The surprising stress-busting, mood-lifting benefits of holy basil
Basil - botanically known as Ocimum basilicum and also called “sweet” basil - is valued in Asian, African, South American, and Mediterranean cuisines for its pleasing, savory taste. (It’s difficult to envision Caprese salad or pesto without it!) But, when it comes to imparting health benefits, a variety known as holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) is the real star of the family.
Native to India and Nepal, holy basil (or tulsi) has been revered in the Ayurvedic healing system for centuries as an adaptogen or substance that helps the body deal with stress. Let’s look at some specific benefits of this versatile, health-supporting herb.
Holy basil may help you achieve a calm, positive, and alert state of mind
Holy basil has long been believed to soothe the nerves and promote an alert yet relaxed state of mind. In a review published in Nutrition Today, the authors examined the herb’s antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties and concluded that the effects of holy basil are comparable to that of pharmaceutical drugs - without the side effects. The researchers cited several double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, considered the “gold standard” of medical research.
All studies resulted in some degree of positive changes, including reducing stress, decreasing anxiety, and easing symptoms of depression. In addition, working memory and cognitive attention were enhanced - definitely good news! - with no adverse effects reported. An additional trial showed that inhaling the scent of basil essential oil enhanced mental abilities. If you want to increase mental clarity, soothe jangled nerves and maintain an optimistic state of mind, holy basil might be for you.
Support a healthy heart with holy basil
Rich in beneficial compounds, including eugenol, ursolic acid, and 1,8 cineole, holy basil has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects - and appears to improve metabolic conditions that can raise the risk of heart disease. For example, studies have suggested that the eugenol in holy basil can lower blood pressure, help to decrease unhealthy cholesterol, and support healthy blood sugar.
I n addition, holy basil has an anticoagulant effect, meaning that it can inhibit the tendency of blood platelets to form into clots, potentially triggering a stroke or heart attack. Finally, holy basil has been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels. In other words, holy basil’s properties add up to a bonanza of heart health benefits.
Promote oral health with holy basil
Antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal holy basil helps to protect against harmful microbes that contribute to tooth decay and dental plaque. In fact, controlled studies examining the effects of tulsi mouthwashes have yielded impressive results. For example, in one 30-day study published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, a 4 percent extract of tulsi was compared with a 0.12 percent chlorhexidine mouthwash, a “go-to” pharmaceutical product for oral health. Both decreased plaque and gingivitis – with no significant difference in effectiveness.
Try some “liquid yoga” with holy basil tea
You can find holy basil in capsules, liquid extracts, teas, and mouthwashes. It’s also available as an essential oil. Integrative practitioners advise diluting several drops of holy basil essential oil in a teaspoon of olive or jojoba oil to soothe skin irritations, insect bites, and eczema. You may also be able to access the calming benefits of holy basil essential oil through aromatherapy. Remember, though: holy basil essential oil should not be taken internally. Consult your trusted integrative doctor before adding holy basil to your health regimen.
Some natural healers advise brewing and sipping a daily cup of holy basil tea as a soothing, mood-lifting ritual. (If the bitter, spicy flavor bothers you, you can add a little raw honey.)
It’s no accident that many herbalists and integrative healthcare practitioners refer to a cup of holy basil tea as “liquid yoga.” This calming, centering herb can provide an oasis of peace in the midst of a hectic day.
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