Holy basil is a sacred herb within Ayurveda—the centuries-old medicinal practice from India—and has been called upon for thousands of years to help combat stress. Nowadays, we understand that it works by lowering cortisol levels in the body, says acupuncturist Jill Blakeway, director of the YinOva Center in New York City.
“Holy basil is often used in Ayurvedic medicine as an adaptogen—a class of herbs that help your body deal with stressors,” she continues. Which is what helps make “tulsi”—the Hindu name for holy basil—Ayurveda’s perfect antidote to the hectic pace of the modern world.
But holy basil’s benefits don’t stop at stress-busting. “I’ve also seen it pretty widely used to treat common ailments like an upset stomach or even a seasonal cold,” says celeb nutritionist and beauty-foods evangelist Kim Snyder. “It’s thought to work because the chemical compounds it’s comprised of can help decrease inflammation and pain.”
Holy basil has a more peppery, clove-like taste than its familiar Western counterpart, sweet basil, though the two are closely related. And like sweet basil, it can be used to flavor all types of savory dishes—just think more along the lines of spicy stir-frys and soups than Italian pasta sauces.
But the herb may be at the height of its stress-squashing abilities when it is enjoyed slowly, as part of a relaxing daily tea ritual. There are plenty of ready-made blends available online or in health food stores, or you can brew your own by steeping fresh or dried leaves. Then simply sip. Breathe. Repeat.