Posted by: Footler PJ4 FEB 2011
Holy basil, Ocimum tenuiflorum or O sanctum, is an aromatic herb that originated in India. It is so called because it was often planted around temple courtyards. There are two varieties, green and the more assertively flavoured red.
Compared with the sweet basil you may have in your kitchen, holy basil has a hotter flavour that intensifies further on cooking.
It is also known as tulsi, meaning matchless or incomparable, and is revered as the herb sacred to the goddess Lakshmi.
Although the plant is not widely used in western medicine, its aerial parts, picked in early summer before the flowers open, are used in traditional medicine as a invigorating tonic and as an Ayurvedic remedy for fevers. It is described as adaptogenic — helping the body to adapt to new demands and stresses — and has been used to treat colds, bronchitis, pleurisy, asthma, stress, insect bites and mouth ulcers.
Holy basil is also taken as a natural remedy for stress as it appears to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It has a long history of safe use in India, although application to the skin can cause reactions in sensitive people.
The key constituents identified in holy basil may explain some of the traditional remedies and offer some possible uses for the future. The herb contains high levels of volatile oils, including eugenol, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antiseptic activity and can deter insects.
Holy basil also contains rosmarinic acid (an antioxidant), apigenin and luteolin (flavonoids) and ursolic acid. Ursolic acid is of particular interest to researchers because it has been shown to inhibit cell growth and induce apoptosis in various tumours.
Holy basil is also thought to provide some protection to the liver enzymes that deal with the breakdown of fat in our diet. High levels of cholesterol in the blood of patients with diabetes have been reported to decrease after taking the herb.
It has also been suggested that holy basil might improve pancreatic beta cell function and thus enhance insulin secretion.