We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.

Holy basil is an herb from the basil family. It has several possible health benefits and is significant in some forms of traditional medicine.

Holy basil is the English name for the plant Ocimum sanctum. People should not mistake this with the culinary form of basil, which comes from the plant Ocimum basilicum.

This article explores the types and variations of holy basil, as well as some benefits, side effects, and risks. This article also covers how to take it and when to seek medical advice.

A plant with green leaves growing outside a windowShare on Pinterest
Naahushi Kavuri/EyeEm/Getty Images

Holy basil is a component of many different areas of herbal medicine due to its healing properties.

Holy basil originally grew on the Indian subcontinent, where the plant goes by the name Tulsai in Sanskrit or Tulsi in Hindi.

It has since spread to areas throughout the Eastern Tropics.


Holy basil can come in different forms. It is possible to distinguish the different types by comparing the color of their leaves.

The three most common types are:

  • Rama or Sri Tulsi, which has green leaves
  • Krishna or Shyama Tulsi, which has purple leaves
  • Vana or wild/forest Tulsi, which has dark green leaves

Some studies suggest that holy basil provides a range of health benefits that work with the body, mind, and soul to improve overall well-being.

Some medicinal properties of holy basil include the following:

  • antioxidant properties
  • antimicrobial properties
  • antidiabetic properties

The herb also:

  • reduces skin and wound infections
  • counteracts stress
  • boosts metabolism
  • improves the immune system
  • protects the liver
  • reduces inflammation
  • protects against radiation

As well as having numerous health benefits, holy basil is an ethical herb to source, with cultivation processes that usually use fair trade and small-scale farming practices. Farming holy basil may provide livelihoods for thousands of farmers.

A 2017 systematic review of the scientific literature on holy basil found no sign of side effects from taking the herb.

However, a more recent review suggested that taking excessive amounts of holy basil can cause the following adverse effects:

  • It may affect fetal development during pregnancy.
  • The ursolic acid content can affect the menstrual cycle.
  • It can reduce blood sugar to a dangerously low level, particularly for people with diabetes.
  • It can reduce the function of the male reproductive glands, affecting fertility.

Additionally, eugenol — which is an active compound present in holy basil — may cause the following symptoms:

  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • a rapid heartbeat
  • liver damage

Despite having natural origins, holy basil has medicinal properties. So, as with all supplements, a person should take precautions when using the herb for health purposes.

Importantly, people should avoid combining holy basil with pharmaceutical medications without first checking with a healthcare professional.

The herb helps people relax due to its anti-stress properties, but this could cause drowsiness if a person takes it alongside certain medications.

There are many ways to use holy basil, depending on a person’s reason for using it. For example, people can try:

  • making tea from the leaves
  • consuming the seeds or leaves
  • using oil from the seeds
  • taking supplements in the form of capsules or pills

In Hinduism, the whole plant has both ceremonial and practical purposes. People use holy basil for spiritual reasons, such as purification, while the scent of the herb keeps harmful insects away.

There are multiple ways to take holy basil, including the following methods.


To make holy basil tea, add hot water to dried leaves and leave to brew for 1–2 minutes.

Holy basil tea is available to purchase online.


In Hinduism, holy basil is a Goddess, and all aspects of the plant are sacred.

Keeping a holy basil plant within the home may have mental and spiritual benefits. Additionally, the plant can act as an insect repellent, keeping flies and mosquitos away.

Seeds for holy basil plants are available to buy online.


People can use the oil from holy basil seeds orally, but they can also use the oil on hair and other external parts of the body.

Additionally, holy basil oil can be an essential oil, which people can use in diffusers or candles, among other options. However, it is worth noting that holy basil does not appear on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) list of essential oils, oleoresins, and natural extractives that are generally recognized as safe.

Holy basil oil is available to purchase online.


As a supplement, holy basil can come in the form of capsules or pills. Directions for use vary depending on the quantity of holy basil in the supplement. People should always follow the advice on the label.

Holy basil supplements are available to buy online.

The FDA does not regulate supplements in the same way as pharmaceutical drugs. For this reason, it recommends seeking medical advice before taking any dietary supplement.

A healthcare professional can offer advice on dosage and whether or not the supplement is appropriate to use based on a person’s individual medical history.

Consult a doctor if side effects emerge when taking holy basil for health purposes.

Holy basil is a plant that people have used for its healing properties, including mental and physical benefits, for thousands of years.

Research suggests that holy basil has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, among others. There is little evidence of long-term side effects resulting from holy basil use, but excessive use may have certain implications for a person’s health.

More studies are necessary to confirm benefits in humans and determine the most effective dosage at which benefits occur. This is because most studies on holy basil to date have been either in vitro or conducted on animal models.