Some teas, like matcha, are lauded for their ability to boost energy levels. Others, like ginger, are kept on hand to help settle an upset stomach. One variety you may be less likely to have in your tea stash is tulsi, also known as holy basil. Tulsi is a herb used commonly in Ayurveda, a holistic medicine practice from India, but is less well-known by many here in the U.S. It's one of the most sacred herbs in India and has been used medicinally for thousands of years in a variety of formats. But what we're focusing on today is tulsi tea, which is when the leaves of the tulsi plant are dried and then steeped in hot water.
Here, registered dietitian May Zhu, RD explains the tulsi tea benefits as well as what to keep in mind when buying and sipping this tea.
What are the health benefits of tulsi tea?
1. It could help lower anxiety
This is one of the major reasons why tulsi tea is so special. Tulsi is an adaptogenic herb, which means it can help protect the body against the toxic effects of stress. A review of studies published in the journal Evidence Based Complement Alternative Medicine says that tulsi has been associated in multiple studies with an improvement in mood and reduced anxiety levels. "One reason for this could be that the flavonoids [antioxidant compounds found in plants] in tulsi tea could help reduce the body's cortisol levels, which is widely known as the 'stress hormone,'" Zhu says. But she also says that more research needs to be done to confirm this.
2. It's good for brain health
Speaking of the flavonoids in tulsi tea, Zhu says this highlights another one of its benefits. Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant which is connected to helping the body deal with everyday stressors. They're also beneficial for brain health. Flavonoids help protect neurons in the brain and also play a role in cerebral vascular blood flow. For these reasons, tulsi tea could benefit brain health both in the short- and long-term.
3. Tulsi tea is hydrating
This benefit may seem obvious, but because many people don't drink enough water during the day, it's definitely worth pointing out. "Not only is tulsi tea hydrating, but since it doesn't have caffeine, it can be sipped any time of day, including in the evening," Zhu says. If you like to sip tea consistently throughout the day, caffeinated tea could result in a headache, but because it's caffeine-free, you're much less likely to experience that from sipping tulsi tea.
4. It has trace amounts of calcium, vitamin C, iron, and zinc
While it shouldn't be thought of as a primary source for nutrients, tulsi tea does contain small amounts of several nutrients, including calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, and zinc. Think of it as the cherry on top of the other health benefits it brings to the table.
5. It may help with bronchitis
One of the medicinal uses of tulsi tea is using it to treat bronchitis. This is because the herb has antiseptic and antibacterial properties, and the hot water can help soothe the throat. If you do have bronchitis or a sore throat, you should still see a doctor, but tulsi tea could play a supplementary role in treatment.
Warnings, risks, and buying tips
Zhu says the risks to sipping tulsi tea are minimal, but as with any herb, some may experience an allergic reaction or intolerance. If you experience any adverse side effects, such as digestive problems, it's best to avoid this tea. She also says that because it's unethical to conduct scientific studies on those who are pregnant or nursing, it isn't verified that this herb is safe for those populations. But in general, she says that it's safe to try and also okay to sip every day.
When buying tulsi tea, it's best to see where the herb is sourced from—a good rule to follow when buying any tea. If you're worried about pesticide exposure, buying certified organic tulsi tea will lower your risk of exposure. You may find that the taste of tulsi tea varies a little from brand to brand. This is completely natural as there are a few different varieties of tulsi. So have fun and try different brands to find one you really love. Some certified organic tulsi tea brands to consider are Organic India ($13.99 for a pack of three), Nova ($14.99), and Traditional Medicinals ($25.86 for a 6 pack).
Other herbs to pair tulsi with
When perusing tulsi tea varieties, you may notice that it's sometimes blended with other herbs. This is done for both taste and to round out the health benefits. Just like with cooking, when you invite more herbs to the party, the nutritional benefits become more robust. You also also buy tulsi as a loose herb or powder and make your own blends at home. Here are some ideas for what to pair it with, based on the benefits you're hoping to gain:
If you're sipping tulsi tea for brain health, try tulsi turmeric tea
Turmeric is one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory herbs there is. It helps lower inflammation in the body as a whole, and this of course includes the brain as well. Both tulsi and turmeric can help with cognitive function and protecting neurons in the brain, so their combination is truly complementary. Plus, the sweet flavor notes of tulsi and the peppery bite in turmeric play off each other nicely. Neither herb has caffeine so it can be enjoyed anytime of day.
Buy it: Vahdam turmeric tulsi ($19.99)
Watch the video below to learn more about the health benefits of turmeric:
If you're sipping tulsi tea because you're under the weather, try tulsi ginger tea
Tulsi is connected to soothing a sore throat, and so is ginger. Since both herbs help increase blood flow, this combination could help alleviate headaches as well. Ginger is also calming to the stomach, so if you have a stomach ache, including it in your tulsi tea may help. Like tulsi tumeric tea, this blend doesn't have any caffeine.
Buy it: Organic India tulsi ginger tea ($7.92)
If you're sipping tulsi tea to lower anxiety, try tulsi with ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is another adaptogenic herb connected to reducing stress and anxiety, so it pairs well with tulsi. It can taste pretty earthy on its own, which is another reason why it's great to pair it with sweet tulsi. Ashwagandha is another herb that's caffeine-free.
Zhu says that when it comes to tulsi, there still needs to be more scientific studies since what's currently out there is limited. But it's been a oft-used herb in Ayurveda for centuries, specifically for the benefits that have been highlighted here. Sometimes a cup of tea really is just what you need.
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