Holy Basil Benefits, Uses & History

If you are a keen reader of our website, you will be aware of how downright confusing it can be when trying to get to grips with what herbs are good for you and what should be avoided.

This can be especially confusing when dealing with herbs that you may never have even heard of. 

One herb in particular that is often met with puzzled expressions is Holy Basil. Basil, as you likely know, is a common culinary herb with lots of uses.

Holy Basil Benefits, Uses & History

The extra word, Holy, often leaves people scratching their heads. That is why we have decided to dedicate a whole article to the mysterious herb that is Holy Basil. 

In this article, we will be telling you all that there is to know about Holy Basil, such as its history, uses, benefits, and even if it has a role in mythology.

Cool, right? We will also be letting you know about any side effects it may cause if you were to consume or use it in any way. 

So, if you have been curious about using Holy Basil, or just want to improve your herb-related knowledge by finding out about every herb under the sun, then this might just be the perfect article for you. 

What is Holy Basil? 

Holy Basil, as the name might suggest, is indeed a type of herb.

However, you should certainly not confuse it with the same basil that you put in your tomato sauce and on top of pizza! Holy Basil is actually a slightly different herb, known by its Latin name Ocimum tenuiflorum. 

Holy Basil is a part of the Family of plants known as Lamiaceae to which mint also belongs. As such, it is a perennial plant that is very aromatic, much like other members of this plant family.

It has a slightly bitter and spicy taste (which makes sense when we tell you later what cuisine it is commonly used in). 

Whilst it is cultivated throughout the Southeast Asian tropics and is a widespread plant in these areas, it is actually native to the subcontinent of India. 

There are a number of different varieties of this, one of which is Thai Holy Basil which is commonly used in Thai and Cambodian cuisine. 

Whilst these varieties all vary (well, of course they do), there are some distinct similarities that must be discussed.

For example, you can expect all types of Holy Basil to be erect with many branches on the shrub. 

The stems are hairy and tall, growing up to around 12 inches at a minimum and a maximum of 24 inches. The leaves are simple in design, often green or purple in color, and reach around 2 inches long. 

They are petioled which means that they are attached to the stem which allows them to twist into the sun. The leaves cross in a decussate phyllotaxy and have margins that are slightly toothed. 

What is the history of Holy Basil? 

Holy Basil has a very vibrant and important history. It is very significant in the Hindu religion where it is called Tulsi.

It is a sacred plant, thought to be the avatar of Lakshmi, the goddess of love, wealth, prosperity, fortune, beauty, and joy. 

It is used as part of the worship for Lakshmi, as well as other important deities including Vishnu, Krishna, Rama, and Hanuman. 

We will explore the exact meaning behind this in the next section regarding the use of Holy Basil in mythology, but for now, suffice to say that Holy Basil has very sacred historical use. 

As well as its historical use regarding the worshipping of Hindu deities, Holy Basil has also been used historically for a number of medicinal uses.

For example, it is an important herb in both Ayurvedic and Siddha medicinal practices as well as being kept with stored foods and grains to act as an insect repellent. 

It has long been considered, at least within the Southeast of Asia, as a tonic for the mind, spirit, and body.

As such, it has historically been used to remedy a great number of ailments. In fact, it has been so long heralded that it is referred to as the Queen of Herbs! 

The uses of Holy Basil throughout history have not changed much. Perhaps the biggest change is the fact that it is now available widely around the world.

That being said, it is still used for worship, medicinal use, and even as a bug repellent, even in our modern-day. 

If you want to read more about the uses of Holy Basil, keep on reading…but before we get to that, let’s take a more in-depth look at what Holy Basil represents in mythology. 

Holy Basil in mythology 

As we mentioned in the previous section, Holy Basil has long been considered as just that – Holy. It is a sacred plant in the Hindu religion and is thought to represent the Goddess Lakshmi.

Its very name in Hindu, Tulsi, means ‘the incomparable one’, denoting just how important it is in Hinduism. 

In Hinduism, a families’ religious standing is made complete with the introduction of a Tulsi (or Holy Basil) plant in their garden. They worship this plant often, with some choosing to do so in honor of deities, and others doing it daily.

It is also thought to help you to concentrate when praying and undertaking activities for worship. As such, it is often a feature at Hindu temples. 

Many legends exist regarding Holy basil, with one such indicating that the plant is a reincarnation of a princess who loved Lord Krishna and as such was cursed by His consort.

It is also said that when Krishna was weighed in gold, a single leaf taken from Holy Basil was the only thing that could outweigh him. 

There are also mythological and religious stories that depict Holy Basil (or Tulsi as it is called in these stories) marrying Lord Vishnu on the 11th bright lunar day of Karttika and as such, there is now a ritual called Tulsi Vivha to begin the marriage season in India. 

In this ritual, a Tulsi plant is decorated to look like a bride, and a brass image of Vishu is used.

An altar is set up in the form of a mandap (a marriage booth) in the courtyard of Hindu homes and is used as a symbol of marriage and a form of worship. 

What is Holy Basil used for? The methods of using Holy Basil 

There are countless uses of Holy Basil, as you may well have realized from the article so far. From its importance as a sacred herb to its use as an insect repellent, and of course, as a medicinal plant, Holy Basil is certainly a herb with a variety of important uses. 

Of course, as you might imagine, all of these different uses require different methods of use.

For example, when using Holy basil as a sacred herb, you may find that people physically worship and pray to it, or even leave it at altars of specific deities as an offering. 

As an insect repellent, it was historically added to grain stocks and sprinkled in areas where food was being kept to deter pests. 

In terms of its medicinal use, the methods for taking Holy Basil vary from using the extract in the form of pills and tablets, using essential oil made from the Holy Basil, adding it to food and drinks, cooking with it, or making tea from it. 

Of course, throughout history, these methods may have changed slightly. For example, it is not likely that pills of Holy Basil extract would have been available centuries ago as they are a relatively modern concept. 

Likewise, Holy Basil would once have been used in tinctures and potions to be taken or applied topically.

This may well happen today, but it is more likely for someone to take it in supplement form as a tablet or pill. 

Can you cook with Holy Basil?

Holy Basil

Yes! You certainly can cook with Holy Basil. It is a very common ingredient in many Asian cuisines, especially in Thai and Cambodian dishes.

For example, it is an important ingredient in Pad Kra Pow where it gives a distinct flavor to the dish.

In these dishes, it is known as Thai Holy basil (not to be confused with Thai Basil). 

Confused about all these Thai basils yet? You may remember that we mentioned the different varieties of Holy Basil earlier in the article.

As such, many different varieties of Holy Basil are used, depending on the recipe and cuisine. 

The Holy Basil used in Thai food is often incorrectly known as Thai basil.

However, this is wrong as Thai basil is a slightly different herb belonging to the Ocimum basilicum variation of the Lamiaceae family. It is slightly different from the Holy Basil used in Hindu worship, but they share similarities.  

The vast majority of recipes out there for cooking with Holy Basil are from Thai cuisine. However, you could also use Holy Basil in place of other similar herbs in a variety of different types of cuisines, depending on your preferences. 

Of course, you can also take Holy Basil in the form of tea. As such, you may be able to find several tea recipes in which Holy Basil can be used with other herbs to create a delicious herbal tea that can be enjoyed for its taste as well as its health benefits. 

What are the benefits of using Holy Basil? 

There are many benefits of using holy Basil that should be discussed.

Of course, we have gone into detail about the use of Holy Basil in Hindu worship, and so it should be noted that there are also supposed spiritual benefits as well as supposed physical and mental benefits. 

As you will know, Holy Basil can be ingested, or it can be used topically. It is also available in essential oil form, and, of course, can be used as a decorative plant in gardens and courtyards.

This means that there are many opportunities for it to benefit many aspects of your life. 

You can also use all parts of the plant, with different parts being thought to be beneficial for different ailments. For example: 

  • You can use Holy Basil essential oil for insect bites and you can use it in a diffuser to help reduce stress and anxiety.
  • You can use the flowers for respiratory ailments such as bronchitis, especially when made into tea. You can also use tea made from these flowers as a way of relaxing and feeling less anxious.
  • The leaves and seeds of Holy Basil are used for a number of ailments such as malaria, and can also be used to heal wounds as they are antibacterial and antifungal. 

As well as this, Holy Basil contains many important nutrients that we need for overall wellness such as: 

  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Chlorophyll
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin A 

There are so many other benefits associated with the use of Holy Basil, but we could be here for days telling you all about them! Suffice to say that it is pretty special.

Of course, as with any herbal remedy, care should be taken, and advise doubt before you take it! Head on over to our final section to find out about any side effects you should be aware of.

What are the side effects of using Holy Basil? 

In general, there have been no negative side effects reported in any human trials for the use of Holy Basil.

However, you should bear in mind that it is not suitable for pregnant people, lactating people, or anyone trying to get pregnant. 

As well as this, bear in mind that if Holy Basil is grown in polluted areas, then it too can be polluted and may even be toxic. Only buy from reputable, organic sources.

You should also bear in mind that it is not FDA regulated and so it is hard to know the true quality of Holy Basil.