Scientific name: Ocimum sanctum

Common names: Holy Basil, Sacred basil, Thai Basil

Ayurvedic names: surasa

Chinese names: Luole

Bangladesh names: Tulsi

Arabic names:    الريحان المقدس (arrayhaan al moqaddas)

Rain Forest names:

Other names: Ajaka, Brinda, Manjari, Parnasa, Patra-Puspha, Suvasa Tulasi (Sanskrit); Tulsi (Gujarat); Thulasi (Tamil)

Family: Fabaceae?

Approximate number of species known:

Common parts used: Whole plant


Annual/Perennial: Annual

Height: 1 to 2 feet

Actions: Antispasmodic, antidepressant, antiseptic, stimulant, tonic, febrifuge, diaphoretic, nervine, antibacterial, expectorant, appetizer, carminative, galactagogue, stomachic

Known Constituents: Essential oil, estragol with linalon, lineol, tannin, and camphor

Constituents Explained:


Traditional Use:

In Indian medicine this is used for a variety of purposes. Some of these include stabilizing blood sugar levels, chest conditions with a cough, and for cholesterol.

Clinical Studies: 

A study assessed the antifungal activity of Ocimum sanctum leaves against dermatophytic fungi. Antifungal activity of Ocimum sanctum leaves was measured by 38 A NCCLS method. Minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) and minimum fungicidal concentration (MFC) of various extracts and fractions of Ocimum sanctum leaves were also determined.

The result of the study showed that Ocimum sanctum leaves possessed antifungal activity against clinically isolated dermatophytes at the concentration of 200 μg/mL. MIC and MFC were high with water fraction (200 μg/mL) against dermatophytic fungi used. It was conluded that Ocimum sanctum has antifungal activity, and the leaf extracts may be a useful source for dermatophytic infections.

Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.) is considered as a sacred herb and traditionally it is believed that consumption of Tulsi leaf on empty stomach increases immunity. Experimental studies have shown that alcoholic extract of Tulsi modulates immunity.

The present study was designed to evaluate the immunomodulatory effects of ethanolic extract of Tulsi leaves through a double-blinded randomized controlled cross-over trial on healthy volunteers. Three hundred milligrams capsules of ethanolic extracts of leaves of Tulsi or placebo were administered to 24 healthy volunteers on empty stomach and the results of 22 subjects who completed the study were analyzed.

The primary objective was to study the levels of Th1 and Th2 cytokines (interferon-γ and interleukin-4) during both pre and post intervention period in blood culture supernatants following stimulation with lipopolysaccharide and phytohaemagglutinin. Other immunological parameters such as T-helper and T-cytotoxic cells, B-cells and NK-cells also were analyzed using Flowcytometry.

Statistically significant increase in the levels of IFN-γ, IL-4 and percentages of T-helper cells and NK-cells were observed after 4 weeks in the Tulsi extract intervention group in contrast to the placebo group. These observations clearly ascertain the immunomodulatory role of Tulsi leaves extract on healthy volunteers.

Ocimumn sanctum has been on trial for its role in generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) in hospital based clinical set-up. Hamilton’s brief psychiatric rating scale (BPRS) and thorough clinical investigations were used to screen the subjects. 

Thirty-five subjects (21 male and 14 female; average age 38.4 years) were medicated with the plant extract in a fixed dose regime (500 mg/capsule, twice daily, p.o. after meal). They were thoroughly investigated clinically and using standard questionnaires based on different psychological rating scale at baseline, mid-term, and final day.

The observations exhibited that, O. sanctum significantly attenuated generalized anxiety disorders and also attenuated its correlated stress and depression. It further significantly improved the willingness to adjustment and attention in human. Therefore, it may be concluded that O. sanctum may be useful in the treatment of GAD in human and may be a promising anxiolytic agent in near future.


Balakumar S, Rajan S, Thirunalasundari T, Jeeva S. “Antifungal Activity Of Ocimum Sanctum Linn. (Lamiaceae) On Clinically Isolated Dermatophytic Fungi.” 2011 August

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.” 2011 July

Bhattacharyya D, Sur TK, Jana U, Debnath PK. “Controlled Programmed Trial Of Ocimum Sanctum Leaf On Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” 2008 September


Holy basil, sacred basil, Thai basil (English)

Ajaka, brinda, manjari, parnasa, patra-puspha, suvasa tulasi (Sanskrit)

Tulsi, tulasi, baranda, kala tulsi (Hindi)

Tulsi (Gujarat)

Thulasi (Tamil)

Botanical name: Ocimum tenuiflorum (previously known asOcimum sanctum

Family: Labiatae, the mint family.

Holy basil – grow it

Holy basil grows up to 0.5-1 m high, depending on growing conditions. Tulsi is a perennial in tropics but is best treated as a half-hardy annual here as northern European light levels are insufficent during winter for it to keep growing. It has long purple flowers and smooth green foliage with a spicy fragrance. Harvest young shoots in early morning for maximum flavour and scent.

The plant

An upright, shrubby, branched herb which grows to a height of about 60 cm. There are red and green forms of holy basil.

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Image: Holy basil plant. The leaves are not as smooth or broad as those of common basil.

Leaves – rounded with little hairs all over.

Flowers – purplish or red.

Holy basil – history

Holy basil originates in the tropical parts of Asia, but its distribution has been expanded by humans to many tropical regions of the world. It is a highly sacred plant in Hindu religion where it is dedicated to Vishnu. It has a sweet clove-like fragrance. Because of its holiness it is not used as a food in the Indian sub-continent.


Holy basil is native to tropical Asia but has been dispersed by humans so that it now grows in many tropical parts of the world. It is a sacred plant in Hindu religion, and has been cultivated in India in courtyards or temples, and in pots in homes, for about 3000 years.

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Holy basil has been cultivated in India for thousands of years.


The history of the plant in South Asia is closely linked with folklore and mythology. It represents Vishnupriya or Beloved of Vishnu, since it is believed to be the embodiment of the goddess Lakshmi, the spouse of Vishnu. What is apparent is that it has been valued and cultivated since ancient times in India as an intimate link between the household and the spiritual world.

The Aryans, who structured the forms of Hinduism, were nature-worshippers and their poetry and imagery were rich with the evocation of nature. Perhaps they were drawn to holy basil because of its fragrance and delicacy. It may also have been already well-entrenched in the myths of the indigenous people and from there absorbed into Hinduism.

Holy basil is mentioned in the Rig Veda, written in about 1500 BC, and its holiness is celebrated in the Puranas. It is highly regarded in theAyurvedic system of medicine and is noted in medical treatises such the Charaka Samhita written between the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD.

Holy basil – spiritual

Holy basil is the most sacred plant in the Hindu religion, and is found in or near almost every Hindi house throughout India. It is frequently grown in courtyards and temples and is believed to protect from misfortune and sanctifies and guides to heaven all who cultivate it.


Holy basil represents purity, serenity, harmony, luck, happiness and good health. It is given the Sanskrit name ‘tulsi’ which means ‘incomparable’. The Brahmins hold it sacred to the gods Krishna and Vishnu. The story goes that this plant is the transformed nymph Tulasi, beloved of Krishna. For this reason the plant is cultivated in pots of brick pillars with hollows at the top in which earth is deposited. It is daily watered and worshipped by all members of the family.

Home and ceremonial use

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Three religious mendicant couples. The man carrying five pots of tulsi on his head is a devotee of Shitala.

To promote well-being and encourage the grace of the goddess as a living presence in the home, many Indian women begin the day by offering blessed water to the plant, walking around it and praying before it.

Offerings to all the Hindu deities are deemed complete if they involve the use of holy basil leaves. In the Vrat Kaumudi, one of the sacred books of the Hindus, a ceremony called the tulashi laksha vrat is ordered to be performed when a vow is made. Holy basil leaves are used in offerings to Krishna. 

Nayavad is another ceremony among Hindus which involves taking a brass dish containing cooked food, and placing it before the god in a square marked out on the ground. The worshipper squats on a low stool, and taking two leaves of holy basil in his right hand, he closes his eyes with his left, dips the leaves in the water, and throws one upon the food and the other on the god.

Holy basil is also used in Hindu weddings and funerals. The marriage season in India is traditionally launched by ceremonies celebrating holy basil. One of these is a wedding ceremony called Tulsi Vivah. Here the plant is symbolically married to Shaligram carved from a semi-precious stone which represents Vishnu. This takes place in the month of Kartikka of the lunar calendar, around mid-October. 

Under good conditions, holy basil can grow to a considerable size with a woody stem large enough to make beads for the rosaries used by Hindus on which they count the number of recitations of their deity’s name.

Holy basil – production & trade

Holy basil is cultivated in almost every Hindu home in India.

Cultivation in the home

It is cultivated in Indian homes, gardens and on windowsills. The plants are propagated by seed.

Holy basil – traditional medicine

As with many species of plants used in Asia, the religious uses of the plants are often linked with their medicinal uses. For example, holy basil was frequently grown in large vessels in the courtyards of Hindu forts and temples to cleanse the body. Today when visitors are taken round the forts the clay pots are empty but the tradition of using holy basil is maintained in many Hindu homes and hotels. Many of these uses are supported scientifically.

Cleansing plant

Leaves and flowers from the holy basil plant are added to bath water and to bowls of water kept near the entrance to a home. The hands of guests are sprinkled with this water as they enter a house or they are invited to clean their hands in the water. Holy basil contains compounds with antiseptic activity that would help kill germs. The scent from the plant also deters insects. Thus flies, including mosquitoes, which can spread diseases such as malaria, would be deterred from landing on people that had bathed in holy basil water.

Ayurvedic medicine

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Image: Holy basil (tulsi) is used in traditional Indian medicine to help various skin conditions.

In Ayurvedic medicine the leaves of the holy basil are used to treat many skin conditions as well as ear aches, fevers, coughs, bronchitis and diabetes. A juice from the leaves is made up as a drink for the treatment of bad skin conditions. When taken as a drink it is often mixed with lemon juice or cardamom.

The Ayurvedic literature indicates that it is very effective in the treatment of snake bites. It can be mixed with ginger and given to young children with stomach aches or mixed with pepper to treat fevers. When used to treat chest infections it is often mixed with honey, ginger and onion juice. 

Sidha and Unani medicine

Holy basil is used in Sidha and Unani Medicine as a tonic and for the treatment of fever, skin conditions and for coughs.

Holy basil – western medicine

Holy basil is not widely used in western medicine. However, researchers have identified compounds in holy basil that could explain the traditional uses.

Active compounds

The essential oil from some populations of holy basil contains high levels of eugenol. This compound has anti-inflammatory activity, can kill bacteria and deters insects. The presence of this compound in the plant could explain why it could be used to treat pain, kill germs and provide people with some protection from being bitten by insects. 

Another compound called rosmarinic acid has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity and these activities could contribute too many of the medicinal properties of holy basil. The plant also contains ursolic acid a compound that has been shown to provide some protection to enzymes in the liver that deal with the breakdown of fat in our diet. This is important as patients with diabetes often have high levels of cholesterol in their blood. The levels have been reported to decrease after taking holy basil. 


Holy basil has a long history of safe use in India. Application to the skin can cause reactions in sensitive people.

Holy basil – other uses

Holy basil isn’t an extensively utilised plant. It has been used as a bead-making material and occasionally as a food flavouring.

Rosary beads

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Image: Rosary beads carved from the woody roots of the holy basil plant.

Because holy basil is regarded as a very sacredplant in Hinduism it is often used to make rosaries. The woody roots of the plant are carved to make the beads.

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Occasionally in Europe and Thailand, the leaves are used to flavour savoury dishes and as a condiment in salads.