Spotlight on Tulsi (Holy Basil)

Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum L.) is classified as Surasadigana in Ayurveda. The plant grows throughout India but is widely cultivated in home gardens. The medicinal use of Tulsi is not mentioned in Ayurveda but it figures in the traditional medical systems such as Greek, Roman, Sidha and Unani.

Tulsi belongs to the family Lamiaceae. Other Sanskrit synonyms include Apetarakshasi, Bahumanjari, Bhutghani, Gauri, Haripriya, Surasa, and Tulasi. In English it is known as Holy basil.

O. sanctum is an upright, plant covered with soft hairs. The stems are square and soft, and the leaves have serrated leaf margins. The flowers are purple colored. Seeds are flat and reddish or yellow with minute black spots.

Chemically tulsi contains triterepene (ursolic acid) and fixed oil (containing caryophyllene, eugenol, and methyl eugenol). In addition, it contains alkaloids, saponins, flavonoids and glycosides, phenylpropane glucosides and tannins.

Ayurvedic energetics of Tulsi are summarised below:

Rasa (Taste): Katu (Pungent) and Tikta (Bitter).

Guna (Physical property): Laghu (Light) and Ruksha.

Virya (Potency): Ushna (Hot). Seeds have Shita (cold) potency.

Vipaka (Post digestion effect): Katu (Pungent).

Effect on Tridosha: Pacifies Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

Karma (Specific action): Shothahara (Anti-inflammatory). As per Bhavpraksha, tulsi is cardiac tonic and appetizer.

Varieties of Tulsi

  • Ocimum bascilium (Labiatae): Description: Herb. English name: Sweet basil. Ayurvedic name: Krishna Tulsi. Distribution: India. Parts Used: Whole plant. Medicinal use: Carminative, diuretic and stimulant. Used in the treatment of bronchitis.
  • Ocimum cannum (Labiatae): Description: Herb. Ayurvedic name: Visva Tulsi. Distribution: Brazil, China and India. Parts Used: Juice. Chemical composition: Flavones (pectoli narigenin-7-methyl ether and nevadensin). Medicinal use: Carminative, tonic and antispasmodic. Used in the treatment of amenorrhea, gastritis and abdominal colic.
  • Ocimum gratissimum (Labiatae): Description: Herb. English name: Shrubby Basil. Distribution: India. Parts Used: Whole plant. Medicinal use: Carminative, diuretic and stimulant. Used in the treatment of bronchitis.
  • Ocimum kilimandscharicum Guerke (Labiatae): Description: Herb. AN: Karpur tulsi. H: India. PU: Whole plant. Chemical composition: Camphor and volatile oil.
  • Ocimum viride (Labiatae): Description: Herb. Distribution: Africa. Parts Used: Leaves. Medicinal use: Poultice of the leaves is used in lumbar spondylosis.

 

Other plants related to Tulsi

  • Marjorana hortensis (Labiatae): Description: Herb. English name: Sweet marjoram. Ayurvedic name: Marubaka. Distribution: Europe. Parts Used: Whole plant. Chemical composition: Volatile oil. Medicinal use: Carminative, anthelmintic and emmenagouge.

 

Medicinal uses

  • Fresh leaves taken with black pepper have been used as a prophylactic against malaria.
  • A decoction of the root has been recommended for malarial fevers.
  • The leaf juice has been used for chronic fever, hemorrhage, dysentery and dyspepsia.
  • The leaf juice has been used as an anthelmintic and topically for ringworm and skin diseases.
  • In addition, it is used in the treatment of a variety of conditions including pain, pyrexia, emesis, bronchitis, ear-ache and diseases of the circulatory system. It has also been used in the treatment of diabetes, arthritis and asthma.
  • As per Bhavpraksha, tulsi is beneficial in the treatment of burning sensation, skin diseases, dysuria and blood diseases.

 

Parts of Tulsi used in Medicine

Leaves and seeds.

Dose

Decoction (50-100 ml); powder (1-3G).

Preparation

The traditional form of preparation is an aqueous extract of the leaves.

 Pre-clinical research

  1. Mediratta, Dewan, Bhattacharya, Gupta, Maiti and Sen (1988) studied the adaptogenic activity of O. sanctum.
  2. Bhargava and Singh (1981) studied the antistress activity of O. sanctum.
  3. Several authors (Shyamala and Devaki, 1996, Ganasoundari, Devi and Rao, 1997) have reported antioxidant activity of O. sanctum.
  4. Devi, Bisht and Vinitha M (1998) reported flavonoids including orientin and vicenin, having antioxidant activity of isolated from the leaves of O. sanctum. The flavonoids increase the survival time in lethally irradiated mice.
  5. Kelm, Nair, Strasburg and DeWitt (2000) reported in vitro antioxidant activity of six phenolic compounds isolated from O. sanctum (eugenol, rosmarinic acid, apigenin and three other flavonoids).
  6. Balanehru and Nagarajan (1991) reported antioxidant activity of ursolic acid isolated from O. sanctum against lipid peroxidation in liver microsomes in vitro.
  7. Karthikeyan, Ravichandran and Govindasamy (1999) reported chemopreventive effect of O. sanctum on DMBA-induced hamster buccal pouch carcinogenesis.
  8. Godhwani, Godhwani, Vyas (1987) studied anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antipyretic activity of O. sanctum in animals.
  9. Chattopadhyay (1993) reported hypoglycemic effect of O.sanctum leaf extract in normal and streptozotocin diabetic rats.

 

Clinical trial in diabetes mellitus

Agrawal, Rai and Singh (1996) in a randomized placebo-controlled, single blind trial studied the effects of dried leaf of O. sanctum in a dose 2.5 g daily on fasting and postprandial blood glucose and hyperlipidemic patients. Forty patients, (twenty taking oral hypoglycemic agents and twenty with newly diagnosed and not taking any antidiabetic medication) were screened for the study. They were directed to consume 2.5 g of O. sanctum leaf or placebo in water on empty stomach. At the end of the study it was concluded that O. sanctum has significant hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic activity.

The mechanism responsible for the hypoglycemic activity of sacred basil is not known. It has been postulated that O. sanctum might improve beta cell function and enhance secretion of insulin.

Safety

O.sanctum has a long history of safe use in Ayurvedic system of mediicne. Above all it is one of best home-remedies for an array of diseases. Anti-fertility, abortifacient and anti-spermatogenetic effects have been demonstrated in experimental studies.

Conclusions

O.sanctum is an important medicinal plant of Ayurvedic Materia Medica. As per traditional claims, tulsi is beneficial in the treatment of respiratory cattarh and malaria. Antistress and antidiabetic properties are reported in animal and clinical studies.

References

  1. Agrawal P, Rai V, Singh RB. Randomized placebo-controlled, single blind trial of holy basil leaves in patients with noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics 1996; 34: 406-409.
  2. Dastur JF. Medicinal Plants of India and Pakistan. Bombay: D.B. Taraporevala Sons & Co., 1962.
  3. Bhargava KP, Singh N. Anti-stress activity of Ocimum sanctum Linn. Indian Journal of Medical Research 1981; 73: 443-451.
  4. Chattopadhyay RR. Hypoglycemic effect of Ocimum sanctum leaf extract in normal and streptozotocin diabetic rats. Indian Journal of Experimental Biology 1993; 31: 891-893.
  5. Chattopadhyay RR. A comparative evaluation of some blood sugar lowering agents of plant origin. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 1999; 67: 367-372.
  6. Seth SD, Johri N, Sundaram KR. Antispermatogenic effect of Ocimum sanctum. Indian Journal of Experimental Biology 1981; 19: 975-976.

Additional Reading:

What Makes Tulsi the Elixir for Wellness

The Queen of Herbs: Tulsi

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