Holy basil is an herb used for hormonal balance, blood sugar support, anxiety, cholesterol, and inflammation by many people. As I’ll explain in this article, research has shown holy basil benefits range from stress and mental/ emotional support to helping with fatigue and providing nutritional support.
Holy Basil Benefits:
- Help manage stress
- Ease anxiety
- Anti-inflammatory support
- Promote wound healing
- Improve blood sugar in diabetics
- Improve cholesterol levels
- Antiviral and antibacterial protection
Addressing hormone balance takes a holistic approach, but holy basil is one of my favorites, especially for women needing extra support. Think of holy basil as a helping hand when you're feeling low or navigating rough terrain. It helps you become more resilient to the stresses and challenges of daily life to reduce the toll that stress can take on your health and hormone balance.
In this article, we'll dive deeper into the science behind holy basil's hormone-balancing properties, why it's one of my top choices for women's health, and how you can add it to your routine.
What are the Health Benefits of Holy basil?
Holy basil is a native Indian aromatic herb with a long history in Ayurvedic medicine. Its purported benefits range from respiratory conditions to snake bites, but it's also incredibly nourishing for your hormones.
I touched on some of the health benefits of holy basil above, but first, I want to set the stage on why holy basil is so helpful for hormone balance.
The way I explain hormone balance to my patients is through a pyramid analogy, where insulin and adrenal hormones, like cortisol, are the foundation, supporting everything else above. Your thyroid hormones sit right above, and sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are at the very top.
I discuss this in more detail in my book, “Is This Normal,” (and give you step-by-step guidance on what to do), but briefly, a pyramid is only as strong as its base. It's normal to immediately want to focus on “fixing” symptoms related to sex hormones—acne, low libido, irregular periods, or weight gain. But simply targeting the top of the pyramid is like putting a bandaid on a major wound that needs stitches.
We can't make lasting changes if we ignore the foundation. We must build from the bottom up, and holy basil is one tool we can use. Here's how it can help.
Adaptogenic Properties to Support Adrenal Health
Adaptogens are plant compounds that enable the body to adapt to stress or recover from recent stressors. One of the benefits of holy basil is that it has adaptogenic properties.
To understand this more, let's start with what the adrenal glands do. When the body is under stress of any kind, your stress response kicks in, causing the adrenal glands to release hormones to help you cope.
This process is designed to protect you against danger or threat, but the same hormones are involved whether you’re truly unsafe or you’re hurrying to finish a project on time, stuck in rush hour traffic, or juggling a toddler meltdown while making dinner. Modern day-to-day life can create a steady stream of low-level stress, and it can take a toll on your body if you're always in fight-or-flight mode.
The Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) axis is the communication system between your brain and adrenal glands to regulate stress hormones like cortisol. Cortisol raises blood sugar, increases blood pressure, and impacts how you store and burn fat. This is all a very good thing during an acute stressor, but when we’re inundated with constant stress, these hormones take a toll on our body.
When the HPA axis is constantly turned on from chronic stress, it's a setup for burnout and hormonal imbalance. Many people refer to this as adrenal fatigue, but as I’ve explained in previous articles, they are really talking about HPA axis dysregulation — the body's stress response has been working on overdrive for too long. The result is symptoms like exhaustion, anxiety, depression, and hormone dysregulation.
Where does holy basil step in? Since it's an adaptogen, it can be used as a tool to help protect and calm the stress response to reduce the negative impact on your body. It may also help with burnout's effects on mental health, like anxiety and low mood. One study found that supplementing with holy basil for two months reduced symptoms of generalized anxiety disorders.
Adding holy basil can be a powerful addition to diet, supplement, and lifestyle changes for addressing hormone balance and adrenal support.
Supports Blood Sugar and Metabolic Health
Holy basil has been shown to improve blood sugar and cholesterol in those with metabolic disease.
Sitting next to your adrenal health at the bottom of the pyramid is insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps to move glucose from the bloodstream into your cells, converting it into energy.
Your cells can become resistant to insulin (called insulin resistance), which means it takes more insulin to get glucose out of the bloodstream and into your cells. In turn, your pancreas produces more and more insulin in an effort to keep up, leading to a condition called hyperinsulinemia. Blood sugar stays high, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders.
High insulin is also linked to inflammation and increased production of testosterone, which can throw off hormone balance. This is commonly seen with PCOS (and testosterone can also increase insulin resistance, so it's a vicious cycle). And guess what—stress increases blood sugar which raises insulin, so adrenal health and healthy insulin levels go hand-in-hand too.
Holy basil may help lower blood sugar and other metabolic markers like blood pressure and lipids (cholesterol markers). One study found that supplementing with holy basil for 12 weeks helped reduce fasting blood sugar and blood sugar after meals. Research also indicates that consuming holy basil with blood sugar-lowering medication reduced blood sugar levels more than taking only the drug.
Stable blood sugar means the body needs less insulin, which can reduce insulin resistance and help restore balance. In other words, holy basil can also address hormone balance by supporting the foundation—blood sugar regulation.
Immune Holy Basil Benefits
Holy basil is also known for its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
Inflammation — from any source — can affect hormones. It can disrupt the menstrual cycle, add to chronic stress, and mess with your blood sugar — it's all connected!
In fact, in both men and women, inflammation can disrupt levels of testosterone and estrogen.
Compounds in holy basil have been found to reduce the production of inflammatory markers and support the body's ability to detoxify and mount a normal, healthy immune response.
Polyphenols, chemical compounds found in plants that have health-supporting properties, have been found to have antioxidant activity that may help reduce oxidative damage and support healthy inflammation levels in the body.
It's worth noting that in traditional use and some studies on humans, holy basil extract could support the body's immune system to fight off infections and provide relief of respiratory symptoms, but more research is needed.
Tusli or holy basil has also been shown to offer support when the body encounters viral illness.
Holy Basil Sleep
In one randomized double blind, placebo controlled trial, it was found that 8 weeks of holy basil supplementation resulted in improved quality sleep. It’s important to note that further studies are needed in order to understand the benefits of holy basil on sleep.
Nutritional Benefits of Holy Basil
Holy basil tea is another way people regularly consume it. Holy basil contains vitamin A and C, calcium, iron and zinc. It is also a good source of vitamin K.
Vitamin K benefits your cardiovascular, bone, and digestive health. It’s a fat soluble vitamin that plays a significant role in blood clotting and bone mineralization.
I may support a healthy blood pressure by preventing calcification or mineralization of blood vessels. This is a process that makes blood vessels stiff and can lead to increased cardiovascular risks.
Products with Holy Basil
Adrenal support by Dr. Brighten contains holy basil extract, along with other adaptogens like Ashwagandha, eleuthero, and Rhodiola. These herbs work together to help the body manage stress, reduce inflammation, support blood sugar balance, and ultimately support hormone balance. It's a fantastic combination that supports adrenal health in a truly holistic way.
Vitamin C and B vitamins, like vitamin B5 and B6 are also included in the Adrenal support formula. Vitamin C is an essential nutrient for a healthy stress response, and vitamin B5 supports healthy cortisol production— both important for managing stress and promoting healthy adrenal function. Vitamin B6 helps support healthy neurotransmitter production
I created this adrenal support supplement combination because I know the efficacy and science behind each of these ingredients, but I also realize no one wants to take a million supplements each day. Two caps a day is all you need to get the full benefit.
How to Balance Hormones? Add Holy Basil to a Holistic Plan
As a board certified naturopathic endocrinologist,I won't pretend that holy basil is the only thing you need for hormone balance. Hormone imbalance is a complex issue, and it requires a holistic approach to get the best results., Bbut adaptogens like holy basil can be an incredibly valuable part of your wellness protocol.
As a doctor, I believe it is also important to consider all the different lifestyle factors impacting hormones. Diet, for example, is directly involved in blood sugar balance. Nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods help keep blood sugar spikes to a minimum, affecting how much insulin your body produces.
Sleep also makes all the difference for both adrenal hormones (and blood sugar). Emotional state and even environmental toxins can all play a role in how well your hormones function.
If this all feels like a lot, I've created a free Hormone Starter Kit that includes a 7-day meal plan and recipes for a hormone-balancing diet, plus additional guidance to help you get started.
While hormone balance is a complex topic, by taking steps to improve each of these areas, you can strengthen that hormone foundation. Holy basil can be a supportive tool to use along your health journey so you can feel good in your body again.
What is Holy Basil?
Holy basil, known as an “elixir of life” or “The Queen of Herbs” in Ayurvedic medicine, has traditionally been used in medicinal and spiritual practices for thousands of years. It's considered a sacred plant in Hinduism as a manifestation of the goddess Tulsi.
Holy basil belongs to the mint family, and the leaves have a strong flavor and aroma, similar to cloves or anise. The plant contains many beneficial compounds that may support overall health, well-being, longevity, and resilience. Tulsi's claim to fame (and why I use it so often in practice) is that it's an adaptogen.
An adaptogen is a botanical that promotes stress resilience and helps restore hormone balance. Research on tulsi suggests it helps reduce perceived stress symptoms, including better sleep and improved sexual health.
Why is Holy Basil Also Called Tulsi?
Holy basil is the English name for this botanical, but tulsi is the Hindi name. Both names are used interchangeably and refer to the same herb, so you may see either listed on supplements or teas. It's also called Tulasi in Sanskrit.
How Does Holy Basil Differ from Basil?
Botanically, holy basil and the basil you find in pesto sauce are related but are different species. Holy basil has multiple varieties, but you will usually just see it listed as tulsi or holy basil herbal product formulations.
Culinary basil is known scientifically as Ocimum basilicum, and while it's delicious and smells fantastic, basil from your garden doesn't have the same therapeutic benefits as holy basil (although it does contain antioxidants).
Holy Basil Side Effects
Holy basil is generally well tolerated and without side effects. However, in extremely high dosages, it is possible to experience nausea and diarrhea.
If you have an allergy to plants in the mint family, it is possible to have a severe reaction to holy basil. This would include symptoms such as difficulty breathing, rash, itching, and swollen oral cavity.
Is Holy Basil Safe in Pregnancy
There is not sufficient data at this time to determine if holy basil is safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Because of this, it is best to check with your doctor before beginning supplementation with this herb.
Holy Basil Dosages
Dosages for holy basil range from 100 mg to 600 mg. However, there are reports of taking over 600 mg showing improvement in symptoms. It is alway important to talk to your doctor about the right dosage for you.
- Tulsi holy basil offers numerous benefits including anti-inflammatory, sleep, and mood support.
- Holy basil is an adaptogen that can help with recovering from stress and support the body during stressful times.
- Holy basil can be taken as a supplement for maximized benefits or drank daily as a tea for nutritive support.
- Remember, while tulsi holy basil has lots of potential benefits, it doesn’t replace the need for a provider or a medication.
- Jamshidi N, Cohen MM. The Clinical Efficacy and Safety of Tulsi in Humans: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017.
- Satapathy S, Das N, Bandyopadhyay D, Mahapatra SC, Sahu DS, Meda M. Effect of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.) Supplementation on Metabolic Parameters and Liver Enzymes in Young Overweight and Obese Subjects. Indian J Clin Biochem. 2017. 32(3). 357-363.
- Saxena RC, Singh R, Kumar 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.
- Nadeem HR, Akhtar S, Sestili P, et al. Toxicity, Antioxidant Activity, and Phytochemicals of Basil (Ocimum basilicum L.) Leaves Cultivated in Southern Punjab, Pakistan. Foods. 2022. 11(9). 1239.
- Negar Jamshidi N, Cohen MM. The Clinical Efficacy and Safety of Tulsi in Humans: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2017.
- Bhattacharyya D. Sur TK, Lyle N, Jana U, Debnath P. A clinical study on the management of generalized anxiety disorder with Vaca (Acorus calamus). Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge. 2011. 10(4). 668-671.
- Bhattacharyya D, Sur TK, Jana U, Debnath PK. Controlled programmed trial of Ocimum sanctum leaf on generalized anxiety disorders. Nepal Med Coll J. 2008. 10(3). 176-179.
- Mondal S, Varma S, Bamola VD, et al. Double-blinded randomized controlled trial for immunomodulatory effects of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.) leaf extract on healthy volunteers. J Ethnopharmacol. 2011. 136(3). 452-456.
- Chaudhary A, Sharma S, Mittal A, Gupta S, Dua A. Phytochemical and antioxidant profiling of Ocimum sanctum. J Food Sci Technol. 2020. 57(10). 3852-3863.
- Marik PE. Vitamin C: an essential "stress hormone" during sepsis. J Thorac Dis. 2020. 12(Suppl 1). S84-S88.
- Dharsono HDA, Putri SA, Kurnia D, Dudi D, Satari MH. Ocimum Species: A Review on Chemical Constituents and Antibacterial Activity. Molecules. 2022. 27(19). 6350.
- Panossian, AG, Efferth, T, Shikov, AN, et al. Evolution of the adaptogenic concept from traditional use to medical systems: Pharmacology of stress- and aging-related diseases. Med Res Rev. 2021. 41. 630–703.