Holy Basil Can Low-Key Help Your Body Handle Stress Better—Here’s How

Photo: Stocksy/Jovo Jovanovic
If you like to geek out on herbs—which at Well+Good HQ, is definitely considered an acceptable pastime—you might already be familiar with adaptogens. Adaptogens are herbs that, when taken regularly, can help bring balance to the body and help it better handle stress. Some, like reishi and ashwagandha, certainly get their fair share of buzz, but others fly under the radar. The Ayurvedic herb holy basil, also known as tulsi, definitely falls into the latter camp.

When it comes to holy basil benefits, there are some major ones to know about. But first, let's get something straight: holy basil is not the same as the basil you likely already have in your pantry. "Holy basil and basil are different plants, and even within the holy basil family, there are different types of holy basil," says herbalist, holistic health coach, and Supernatural founder Rachelle Robinett.

While both plants are members of the mint family, basil plants are deep green and tastes slightly spicy. But holy basil, Robinett says, are slightly sweet. "Some holy basil plants are black and red, other holy basil plants are black and green, but it's a really beautiful plant and has some amazing benefits," she adds. Now that you know what it is, let's get into what exactly the holy basil benefits are.

Holy basil benefits: are they really worth it?

1. Holy basil helps the body deal with stress

An attribute of all adaptogens, Robinett says holy basil can help bring more balance to the body. "It's a calming herb, but not in the way that some herbs such as lavender are where you feel [more relaxed] right away. It helps normalize the stress response in the body so that over time, the body is more stable, peaceful, and calm," Robinett says, adding that it acts similar to ashwaghanda in this way. Scientific studies have shown that holy basic can potentially counter metabolic stress through stabilizing blood glucose levels. Which brings us to another holy basil benefit.

2. it Can help stabilize blood sugar levels

If you're mindful of your blood glucose levels, holy basil is an herb that's on your side. "It has a noticeable effect on lowering blood sugar levels and helping with insulin sensitivity," Robinett says. For many people, this is a big bonus, but Robinett says if you're someone who tends to already have low blood sugar levels, it's something to be aware of as it could make your levels too low.

The fact that holy basil can help balance blood sugar levels is directly related to its first benefit of helping the body deal with stress. When your blood sugar levels are steady, your mood tends to be, too. And when your mood is steady, it's easier to deal with stress.

Another herb that helps with blood sugar levels: cinnamon. Watch the video below to learn how:

3. It has antioxidant Properties

While this is still an area of ongoing research, "there have been a lot of scientific studies that show the different ways holy basil's antioxidant properties manifest," Robinett says. One such way is supporting liver health, evidence scientists have found at least in studies performed on rats. "It's kind of like a tonic for the liver," Robinett says.

4. it could boost cognitive function

Another benefit of holy basil's antioxidant properties is that it could help with brain health. One small study found that adults who took holy basil regularly for 15 days experienced a boost in cognitive function compared to participants who were given a placebo, although more research is needed to confirm this benefit.

5. it's antibacterial

Another holy basil benefit Robinett mentions is that it's antibacterial and antifungal. One scientific article on the herb says this is why the herb traditionally has been used to treat stomach aches and common colds; it works to help kill bad bacteria. There's even some evidence to suggest it could be safely used as a mouthwash.

How to best use holy basil to enjoy its benefits

If these benefits made you want to give holy basil a try, Robinett has a few different suggestions. "Holy basil is really nice to enjoy as a tea, but you can also consume it as a capsule or as a tincture, both of which will be a bit stronger than the tea," she says. Like many adaptogens, holy basil works best if consumed regularly over time. Whether you choose to have it as a tea, capsule, or tincture, aim for a dosage of about 300 milligrams.

While holy basil is generally safe with no side effects, Robinett says women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should not take this herb. "It can affect testosterone levels in a way that is anti-fertility, so that is something to be aware of," she says. It's also always a good idea to talk to your doctor or health practitioner to ensure that the herb will not interact with any other herbs, supplements, or medications you currently take.

Robinett also encourages people to experiment with mixing holy basil with other herbs they love. "You'll often see it mixed with black pepper, which is used as a catalyst," she says, adding that this is also seen with turmeric. "This helps it get into the system quicker," she explains. "My biggest advice for blending herbs is to choose herbs that have the properties that you're hoping to get," she says. "For example, if you want to take holy basil to feel more calm, lavender can be a beautiful herb to pair it with, as opposed to an herb like ginseng, which is more known to be energy-boosting," she says.

But in general, Robinett says holy basil plays well with others, which is great news for wellness lovers who feel totally stressed out trying to decide between their favorite herbs. Hey, then again, that's something holy basil can help with.

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