventing excess cholesterol in the blood), anti-depressant, anti-stress, anti-thyroid, supporting fertility, anti-diarrheal, anti-ulcer, anti-asthmatic, anti-pyretic (fever reducing), anti-spasmodic (reducing muscle spasms), anti-emetic (reducing vomiting and nausea), anthelmintic (expelling worms and parasites), anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-tussive (cough suppressant), anti-malarial, anti-oxidant, anti-cataract, anti-allergic and memory-enhancing (6).

Health benefits

• Tulsi promotes well-being and improves resilience, by modulating the body’s response to stress.

• Tulsi has shown the ability to decrease glucose levels, improve blood pressure and lipid profiles and reduce many symptoms experienced by patients with type II diabetes (7).

• Tulsi has been reported to prevent cancers caused by inducing apoptosis in pre-cancerous and cancerous cells, thereby reducing the growth of tumours and enhancing survival (8). It has also shown ability to stabilise gene expression altered both by cancer and radiation therapy (9,10).

• Tulsi has demonstrated anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal activity, including activity against many pathogens responsible for infections (11).

Clinical trial data

Select clinical trial data
Therapeutic Area
Generalized anxiety disorder
Human trial 2 months • The study showed that, Ocimum sanctum (OS) significantly lowered anxiety, stress and depression (12). • Study sample = 35 (21 males and 14 females; average age 38.4 years)
• Two groups, male & female:
 Given plant
extracts of OS in a fixed oral dose regime 500 mg. 2t/d
Diabetes type II
Human trial 30 days
• The Ocimum sanctum (OS) group exhibited a reduction in the fasting blood glucose levels, while the total control group had higher levels of glucose (13).
• All diabetics, total sample size = 27 (male = 17 & female = 10) type II diabetes
• All patients to take 1 g. of OS powder, first thing in the morning
Human trial 4 weeks • The Ocimum sanctum (OS) leaves group in contrast to the placebo group were supportive of a healthy immune system (14).
• Double-blind, randomised control trial on 24 healthy volunteers
• Daily intake of 300 mg. ethanolic extract of OS leaves on an empty stomach or placebo
Human trial 6 weeks • The study demonstrated that lower levels of stress were observed in control group taking Ocimum tenuiflorum (OT). The extract was well tolerated for the six weeks (15). • Extract of OT. An adult study, sample sizes:  Placebo = 79  OT extract = 71; were given 1,200 mg of extract daily for six weeks
Gastric ulcer
Rat study 5 days
• Optimal effective dose 100 mg/kg of Ocimum sanctum (OS) extract showed significant ulcer protection and significantly healed ulcers (16)
• The standardised methanolic extract of leaves of OS eugenol content 5% given in doses of 50-200 mg/kg, orally, twice daily for five days.

Cancer clinical trial data

Select cancer clinical trial data
Therapeutic area
Prostate cancer
Prostate cancer cell study 24-48 hours • Findings suggest that ethanolic extract of OS can effectively induce apoptosis, leading to cell death in prostate cancer cells (17). • Prostate cancer cells were treated with different concentrations of 70% ethanolic extract of OS and then the cytotoxicity was determined after 24 and 48 hours.
Breast cancer
Breast cancer cell study • The study findings indicate that Ocimum sanctum (OS) has the ability to cause apoptosis and reduce proliferation of breast cancer cells, and its potential for use as an anticancer agent (18).
• Essential oil OS was extracted using hydro distillation of the leaves.
• Cell proliferation was measured at different concentrations
Oral cancer
Oral cancer cell study • The aqueous extract of Ocimum tenuiflorum (OT) of Krishna and Rama tulsi exhibited significant anti-proliferative properties, causing apoptosis in oral cancer cell line, suggesting the potential for use as an anti-cancer agent (19).
• Aqueous and dry extract of OT with both Krishna tulsi and Rama tulsi leaves were prepared.
Pancreatic cancer
Pancreatic cancer cell Study Ocimum sanctum (OS) leaf extract inhibits the proliferation, migration, invasion of, and induces apoptosis of pancreatic cancer cells (20).
• OS leaf extract
Lung cancer
Lung cancer cell study
• Overall, the results demonstrate that Ocimum sanctum (OS) ethanol extract induces apoptosis in lung cancer cells (21). • OS ethanol extract

Summary of clinical findings

Numerous clinical trials indicate the stress lowering property of tulsi, and its value in managing anxiety disorder and depression. Tulsi has been safely and reliably used to lower serum glucose levels, serum triglycerides, and be cardioprotective. It also balances the immune system and healsgastric ulcers.

In select cell studies of prostate, breast, pancreatic, oral, and lung cancers, tulsi has demonstrated apoptosis, and slowing the proliferation of cancer cells and showing potential for use as an anti-cancer agent. Clearly, more human trials are required to explore the optimal dose, duration and synergistic use of tulsi with other plants such as turmeric and ashwagandha.

Dosage range

Doses of 300-1,200 mg of tulsi (Ocimum sanctum L.) per day have been used in human studies showed above in the trials above.


Having been granted a ‘Generally Recognized as Safe’, (GRAS) status in the United States of America by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), tulsi (Ocimum Sanctum L./ Ocimum tenuiflorum/Ocimum gratissimum) is well tolerated by most people. Patients with known allergy/hypersensitivity to tulsi, or to plants of the Lamiaceae family, should avoid using this botanical agent. The plants included in the Lamiaceae are mints and balms. Exercise caution for hypoglycemia, bleeding disorders or those on anti-coagulant or anti-platelet drugs. Avoid if trying to get pregnant or breastfeeding.


No toxicity has been reported following short or long-term administration of tulsi at standard doses.


Modern scientific studies have demonstrated that tulsi is effective in treating eating a range of stressful conditions. Within Āyurveda, it is more commonly recommended as a preventive measure to enhance the ability to adapt to both psychological and physical stress and therefore prevent the development of stress-related diseases. Both of these findings are significant. Clinical trial data are indicative of the broad power and diverse health benefits of tulsi.


Tulsi is at the top of the green herbal pantheon. It is beautiful, aromatic and divinely refreshing. Modern-day scientific research into tulsi demonstrates many psychological and physiological benefits and provides a testament to the wisdom inherent in Hinduism and Āyurveda, which celebrate tulsi as a plant that can be worshipped, ingested, made into tea and used for medicinal and spiritual purposes. The herb can be used to include in our day-to-day cooking, whether fresh or dried. Tulsi is affordable, accessible and very palatable as a tea or extract. We recommend daily consumption of tulsi or holy basil tea as a foundational diet and lifestyle practice.


1. Mondal, S, Mirdha B, Mahapatra S.The science behind sacredness of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.). Indian J Physiol Pharmacol 2009; New Delhi, All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

2. Jamshidi N, Cohen M. The Clinical Efficacy and Safety of Tulsi in Humans: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Article ID 9217567. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume 2017.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Cohen MMJ. Tulsi — Ocimum sanctum: A Herb for all Reasons. Ayurveda Integr Med. 2014 Oct-Dec; 5(4): 251-9. doi: 10.4103/0975-9476.146554.

7. Rai V, Iyer U., Mani UV. Effect of Tulasi (Ocimum sanctum) leaf powder supplementation on blood sugar levels, serum lipids and tissue lipids in diabetic rats. Plant Foods Hum.Nutr. 1997; 50(1): 9-16.

8. Jockers D. How Holy Basil Helps Your Body Adapt to Stress & Reduce Cancer Growth [Online] Available from: [Accessed 10th October 2018].

9. Gunes A. Holy Basil for Cancer Treatment [Online] Available from: [Accessed 10th October 2018].

10. Cohen MMJ. Tulsi– Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons: 251-9.

11. Ibid.

12. Bhattacharyya D, Sur TK, Jana U, Debnath PK. Controlled programmed trial of Ocimum sanctum leaf on generalized anxiety disorders. Nepal Med Coll J. 2008 Sep;10(3): 176-9.

13. Rai V, Mani UV, Iyer UM. Effect of Ocimum sanctum Leaf Powder on Blood Lipoproteins, Glycated Proteins and Total Amino Acids in Patients with Non-insulin-dependent Diabetes Mellitus. Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine 1997; Department of Foods and Nutrition, MS University of Baroda, Baroda 390002 , Gujarat, India.

14. Mondal S, Varma S, Bamola VD, Naik SN, Mirdha BR, Padhi MM, Mehta N, Mahapatra SC. Double-blinded randomized controlled trial for immunomodulatory effects of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.) leaf extract on healthy volunteers.J Ethnopharmacol. 2011 Jul 14; 136(3): 452-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2011.05.012. Epub 2011 May 17..

15. Saxena RC, Singh R, Kumar P, Negi MP, Saxena VS, Geetharani 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. [PMC free article].

16. Goel RK, Sairam K, Dorababu M, Prabha T, Rao ChV. Effect of standardized extract of Ocimum sanctum Linn. on gastric mucosal offensive and defensive factors. Indian J Exp Biol. 2005 Aug; 43(8): 715-21.

17. Dhandayuthapani S, Azad H, Rathinavelu A. Apoptosis Induction by Ocimum sanctum Extract in LNCaP Prostate Cancer Cells.J Med Food. 2015 Jul; 18(7): 776-85. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2014.0008. Epub 2015 Feb 18.

18. Manaharan T, Thirugnanasampandan R, Jayakumar R, Kanthimathi MS, Ramya G, Ramnath MG. Purified Essential Oil from Ocimum sanctum Linn. Triggers the Apoptotic Mechanism in Human Breast Cancer Cells. Pharmacogn Mag. 2016 May; 12(Suppl 3): S327-31. doi: 10.4103/0973-1296.185738.

19. Shivpuje P, Ammanangi R, Bhat K, Katti S. Effect of Ocimum sanctum on Oral Cancer Cell Line: An in vitro Study. J Contemp Dent Pract. 2015 Sep 1; 16(9): 709-14.

20. Shimizu T, Torres MP, Chakraborty S, Souchek JJ, Rachagani S, Kaur S, Macha M, Ganti AK et al. Holy Basil leaf extract decreases tumorigenicity and metastasis of aggressive human pancreatic cancer cells in vitro and in vivo: potential role in therapy. Cancer Lett. 2013 Aug 19; 336(2): 270-80. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2013.03.017. Epub 2013 Mar 21.

21. Magesh V, Lee JC, Ahn KS, Lee HJ, Lee EO et al. Ocimum sanctum induces apoptosis in A549 lung cancer cells and suppresses the in vivo growth of Lewis lung carcinoma cells. Phytother Res.2009 Oct; 23(10): 1385-91. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2784.

Dr Bauman is the Founder and President of Bauman College: Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts ( and owner of Bauman Wellness ( Shiela Moorthy is Founder of Vitalify Nutrition Inc. (, and a health educator and wellness coach.

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