Holy Basil growing in the garden

Cultivating a Healing Garden - Holy Basil, "The Incomparable One"

For over three thousand years, Holy Basil (a cousin of common basil) has been regarded as one of India’s most powerful herbs. In the Puranas, a sacred Hindu text, “everything associated with the plant is holy, including water given to it and the soil in which it grows as well as all its parts, among them leaves, flowers, seeds, and roots” (Winston & Maimes, 2007). While the plant has been used traditionally to treat everything from snake bites and wasp stings to stomach ailments, earraches, bronchial infections, malarial fevers, influenza, and sinusitus, modern research shows us that holy basil is also a powerful adaptogen that possess impressive neuroprotective, immune-enhancing, and cardiovascular health benefits (Winston & Maimes, 2007).

Ancient lore says this sacred plant is the embodiment of Vishnu, the Preserver God who sustains life and protects the universe from destruction. What profound shoes for such a humble little plant to live in to! And yet, holy basil has manged to keep its reputation intact for millennia. In India, holy basil plants are grown in large pots and placed near doorways to bless the home and all who dwell within. Holy basil tea is drunk daily to purify and balance the chakras, promote radiant health, and to cultivate goodness, virtue, and joy within (Winston & Maimes, 2007). 

While there are several varieties of holy basil, three are most commonly referred to: Rama tulsi (green leaves/purple stem), Krishna tulsi (dark green to purple leaves/purple stem), and Vana tulsi (wild, dark green, slightly hairy leaves). All three varieties possess the health benefits described below (Krishna being the most potent), but one of the easier varieties to obtain and grow is Rama tulsi. Because holy basil/tulsi originates in more tropical climates, it is considered an annual here in the Midwest. However, the plant will often self-seed and grow anew the following season.

Several of holy basil’s most significant properties are adaptogenic, nervine, antibacterial, antidepressant, antioxidant, antiviral, carminative, expectorant, galactagogue (promotes the flow of mother’s milk), and immunomodulating. The herb possesses significant neuroprotective and cardioprotective qualities as well.

I often use holy basil as a nervine to treat chronic tension, nervous overstimulation, depression brought on by nervous instability, and “stagnant” depression (as David Winston describes it) in which a person becomes emotionally stuck in a trauma of some kind and cannot find a way to process or let go. The aromatic oils of the holy basil plant simultaneously uplift the mind and spirit while helping ground and open the heart. Because of the joyful, sweet, heart uplifting energy of this plant, I love to use it with other heart nourishing herbs, like cacao, hibiscus, and rose. Our Botanist blend is a particular favorite of mine, and features some of the most luscious, aromatic, locally grown holy basil (when in season). 

In addition to being a nerve tonic, tulsi is also an anti-depressant and nootropic. It is used to relieve mental fog and cloudy thinking, poor memory, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, mild depression, and is an important aid in head trauma recovery (Ayles, 2019). The herb has a potent affinity for the brain and head, and is also classified as a nootropic (a botanical that may help improve mental function). I often combine tusli with other nootropics, such as bacopa, gotu kola, lionsmane, ginkgo bilboa, rosemary, and wood betony, as these combinations help treat mental blockages, memory problems, low-blood oxygen levels (particularly in the brain), moodiness, and chronic depression. A significant amount of clinical studies on holy basil show that the herb can measurably improve memory and attention, as well as protect against both drug and age-related memory problems (Winston & Maimes, 2007). You will find holy basil along with other powerful nootropic herbs in our Einstein and Harmonia blends.

Holy basil is also adaptogenic, anti-inflammatory, and cardioprotective. Adaptogenic herbs are extraordinary botanical medicines that help normalize our biophysical response to stress, and help shield, repair, and regenerate cells effected by the damaging effects of chronic physical, emotional, chemical, and environmental stressors. Adaptogens are stabilizers that help our bodies more quickly recover homeostasis, and that help harmonize body, mind, and spirit (Ayles 2019). In addition to its adaptogenic properties, holy basil also possesses significant anti-inflammatory benefits as well as pain-reducing properties, and helps to prevent heart disease because of its high antioxidant levels. 

Last, but certainly not least, holy basil protects blood and liver cells from radiation-induced DNA damage, and is a preventative for various kinds of cancer, including breast, lung, and liver cancers (Winston 2007, Ayles 2019). 

In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, tulsi is used for myriad health needs, including coughs and colds, fever, asthma and bronchitis, sluggish circulation, irregular blood pressure, and heart issues. It is also used to treat inflammation in the digestive tract, indigestion, inflammatory skin conditions, and very importantly—immunomodulation. Our Woodsman blend utilizes the respiratory, antiviral, and adaptogenic properties of holy basil to help protect and strengthen lung and immune health.

The reasons to plant a holy basil plant are many, and are not limited to human benefits! Bees love to frolic among the holy basil flowers in the summertime, and the entire plant exudes a heady aroma that is sweet and joyous. If you’re ready to make this one of your permanent plant allies, here are a few basic growing tips to get you started —

  1. Fill a flower pot with a quality soil and make sure it has good drainage. Water the soil so it is evenly moist but not soggy. Sprinkle the seeds on top of the soil and gently press them into the surface with your fingers.

  2. Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate. Do this by spraying the surface of the soil with a spray bottle at first, so as not to disturb delicate root growth. If you have a terrarium, this is a good place to start your seeds because it helps keep soil moisture content consistent during germination. However, terrariums are not a necessity.

  3. Keep your flower pot near a warm, sunny window. Ideally, tulsi likes 6-8 hours of sunlight and 70ºF temps. 

  4. Alternatively, you can purchase tulsi plant starts at your local nursery. Once your tulsi plant is established in your home or garden, you may take a few small cuttings from your plant (beforeit flowers), remove the bottom few leaves from the stem (leaving about 2 inches of leafless stem), and place cuttings in a small glass of water. Leave in a warm, sunny window for 1-2 weeks, and the cuttings will begin to root! It is good to change your water every 1-2 days, however, to avoid bacteria growth.

  5. In herbalism, we use the aerial portions of the herb for medicine—or, the parts that grow above ground. The potency of the medicine will depend in part on soil and weather conditions as well as the time of season it is harvested. Generally, we harvest leaves before a plant flowers, because they will have higher levels of volatile oils before the flowering stage. After harvesting leaves and stems, bundle them with twine and hang them in a dry place out of direct sunlight until they are fully dry. Once dry, they are ready to garbled be used as tea! “Garbling” refers to the process separating portions of the plant you wish to use for medicine—in this case, it would refer to picking out wilted leaves and removing the leaves from the stem to store and use in the future. 



Ayles, Adriana. (2019). Adaptogens. New York, NY: Sterling Ethos Publishing.

Herbal Academy. (2016). Herbarium monographs: Holy basil [Membership-only Website]. Retrieved on 09/11/2016 from http://herbarium.herbalacademyofne.com

Winston, D. and Maimes, S. (2007). Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

Copyright © 2024, Andrea Lawse. All Rights Reserved.

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