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Holy Basil

Scientific Name(s): Ocimum tenuiflorum L.
Common Name(s): Ajaka, Baranda, Brinda, Holy basil, Kha phrao, Manjari, Monk's basil, Parnasa, Patra-puspha, Sacred basil, Suvasa, Thai basil, Thulasi, Tulasi, Tulsi

Clinical Overview

Use

Limited evidence suggests potential applications in treating stress, anxiety disorders, diabetes, and cancer. Anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activities have also been demonstrated. However, few clinical trials have been conducted to support these uses.

Dosing

Limited clinical trials are available to provide dosing recommendations for holy basil.

CNS disorders: 300 mg/day of an ethanolic leaf extract for 30 days was used in a study evaluating use of holy basil for enhancement of cognition. Dosages of 1,000 mg/day for 8 weeks or 1,200 mg/day for 6 weeks were used in studies evaluating the effects of holy basil extract on stress disorders.

Diabetes/Metabolic syndrome: One clinical trial used 2.5 g of the leaves as a dried powder mixed in 200 mL of water daily for 2 months to produce a hypoglycemic effect.

Contraindications

Contraindications have not been identified.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Avoid use. Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Emmenagogue and abortifacient effects have been reported for the related species Ocimum basilicum.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Clinical information is lacking.

Toxicology

No data.

Botany

O. tenuiflorum is a perennial, many-branched shrub indigenous to India and parts of Africa, Taiwan, and China, and cultivated in southeast Asia. It can grow up to 1 m in height. Green and purple color variants exist that are otherwise morphologically indistinguishable.

Unlike common basil, holy basil plants have slightly hairy, pale leaves that are simple, opposite, and oblong or ovate, measuring 3 to 7 cm long and 1 to 3 cm wide. The leaves have a characteristically strong aroma, likened to that of cloves, and an astringent taste. The flowering part of the plant consists of a florescence of purple and red flowers. Related plants include Ocimum basilicum (sweet basil), Ocimum gratissimum (African basil), Ocimum campechianum (Amazonian basil), and Ocimum canum (hoary basil).1, 2, 3 A synonym of O. tenuiflorum is Ocimum sanctum.

History

Use of tulsi is described in ancient Ayurvedic texts, and the plant is an important symbol in Hindu religious tradition. Holy basil has been described as an elixir of life and a tonic with adaptogenic properties. It has been used to promote longevity and to treat a range of conditions, including the common cold, headache, stomach complaints, inflammation, heart disease, insect or snake bites, and malaria. Holy basil is used in cooking and is consumed as a fresh leaf, an herbal tea, a dried powder, or mixed with ghee. The dried leaves can be stored with grains and used as an insect repellent. The essential oil is used in cosmetics and skin preparations.1, 4, 5

Chemistry

O. tenuiflorum primarily contains tannins, flavonoids, and an essential oil. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry has been used to elucidate the constituents of the essential oil, which include eugenol and methyl eugenol (up to 64%), alpha- and beta-caryophyllene, 1,8 cineole, methyl chavicol, carvacrol, linalool, thymol, limonene, gamma-terpinene, camphor, germacrene A, beta-ocimene, and cinnamyl acetate. Chemical composition varies with geographical location and other environmental and genetic factors.1, 6, 7, 8, 9 Additional constituents, among others, include oleanolic acid, rosmarinic acid, ursolic acid, apigenins, luteolins, cerebrosides, and acimumosides.1, 7, 8, 10 Traces of zinc, manganese, sodium, and vitamins A and C have been identified.8

Uses and Pharmacology

Despite traditional use of holy basil for various medical conditions, clinical trials examining such uses are lacking. Many therapeutic effects are attributed to the antioxidant action of the extracts and individual chemical constituents.7, 8

Anticancer/Radioprotection

In vitro and animal data

In animal studies, extracts of holy basil were protective against radiation-induced DNA damage, probably via antioxidant mechanisms.11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16

In vitro studies have demonstrated activity against human cancer cell lines, including brain, lung, pancreatic, prostate, and ovarian carcinomas, as well as neuroblastoma and leukemia.17, 18, 19, 20 Anticancer activity has also been demonstrated in rodent studies.21, 22, 23

Clinical data

Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of holy basil in cancer.

Antimicrobial activity

In vitro and animal data

Extracts of holy basil, particularly those containing eugenol, have shown in vitro activity against a number of microorganisms, including Enterococcus faecalis, Salmonella enterica, and resistant strains of Neisseria gonorrhoea.24, 25, 26 Activity against Candida albicans has also been demonstrated in vitro.27 Reports of efficacy against Mycobacterium tuberculosis and the parasite Leishmania donovani have been published.28, 29

Inhibition of dental caries and periodontal pathogens (including Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans,30 Streptococcus mutans, and Streptococcus sanguis)31 has been demonstrated in several in vitro studies.32 Another study reported antimicrobial activity of an O. sanctum 2% gel in the treatment of experimentally induced periodontitis in rats.33

Clinical data

A small clinical trial evaluated an O. sanctum mouthwash (in polyethylene glycol and water) compared with a chlorhexidine mouthwash and placebo. Reductions in gingival bleeding and plaque indices, similar to those with chlorhexidine, were achieved with the herbal extract compared with placebo.34

CNS effects

In vitro and animal data

Experiments in rats have demonstrated a protective effect of holy basil extracts against noise-induced stress. Pretreatment with holy basil extract prevented the increases in circulating corticosterone, dopamine, and serotonin levels induced by noise exposure; other adaptogenic effects on biochemical changes in acetylcholine, acetylcholinesterase, and creatine kinase have also been reported.35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40

Analgesic and anticonvulsant actions have been described in animals, as well as attenuation of the effects of cerebrovascular insufficiency, induced axonal degeneration, and memory deficits.1, 38, 41, 42, 43, 44 Models of Parkinson disease and induced dementia suggest potential applications of holy basil extracts.39, 45, 46 Reduced stress, similar to the effects of alprazolam, was observed in rats fed O. sanctum in forced swim tests.47

Clinical data

In healthy volunteers, holy basil administered over 30 days improved cognition (measured by reaction times and error rates on standard tests) compared with placebo. Improvements were also observed in salivary cortisol and anxiety scores.48 Limited clinical studies suggest that O. tenuiflorum improves symptoms of stress disorders compared to placebo.49, 50, 51

Diabetes/Metabolic syndrome

Animal data

In animal experiments, O. tenuiflorum improved lipid profiles and demonstrated antioxidant, cardioprotective, and hypoglycemic effects, suggesting a potential role in the management of metabolic syndromes.52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62 Suggested mechanisms include insulin-secretory effects and reductions in insulin resistance, inhibition of alpha-glucosidase, and enhanced activity of glucokinase, hexokinase, and phosphofructokinase enzymes.52, 53, 54, 59

Clinical data

In a 2004 Cochrane review evaluating use of traditional plants in hyperglycemia, holy basil produced a hypoglycemic response compared with placebo in 1 small trial (N=40). However, poor methodological quality related to inadequate blinding and randomization was noted, and no trials compared holy basil with pharmacological agents.63 A more recent, small study using holy basil extract 250 mg twice daily for 8 weeks noted statistically significant improvements in body mass index and in lipid and insulin levels in overweight and obese patients 17 to 30 years of age.64

Anti-inflammatory activity

In vitro and animal data

In vitro studies demonstrate possible effects of holy basil extracts on inflammatory markers,21, 25, 65 while in studies of rats with isoproterenol-induced myocardial infarction, pretreatment with methanolic extract of O. tenuiflorum leaves decreased lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase activity and leukotriene and thromboxane levels.66 In a carrageenan-induced paw edema study in rodents, the ethyl acetate root extract of holy basil was effective as an anti-inflammatory agent.67 Another study reported anti-inflammatory activity of an O. sanctum 2% gel in the treatment of experimentally induced periodontitis in rats.33

Clinical data

A small clinical study (N=29) reported improved healing rates with administration of O. tenuiflorum (as an adaptogen) in mandibular fractures.68

Other uses

Antiulcer

Animal models of induced ulcers demonstrate protective and healing properties of holy basil extracts and fixed oil. Suggested mechanisms of action include antioxidant effects, lipoxygenase inhibition, histamine antagonism, and antisecretory effects.1, 69, 70, 71, 72

Cardiovascular

Conflicting data exist regarding the cardioprotective properties of holy basil extracts. Positive histological and biochemical marker findings have been reported in some animal experiments.73, 74 Reductions in lipid peroxidation have also been demonstrated.59, 75 Clinical trials are lacking.

Insect repellent effects

In molecular modeling studies, several compounds in O. sanctum have demonstrated significant binding to the odorant binding proteins of Anopheles gambiae, indicating potential use as mosquito repellent.76

Dosing

Limited clinical trials are available to provide dosing recommendations for holy basil.

CNS disorders

300 mg/day of an ethanolic leaf extract for 30 days was used in a study evaluating use of holy basil for enhancement of cognition. Dosages of 1,000 mg/day for 8 weeks or 1,200 mg/day for 6 weeks were used in studies evaluating the effects of holy basil extract on stress disorders.

Diabetes/Metabolic syndrome

One clinical trial used 2.5 g of the leaves as a dried powder mixed in 200 mL of water daily for 2 months to produce a hypoglycemic effect.63

Mandibular fractures

O. sanctum 5 mL taken 4 times a day for 4 weeks was used in a clinical study to enhance healing rates.68

Pregnancy / Lactation

Avoid use. Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Conflicting data exist regarding the embryotoxicity of O. tenuiflorum, with some experiments in rats showing toxicity at 100 to 200 mg/kg body weight and others showing no toxicity.1 Emmenagogue and abortifacient effects have been reported for the related species O. basilicum.77 Traditional use of holy basil to increase lactation has been recorded, but safety data are lacking.1, 3

Interactions

Case reports are lacking. Potentiation of the sedative effects of barbiturates has been demonstrated in experiments in rats.1, 42 Eugenol was observed to be hepatotoxic in glutathione-depleted mice; therefore, caution is recommended for concomitant use of holy basil with acetaminophen.1

Adverse Reactions

Data are limited. Few adverse reactions have been noted in clinical studies.49, 50, 63

Toxicology

Clinical information is limited. Reversible inhibition of spermatogenesis and decreased total sperm count and motility have been demonstrated in rodents administered high doses of O. tenuiflorum extracts.78, 79 In one study evaluating the acute oral toxicity and mutagenic potential of O. tenuiflorum, no treatment-related effects were reported;80 however, other toxicity studies report no biochemical, hematological, or histopathological changes at doses up to 1,000 mg/kg/day of an ethanolic leaf extract.81, 82

References

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25. Navin M, Ajay L, Naseem S, Seema S, Surendra S, Isha N. Preliminary ex-vivo and an animal model evaluation of Ocimum sanctum's essential oil extract for its antibacterial and anti- inflammatory properties. Oral Health Dent Manag. 2013;12(3):174-179.24352310
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41. Muthuraman A, Diwan V, Jaggi AS, Singh N, Singh D. Ameliorative effects of Ocimum sanctum in sciatic nerve transection-induced neuropathy in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2008;120(1):56-62.18762236
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49. 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;2012:894509.21977056
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77. Ernst E. Herbal medicinal products during pregnancy: are they safe? BJOG. 2002;109(3):227-235.11950176
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79. Narayana DB, Manohar R, Mahapatra A, Sujithra RM, Aramya AR. Posological considerations of Ocimum sanctum (tulasi) as per ayurvedic science and pharmaceutical sciences. Indian J Pharm Sci. 2014;76(3):240-245.25035537
80. Chandrasekaran CV, Srikanth HS, Anand MS, Allan JJ, Viji MM, Amit A. Evaluation of the mutagenic potential and acute oral toxicity of standardized extract of Ocimum sanctum (OciBest). Hum Exp Toxicol. 2013;32(9):992-1004.23424203
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