Holy Basil

Ocimum tenuiflorum

Herbs gallery - Holy Basil

Common names

  • Holy Basil
  • Kemangen
  • Sacred Basil
  • Surasa
  • Tulasi

Holy basil (botanical name Ocimum tenuiflorum) is indigenous to the Indian sub-continent and belongs to the family Lamiaceae. This aromatic herb is extensively cultivated in all regions in south-eastern Asia having tropic climatic conditions. Holy basil grows straight and has several branches, forming a sub-shrub.

This species grows up to a height of anything between 30 cm and 60 cm, has hairy stems and produces simple green, potently aromatic leaves that appear opposite to each other on the slender branches. The leaves have an oval or ovate shape and have petioles.

They grow up to a length of 5 cm and general are somewhat jagged. This herb produces purple-hued blooms having elongated racemes appearing in dense whorls.

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In fact, in south-eastern Asia people cultivate holy basil for religious as well as therapeutic purposes, in addition to the essential oil enclosed by the leaves of the herb. In fact, this herb is very common and familiar all over the Indian sub-continent, where it is used in the form of an herbal tea as well as a medicinal plant.

Holy basil is often used in Ayurveda and has a crucial role in Hinduism, especially among the Vaishnavites. In fact, Vaishnavites worship this herb as well as its leaves.

In addition to being extensively used in Ayurvedic medicine, holy basil is often used in the form of a culinary herb. Indigenous to India, holy basil is currently cultivated throughout the world. This herb has a pleasant aroma and is believed to repel mosquitoes. This is one main reason why many gardeners use different types of basil in the form of a patio plant.

Basically, there are two main types of holy basil - one is a mild variety whose leaves are white or light green and the second type having reddish-purple leaves and stems.

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However, the leaves of both these basil types are smaller compared to that of the Mediterranean sweet basil. In addition, the basil varieties native to the Indian sub-continent have serrated and not smooth edges. Even the leaves and stems of these basil varieties are somewhat covered with fine bristles.

Occasionally, the holy basil is also known as the "pepper basil" or "hot basil," as different from the Thai or sweet basil, whose flavour reminds one of the herb licorice, this basil variety is not only spicy, but has a flavour akin to that of cloves.

The flavour of holy basil leaves accentuates when they are cooked. Hence, generally people have a preference of eating cooked holy basil leaves to the raw leaves of the herb. In Thai culinary, holy basil is generally used along with other ingredients like hot chillies, garlic as well as fish sauce with a view to add essence to stir fries.

This basil variety cannot be substituted with sweet or Western basils, especially in the recipes that require the latter varieties.

In addition to its culinary and therapeutic uses, in Hindu religion and Ayurvedic traditions, holy basil is regarded to be a very sacred as well as important herb. In India, holy basil is also called "tulasi". This herb finds mention in the fundamental Ayurvedic medicine text "Chakra Samhita". Holy basil is held in high esteem owing to its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal attributes.

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Parts used

The leaves, stems and seeds.


The entire holy basil plant possesses numerous therapeutic properties. The leaves of this herb serve as a nerve tonic (stimulate the nerves), in addition to sharpening memory. The plants also help to get rid of phlegm and catarrhal substances accumulated in the bronchial tubes. The leaves of holy basil help to make the stomach stronger and bring about profuse sweating. Even the seeds possess medicinal properties and they secrete mucilage (mucilaginous).

In fact, this herb is excellent for diminishing anxiety, stress and depression. In addition, holy basil also supports health and comfort, in addition to protecting the body as well as the mind in a positive manner.

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Holy basil possesses adaptogenic properties. This denotes that the herb possesses the aptitude to sustain a healthy balance of the whole body and also protects the body from various types of stresses. This herb is also effective in augmenting strength, endurance and stamina, while enabling the body to use oxygen more effectively.

Holy basil also encourages appropriate synthesis of protein in our body. In Ayurveda, holy basil is considered to be a very crucial herb and has many uses in this medicine system.

Holy basil is also supports and augments digestion, perks up the immune system, while promoting the health of our cardiovascular system. This herb has proved to be effective for treating several health conditions and has been used in India, especially in Ayurvedic medicine, for several thousand years for its numerous therapeutic properties.

People in India use this herb for sustaining a relaxed as well as balanced state of the mind, which is necessary for meditation. Holy men extensively used this herb for this purpose. In fact, it was also believed that holy basil is useful for spiritual development.

Holy basil also augments circulation to the cerebral system, thereby improving memory. It also helps to lessen unclear thinking as well as what is known as mental fog. These are the main reasons why holy basil has been employed for treating depression, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Holy basil also helps to balance the hormones, while sustaining healthy levels of cortisol. This herb possesses anti-inflammatory attributes and is useful in sustaining standard blood sugar levels.

Many a times, holy basil is employed for treating common cold, coughs and tender throats. This herb works to enhance the ability of the body to resist bacterial and viral infections as well as fevers. Holy basil also supports the health of the respiratory system and can also be employed for treating asthma, bronchitis and allergies.

Holy basil is also an excellent herb to maintain the health of the digestive system, alleviating gas and for respite from cramps. This herb is also effective for the health of the eyes, as it provides protection from several types of radiations. Some chemical compounds present in holy basil are of antioxidant character and they help to guard the body against oxidation and the harmful free radicals.

This herb is also beneficial for the liver and it supports this vital organ to function properly. Holy basil possesses the aptitude to get rid of detrimental chemicals present in the bloodstream and defend the liver from various diseases. In addition, it also reinforces the kidneys and their functioning.

Moreover, holy basil is helpful in sustaining the health of the teeth and gums and it also helps to lessen bad breath too. This herb is also used externally, such as treating skin problems and bug bites. It is definitely an extremely versatile herb that is useful for our health in many ways.

Since holy basil or tulasi is so useful for the whole body, it is believed to be a herb that increases life span and many times it is only taken for this purpose.

In Ayurveda, holy basil, also known as sacred basil, is considered to be an extremely vital herb. It is a spicy, aromatic herb possessing antiseptic and warming properties. Holy basil induces sweating, relaxes spasms, alleviates pain, reduces fevers, eliminates bacterial infections and reinforces the nervous as well as immune systems.

Holy basil is also useful in diminishing inflammations and is useful for our digestive system. Findings of various studies have demonstrated that holy basil possesses the aptitude to reduce the levels of blood sugar.

Essential oils obtained from the holy basil leaves have also demonstrated that they possess anti-bacterial as well as anti-fungal actions. These leaves enclose eugenol, methylchaviol and different unstable commercial oils.

Holy basil is taken internally for treating feverish ailments, particularly in children; influenza; colds; headaches, sinusitis; arthritis; rheumatism; digestive problems, counting swelling of the abdominal region; alleviating cramps; curing low sexual drive; and increasing life span. In a number of instances, holy basil is also effective in treating a number of diabetes forms.

Externally, sacred basil is used in the form of an antiseptic for treating infections of the skin and skin spots. The juice extracted from the holy basil plant is employed for treating ringworms and insect bites. It also cures earaches. To treat earaches, put some drops of the juice in the ear.

Traditionally, this type of basil is used to prepare remedies for asthma, heart diseases, bronchitis, inflammatory ailments and problems related to the gastrointestinal systems. Holy basil is also used to fight particular types of poisoning, in addition to dengue and malarial fevers.

It is believed that holy basil also purifies the body and the mind. In the Hindu tradition, this herb is considered to be indispensable for religious households. This type of basil is not just considered to be a remedial or culinary herb, but also a sanctified herb people take a lot of care in maintaining.

Culinary uses

The leaves of holy basil are consumed raw or after cooking. This herb is spicy with a sweet tinge, but has a distinctly sharp aroma and pungency akin to that of cloves. Holy basil is also used in salads. The leaves can also be cooked in the form of a potherb, or used to flavour a wide range of dishes.

You can also used holy basil leaves to prepare a refreshing tea.

The seeds of holy basil are mucilaginous and used to prepare a sweet and refreshing drink.

Habitat and cultivation

The sacred or holy basil is indigenous to India, Sri Lanka, parts of western Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, Australia, the Pacific Islands as well as the Malay Archipelago. However, now this species is grown in several places across the globe.

When cultivated in places having warm, tropical climatic conditions, holy basil grows as a perennial plant, but it is regarded as a semi-hardy annual plant in North America and Europe. This herb grows excellently in complete sunlight, but can tolerate partial shade or filtered light.

Similar to other variety of basils, holy basil also needs a soil that is well-drained and ought to be grown in the later part of spring or early part of summer when the temperatures during the day and night usually do not drop under 50°F (10°C). Holy basil grows excellently when cultivated in containers and it also makes an exquisite and extraordinary addition to any ornamental garden or home herb garden.

The perennially growing holy basil, especially those cultivated in tropical climes, has a preference for a moist soil and sunlit location. Ideally, the soil substrate ought to be gritty-loamy and relatively fertile. These plants also have a preference for sheltered locations.

You can encourage leaf growth of the herb by removing the flower heads as soon as they appear. In addition, you need to water the plants moderately during the summer as well as winter months to ensure optimum growth.

Holy basil is propagated by sowing its seeds in containers outdoors during the spring. Alternately, you may also sow the seeds in situ during the summer months. It is essential for the seeds to get adequate sunlight for germination.

The plants may be infested with aphids and distorted leaves, galls and honeydew are indicating that a plant is enduring this problem. When you notice this problem, you should use any good insecticide or treat the plants biologically, for instance, use predators or parasitic wasps like Aphidoletes aphidimyza.

If the plants are covered with a powdery substance, you should know that it is an indication of an infection caused by powdery mildew. If this happens, you should get rid of the affected plants and use a fungicide on the remaining healthy plants. At the same time, while you keep the plants' roots moist, you should never water the plants from the top. Just add water to the soil.


Scientific studies have revealed that holy basil contains a number of chemical compounds that are effective in decreasing pain and inflammation (swelling). It also contains a number of chemicals that may help to reduce the levels of blood sugar in people enduring diabetes.

There seems to be an increasing interest regarding the use of the oil extracted from holy basil seed for treating cancer. This oil has also shown some potential in curing some forms of cancer. Initial findings of some studies show that holy basil seed oil possesses the aptitude to inhibit the advancement of cancer and, at the same time, enhance the survival rate in some animals having particular forms of cancer.

Scientists are of the view that this particular benefit offered by the oil may perhaps be illustrated by the ability of this oil to serve in the form of an antioxidant.


Chemical analysis of holy basil has revealed that this herb mainly encloses an essential oil, flavonoids and tannins. In addition, traces of some essential minerals like sodium, manganese, zinc, in addition to vitamins A and C have been found in holy basil.

The essential oil contained by holy basil encloses α- and β-caryophyllene, eugenol and methyl eugenol (as much as 64 percent), linalool, carvacrol, β-ocimene, germacrene A and cinnamyl acetate. The other constituents of this essential oil include acimumosides, cerebrosides, apigenins, luteolins, ursolic acid, rosmarinic acid and oleanolic acid.

Side effects and cautions

Holy basil is generally safe for use, especially when it is used for brief periods, for a maximum of four weeks at a stretch. However, the safety of using this herb for long durations is yet to be ascertained.

As holy basil works to thin the blood slightly, you should not take this herb, provided you are already taking medications used for thinning the blood.

Sacred basil may also slow the process of blood clot formation and, hence, people who use it regularly should be careful if they need to undergo a surgery. It may increase the risks of bleeding during as well as after surgery. You should stop using this herb no less than two weeks prior to any scheduled surgery.

This herb might also lessen the levels of blood sugar. Moreover, people suffering from hypoglycemia should not take this herb. It has also been found that holy basil may often reduce fertility and not be used by women planning pregnancy. Even pregnant women and nursing mothers should not take this herb without checking out with their physician.

Collection and harvesting

The leaves of holy basil may be picked any time during the year, especially during their growing season. The leaves can be dried and stored for use when necessary.


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