Tulsi is the Sanskrit name for the holy basil plant. It is a member of the mint family and grows wild in India (ref 1). The traditional medicinal uses for tulsi are many, particularly in the Indian Ayurvedic tradition, but it is primarily known today as an adaptogen -- meaning it helps the body cope with stress. Modern research has found that tulsi has many constituents, including those with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Tulsi is traditionally served as a tea and is considered fairly safe, but consult your doctor before taking it as a medicinal, particularly if you are taking other medications.
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Prolonged stress can take its toll on your body by reducing your immune function, impairing your digestive system and affecting your mood and memory. Tulsi tea may help reduce some of the effects of stress by promoting stamina and enhancing immune function, according to Kenneth Frank, M.D., author of a "User's Guide to Natural & Safe Pain Relief." A study published in the 2011 "Research Journal of Pharmaceutical, Biological and Chemical Sciences" reported that mice given a tulsi extract experienced significant reduction in stress levels when compared to mice given only water or ginseng -- another well-studied adaptogen. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, take 400 milligrams of tulsi daily to boost adrenal health and reduce stress.
Diabetes occurs when your body does not break down sugar -- or glucose -- efficiently, which can lead to high blood sugar. High blood sugar can cause significant damage to your body if left untreated. Tulsi leaves may help those with Type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar levels, according to the University of Michigan Health System. A study published in the "International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics" in 1996 reported patients that took a holy basil extract reported significantly lower levels of blood sugar than those who took a placebo.
Tulsi has been traditionally used to treat several respiratory problems -- according to Andrew Chevallier, author of "The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants" -- particularly colds, coughs, bronchitis and pleurisy. It is also helpful in the treatment of asthma. According to the University of Michigan Health Center, preliminary studies have shown that taking tulsi extracts improved breathing and reduced the frequency of attacks in those suffering from asthma, but that more placebo-controlled studies were needed.
Most research on the medicinal benefits of tulsi were done with extracts, but you can receive benefits from drinking the tea, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. To prepare the tea, the authors of "The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs" recommend using 1 teaspoon of dried herb in 1 cup of water and letting it steep for several minutes. Consult a doctor before taking the tea if you are taking other medications, particularly if you are taking medications that slow blood clotting. Do not take tulsi tea if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Stop taking tulsi tea two weeks before surgery, as it may inhibit your blood's ability to clot.
Many other uses for tulsi tea exist, but research about them is limited or nonexistent, according to the University of Michigan Health Center. Other ailments commonly or traditionally treated with tulsi tea include fever, inflammation, stomach complaints, heart disease, poisoning and malaria. Tulsi tea has also been used to treat skin conditions, such as psoriasis.