Holy Basil is one of Ayurveda's favorite and most widely used lung tonics. As an adaptogen, Holy Basil also helps the body handle stress. This makes it a perfect herb for times of chaos and uncertainty.
Holy Basil is also known as Tulsi. It is a medicinal, aromatic herb in the mint family. The scientific name for Holy Basil is Ocimum sanctum. "Ocimum" comes from a Greek word meaning "smell". So it's no surprise that Holy Basil has a powerful perfumey odor. One student wrote, "It was like eating potpourri, very pleasant, but if overdone could be a bit nauseating too." Another said, "the floral aroma filled the entirety of my mouth." And, basil plants are often kept outside or inside houses to purify the air.
The word "sanctum" means holy or sacred. Often, plants that are called holy are also good for human health, and that's why they have been given ritual significance. This is the case for Holy Basil. Conversely, plants called wolfsbane or death angel tend to be poisonous. In Greek Orthodox weddings, the bride and groom wear holy basil in their head wreaths - testifying to its hallowed or exalted status.
There are a few types of Holy Basil - several types of Green, and Purple. Purple Holy Basil is the strongest.
What does Holy Basil Taste Like?Holy Basil is very aromatic with a slight flowery taste. The smell of Holy Basil is sweet and so is the aftertaste. The strong aroma slightly numbs the tongue.
When you drink Tulsi tea, your tongue can also feel quite rough, because of the astringent effect in Holy Basil. This roughness is counterbalanced with a slight slippery quality (called demulcent). One student said, "My teeth felt as if the enamel was super slick".
Holy Basil also has a mild bitterness and pungency. The combination of this gentle spiciness and aroma gives it a spreading quality in the body. A student said, "It felt the warmth spread through my whole body." This pungency also pushes heat upward. You may be able to feel a throbbing sensation in your head as blood flow increases there.
Warming, increases heatBasil increases heat and pushes it upwards to the head. "My body temperature increased", one student observed. Another notes, "My eyes and head felt hot. My ears were warmer. My head felt full of blood. I could feel my pulse in my head - a sign that blood vessels in my head were dilated." One student said, "I felt it the most around my neck and my cheeks, which got rosy and warm. My heart rate increased a little. I can feel my pulse in my chest."
Vata and Kapha individuals will enjoy the rise in body temperature, since they are predominantly cold. Although Holy Basil is generally supportive for Pitta, it may aggravate Pitta in some individuals. Many Pitta individuals already feel heat in their head.
The heating effects of Holy Basil are not limited to the head. One Pitta student remarked, "My hot flashes with light night sweats continued and even became a bit more frequent. I started having hot flashes throughout the day as well." Another noted, "I was sweating a little bit under my arms with no exertion."
Increases CirculationGenerally, aromatic compounds relax nerves and smooth muscle tissue. This effect relaxes the smooth muscle tissue of blood vessels, opening and dilating them (called vasodilation). The effect increases blood flow, especially notable in the skin. "After eating Holy Basil, I could feel my pores opening up", said one student, "The increased blood flow was relaxing, and peaceful."
The mild pungency of Holy Basil may also stimulate the heart. Altogether the improved circulation heats and stimulates the blood (rakta). For Vata individuals who tend to have poor blood circulation, this increase of blood flow and heat can revitalize their whole body. Pitta people are already aggravated by heat. For Pitta's, increased blood flow can stress the liver, and lead to tension and irritability.
Encourages MenstruationSince dilation of blood vessels increases blood flow, Holy Basil can be used to increase menstrual flow. In some cases it could cause a woman's period to come early. One student said, "My menstrual cycle started 1 week earlier this month." Another student said, "My period was heavier." Taking Holy Basil can be helpful for both Vata and Kapha individuals to increase their menstrual flow. Vata's generally have a light and scanty flow, while Kapha's flow can be stagnant and in need of movement. Pitta's already tend to have a heavier flow.
Relaxing, Clears the MindHoly Basil brings a calm yet alert quality to the brain. One student mentioned, "I felt calm in my head, a really comfortable feeling due to enhanced circulation to the brain."
Another said, "I feel lighter in my head, and my body feels more relaxed. Another mentioned, "It relaxes me at the end of a long work day." She felt her breath slowing down after consuming Holy Basil (Tulsi). It made her feel euphoric and relaxed. Another said, "Holy Basil gives me a concentrated feeling in the middle of my forehead. It is a heady and expansive feeling".
Holy Basil is special because it is both light and relaxing. Oftentimes relaxing herbs and foods have a heavy quality, which can make you feel sleepy (think mashed potatoes). But rather than putting you to sleep, Holy Basil is light. It improves creativity and focus. One student mentioned, "I had lots of creative ideas and was better able to focus and to get things done". Holy Basil's lightness doesn't prevent sleep, however. Instead, one student said, "It helps me fall asleep easily."
So why is Basil considered holy in the Vedic tradition? Holy Basil's name reflects the hallowed status of meditation in the Vedic tradition. Holy Basil activates the top of the head, called the adipati marma point. At the adipati marma point, several veins and parts of the skull meet. According to Vedic religious tradition, this is the point where divine consciousness enters the body of a human. "I experienced an empty feeling in the top of my head. Like I was spacey sometimes", said one student. Another student said, "It got me in worship/ meditative mode."
How about you? Is Holy Basil holy to you? Do you find Holy Basil expansive or merely ungrounding? Other faith traditions believe that God enters the person in their heart, not the head. In this case, Holy Basil happens to strengthen the heart too. So it seems the holiness of this herb is ecumenical!
A full discussion of this plant's holiness may be beyond the scope of the article. For now it's enough to know Holy Basil is a pleasant mood lifter that improves concentration. And, that Holy Basil's spacey qualities can aggravate Vata in some individuals.
Relaxes Muscles, Releases TensionSo far we have learned that Holy Basil increases circulation and opens up blood vessels. The aromatic compounds in Holy Basil relax smooth muscles and skeletal muscles everywhere in the body, too. Plus, opening the blood vessels provides plentiful blood to muscles, also relaxing them. In Chinese medicine this is called, "smoothing the liver."
One student said, "It had a relaxing effect on my muscles, I felt my right shoulder drop. Also I became aware of parts of my body where I usually carry lots of tension, like my neck, right shoulder and between my shoulder blades".
Holy Basil also helps release emotional pain which may be stored in tight muscles. One student mentioned, "Holy Basil helped me in releasing some pent-up emotions. It felt like it 'removed a plug' that had kept my heart sealed off". The relaxing and blood flow improving qualities of Basil generally bring awareness to these tense areas of your body.
Clears the LungsJust as Holy Basil clears your blood, mind, and muscles, it can have a similar effect on your lungs. As it improves blood flow, Holy Basil warms your lungs and dries excess moisture from them. These lung-lightening effects make Holy Basil very useful on damp, soggy days. "It makes me feel lighter in my mind and chest," one student observed, "I was able to breathe more deeply without constantly feeling this heavy weight on my chest."
Holy Basil is beneficial for respiratory conditions where your lungs need to be cleaned but are inflamed, such as in bronchitis or other lung infections. Another student noted, "I have a history of bronchitis, so my lungs are a weak area. [With Holy Basil], my chest felt more relaxed and expansive."
The ability of Holy Basil to lighten and clear mucus from your lungs is beneficial in many situations. A student on the West coast of Peru was hiking at an altitude of 10,600 feet (3259 metres) above sea level. She said, "Tulsi actually cleared my breathing and this was super helpful in high altitude."
Holy Basil balances your immune system and is often used as an anti-inflammatory in lung conditions. As an antihistamine, Holy Basil is especially useful for respiratory and gut allergies.
Dries the BodyHoly Basil has a mild diuretic effect. It can make you pee more and dry out your body. But it doesn't irritate your kidneys like other diuretics can. Instead, Holy Basil is soothing. One student noted that "Normally my kidneys ache with diuretics, but my kidneys feel warm and comfortable with Tulsi." Some students said their mouth was drier - this is due to the astringency of holy basil and the diuretic effect.
Strengthens Digestion & Dries Up StoolsHoly Basil strengthens digestion by increasing your digestive fire (agni). Strong digestion improves absorption of nutrients from your food and increases your immunity. Holy Basil's strength as a digestive aid also helps with decreasing gas and bloating. One of the students said, "I experienced less gas after consuming Tulsi".
Strong agni also increases your appetite. One student mentioned his appetite became stronger after drinking Tulsi tea. A few students experienced irritation to the stomach or slight nausea.
The astringent effect and mucus destroying aromatic compounds of Holy Basil can cause drier stools. Improved absorption of nutrients makes stools smaller. Some students experienced more constipation with Holy Basil. Others noticed Holy Basil darkened their stools as well. Vatas are more likely to experience this, since they are already prone to dryness and constipation.
SummaryHoly Basil is a purifying herb that clears the lungs and improves circulation. Holy Basil helps clears and rejuvenates the lungs by removing excess Kapha from the respiratory system. This allows easy, comfortable breathing. Holy Basil's lung-expanding effect is useful for increasing respiration in people who live at high altitudes or who have a history of respiratory illness.
Holy Basil also relaxes the mind while increasing alertness. It relaxes the nerves, blood vessels, and smooth muscle tissues in the body. Blood flow improves. With increased circulation comes more warmth. So Holy Basil might aggravate Pitta by increasing blood flow and heat.
TRADITIONALLY INDICATED FOR THESE SYMPTOMSHoly Basil Leaf (Tulsi) may be beneficial for these symptoms. The suitability of any product for a condition is highly dependent on the individual. Please see your doctor before using this product to treat a medical condition.
AYURVEDIC MEDICINAL QUALITIES
Experiences are PersonalExperiences vary according to the person and constitution. Individual results may vary. The list of actions below has not be approved by the FDA and should not be used to treat a medical condition.
ANTISPASMODICHerbs that reduce or inhibit muscle spasms or cramping, such as in asthma, colic or IBS.
APPETIZERHerbs that cleanse the palate & stimulate hunger or desire to eat.
STOMACHICAn herb that increases appetite or settles a nauseas or nervous stomach. These generally increase the digestive fire, therefore relieving symptoms of sluggish or difficult digestion.
Cleanse and Detox:
DETOXICANTAn herb that eliminates or metabolizes toxins from the body.
Energy Vitality Strength:
STIMULATES-ENERGYThis category groups thyroid and adrenal stimulating herbs
Heart & Circulation:
CARDIAC-STIMULANTHerbs that increase the heart rate. Useful in cardiovascular health, blood stagnation, and subjective feeling of heaviness in the chest area.
BLOOD-TONICAn herb that produces more blood cells in the body or otherwise strengthens blood. Helpful for anemia and other types of deficiency.
VASODILATORA vasodilator is an herb that widens the blood vessels by the relaxation of smooth muscle cells within the vessel walls, thereby increasing circulation systemically or to a local area.
ADAPTOGENHerbs that promote stabilization of physiological processes and homeostasis. Adaptogens increase the body's ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote or restore normal physiological functioning.
ANTI-INFLAMMATORYReduces inflammation in the body. Different herbs and carriers target different body systems.
ANTIBACTERIALHerbs that kill bacteria or slow their growth.
ANTIFUNGALHerbs that destroy fungus.
ANTIHISTAMINEHerbs that interrupt an allergic reaction or calm the immune system.
ANTIMICROBIALAn agent that kills microorganisms or inhibits their growth. Antimicrobial is an umbrella term that can be broken down into specific categories of target microorganism, such as anti-bacterials, fungals, and virals.
Kidney & Urinary:
DIURETICHerbs that promote urine formation, thereby flushing the kidneys and urinary tract while eliminating any excess water retention. As diuretics reduce water retention, they are often used to reduce blood pressure.
WARMS-KIDNEYWarms the kidneys by increasing blood flow to the organ.
Lung and Sinus:
CLEARS-SINUSESCleanses sinuses by draining excess mucus, allowing for clear, easy breathing.
WARMS-CHESTWarms the chest and lungs, clearing mucus and allowing for clear breathing.
BRONCHODILATORAn herb that encourages the widening or opening of the lung airways. Helpful in cough and asthma.
DECONGESTANTAn herb that reduces mucus congestion in the sinus or lungs by restricting blood flow to mucus membranes.
EXPECTORANTHerbs that help you cough up and eliminate mucus. These herbs often work by increasing the quantity of mucus, or thinning the mucus.
LUNG-TONICStrengthens the lungs. These herbs are helpful when recovering from either acute or chronic lung issues like bronchitis or pneumonia.
Mind, Stress & Sleep:
GROUNDINGEncourages feelings of stability and heaviness. Makes you feel settled, mentally relaxed. Mildly sedates the nervous system to ease stress. Can bring a spacey or anxious person back to earth.
STIMULATES-CROWNCreates a feeling of awareness or tension in the area at the top of the head.
Stimulates front of brain,
STIMULATES-FRONT-OF-BRAINCreates a feeling of awareness or tension in the area in the forehead. Activates the frontal lobe - the area responsible for motor function, emotional expression, thinking, and decision making.
ANTIDEPRESSANTHerbs that lift feelings of depression, benefit the mind and improve mental function.
ANXIOLYTICHerbs that help people suffering from anxiety or panic. They promote a state of calm and often improve sleep. Most anxiolytic herbs are also nervines.
NERVINEHerbs that specifically go to the nervous system and brain. They can help with stress, memory, early alzheimer?s, even chronic pain.
SEDATIVESedative herbs create a sense of calm in the mind and body by specifically calming or quieting the nervous system. Excellent for anxiety, stress and chronic pain.
EMMENOGOGUEHerbs which stimulate blood flow in the pelvic area and uterus. They are used to increase scanty menstruation, relieve menstrual pain, and other functions.
Skin Care & Beauty:
DIAPHORETICAn herb that induces sweating, often by dilating blood vessels close to the skin.
HYPOLIPIDEMICScrapes fats / cleanses blood vessels
Find Your Symptom:
DRIES-MOUTHMakes the mouth feel dry, or pasty.
WARMS-EARSStimulates peripheral circulation to warm extremities, including the ears.
WARMS-HEADAn herb that increases sensations of heat and warmth in the head.
MUSCLE-RELAXANTHerbs that relax muscles. Helpful for chronic pain or tension as well as healing from physical trauma.
CONSTIPATIVEAn herb that binds stools / stops diarrhea. When used in excess, these herbs and foods can cause constipation.
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