Holy Basil, Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)


To improve general health and vitality as an adaptogen, adrenal fatigue, stress, anxiety, depression, diabetes, poor circulation, infections, colds, flu, and fever.

Mechanism of Action

The mechanisms of action of Ocimum sanctum have not yet been thoroughly investigated. Chemical constituent assays have identified the ocimumosides and cerebrosides active in the antistress effects. Some of its immunomodulatory effects involve γ-aminobutyric acid pathways.1

Evidence-Based Research

Ocimum sanctum protects organs and tissues against chemical, physical, and metabolic stresses and helps optimize blood glucose, blood pressure, and lipid levels. It protects against psychological stress through positive effects on memory and cognitive function and through its anxiolytic and antidepressant properties.2 Several of its most studied constituent groups, the ocimumosides and the cerebrosides, display antistress effects by normalizing hyperglycemia, plasma corticosterone, plasma creatine kinase, and adrenal hypertrophy.3

Ocimum sanctum has been shown to reduce lab indices of stress in common animal models of stress including imposed restraint,4,5,6,7 forced swimming,8 thermal stress,9 and exposure to excessive noise.10,11,12 A rat study showed pretreatment with ocimumosides A and B at a dose of 40 mg/kg significantly increased dopamine and serotonin and their metabolites and decreased noradrenaline in various brain regions compared with control animals subjected to restraint. The activities of superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase in the frontal cortex and striatum were also significantly increased with the use of Ocimum sanctum extracts.4,13 Another rat study demonstrated that pretreatment with O. sanctum prevented the spike in corticosterone levels seen in the control animals exposed to noise stress.14

Ocimum sanctum can lower elevated cortisol and may potentially regulate corticosteroid-induced diabetes mellitus.15 The seed oil has been shown to modulate both humoral and cell-mediated immune response.1

Safety in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

There are no published papers on O. sanctum in pregnancy or lactation.

General Safety

High doses of O. sanctum, 2 g of the leaves taken for 30 days, had adverse effects on male hormones and sperm count in male rabbits.16 Ocimum tenuiflorum (kaphrao) is a culinary herb used in Thai cooking and is used with meat, seafood, and rice.17


Traditionally, up to several grams of dried O. sanctum leaves have been used orally for therapeutic and preventative purposes, or a similar amount prepared into an infusion.

Modern capsules may provide 100–500 mg of O. sanctum taken two to three times daily for adrenal, immune, and energy support as well as for neuroprotection.

Traditional Uses

“Tulsi” basil, a relative of culinary basil, has been used in India for spiritual and practical purposes from religious rites and creating sacred space to preparing the mind and body for meditative and spiritual practices; hence, the name “holy.” In addition to culinary applications, O. sanctum has been a long-standing plant used for bathing, water purification, food sanitation, and disinfectant washes. The plant has been used for diabetes; digestive pain and spasms; and kidney pain and conditions. It also has been used as a circulatory stimulant; a treatment for infections, colds, flu, and fever; a topical treatment for snake and insect bites; and as a component of wound and eye washes.18,19



J Ethnopharmacol. 2002;80(1):15–20. Evaluation of immunomodulatory potential of Ocimum sanctum seed oil and its possible mechanism of action. Mediratta PK, Sharma KK, Singh S.

2 J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2014;5(4):251–9. Tulsi – Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons. Cohen MM.

3 J Nat Prod. 2007;70(9):1410–6. Constituents of Ocimum sanctum with antistress activity. Gupta P, Yadav DK, Siripurapu KB, Palit G, Maurya R.

4 Indian J Med Res. 2012;135(4):548–54. Restraint stress-induced central monoaminergic and oxidative changes in rats and their prevention by novel Ocimum sanctum compounds. Ahmad A, Rasheed N, Chand K, Maurya R, Banu N, Palit G.

5 J Contemp Dent Pract. 2012;13(6):782–6. Efficacy of Ocimum sanctum for relieving stress: a preclinical study. Bathala LR, Rao ChV, Manjunath S, Vinuta S, Vemulapalli R.

6 Indian J Pharmacol. 2010;42(5):283–8. Effects of Ocimum sanctum and Camellia sinensis on stress-induced anxiety and depression in male albino Rattus norvegicus. Tabassum I, Siddiqui ZN, Rizvi SJ.

7 Pharm Biol. 2011;49(5):477–83. Evaluation of ethanol leaf extract of Ocimum sanctum in experimental models of anxiety and depression. Chatterjee M, Verma P, Maurya R, Palit G.

8 Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2009;6(4):534–43. Protection of swimming-induced oxidative stress in some vital organs by the treatment of composite extract of Withania somnifera, Ocimum sanctum and Zingiber officinalis in male rat. Misra DS, Maiti R, Ghosh D.

9 Indian J Exp Biol. 2013;51(7):515–21.Antiaging, antistress and ROS scavenging activity of crude extract of Ocimum sanctum (L.) in Caenorhabditis elegans (Maupas, 1900). Pandey R, Gupta S, Shukla V, Tandon S, Shukla V.

10 J Ethnopharmacol. 2005;96(3):477–82. Effect of Ocimum sanctum Linn on the changes in central cholinergic system induced by acute noise stress. Sembulingam K, Sembulingam P, Namasivayam A.

11 J Pharmacol Sci. 2005;98(4):354–60. Noise-stress-induced brain neurotransmitter changes and the effect of Ocimum sanctum (Linn) treatment in albino rats. Ravindran R, Rathinasamy SD, Samson J, Senthilvelan M.

12 Phytother Res. 2002;16(6):579–80. A comparative study of different crude extracts of Ocimum sanctum on noise stress. Archana R, Namasivayam A.

13 Phytomedicine. 2012;19(7):639–47. Novel Ocimumoside A and B as anti-stress agents: modulation of brain monoamines and antioxidant systems in chronic unpredictable stress model in rats. Ahmad A, Rasheed N, Gupta P, Singh S, Siripurapu KB, Ashraf GM, Kumar R, Chand K, Maurya R, Banu N, Al-Sheeha M, Palit G.

14 Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 1997;41(2):139–43. Effect of Ocimum sanctum Linn on noise induced changes in plasma corticosterone level. Sembulingam K, Sembulingam P, Namasivayam A.

15 Pharmazie. 2004;59(11):876–8. Hypoglycaemic effects of some plant extracts are possibly mediated through inhibition in corticosteroid concentration. Gholap S, Kar A.

16 Indian J Pharm Sci. 2014;76(3):240–5. Posological considerations of Ocimum sanctum (Tulasi) as per ayurvedic science and pharmaceutical sciences. Narayana DB, Manohar R, Mahapatra A, Sujithra RM, Aramya AR.

17 Ethnic Culinary Herbs. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press; 1999. Staples G, Kristiansen MS. ISBN 978-0-8248-2094-7.

18 Envir Ecology. 2005;23(3):485–8. Evaluation of some leaf dusta as grain protection against rice weevil sitophilus oryzae (Linn). Biswas NP, Bioswas AK.

19 Pharmacogon Review. 2010;4(7):95–105. Ocimum sanctum Linn A reservoir plant for therapeutic applications: an overview. Pattanayak P, Behera P, Das D, Panda SK.