Adaptogens in Focus: Holy Basil

June 7, 2012
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Each time I think about writing a new adaptogen piece I find myself saying, “Oh now this is my favorite adaptogenic herb…” I guess it’s pointless to try and play favorites when they all have their perfect place and time for use, right?

That being said, this plant we’ll talk about today—holy basil (Ocimum sanctum)—is a big favorite. While the other two adaptogens I’ve covered—rhodiola and cordyceps—are incredible for increasing energy and balancing stress, nothing compares to holy basil for directly reducing the mental and physical experience of stress.

Indigenous to India, holy basil (or Tulsi, as it’s known in its homeland) has been used in Ayurvedic healing for thousands of years, and was praised as a healer as far back as Greek and Roman times. The plant holds a sacred place in the Hindu tradition, and has been called the “plant of enlightenment” or the “incomparable one,” thought to hold powers of awareness and presence beneath its rather unassuming garden-herb exterior.

Taken as a tea or tincture, holy basil has been used to treat respiratory disorders (it is amazing with asthma), mouth infections, heart disorders, fever and many other imbalances, and it’s now being studied as an effective treatment for cancer, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome and eczema. It is highly antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral, and has incredible abilities as a free-radical scavenging antioxidant.

But it is in times of stress that this beautiful plant really shines.

Holy basil has been found to directly inhibit the formation of COX-2 inflammatory enzymes, the proteins responsible for maintaining inflammation and the resulting perpetual production of cortisol in the body. One of the active chemical components of holy basil—called triterpenoic acids—assists in the rapid breakdown of excess cortisol, reducing oxidation of bodily tissues, preserving memory, and balancing blood sugar (often leading to significant weight loss, especially in the abdominal area).

As the presence of cortisol in the body decreases, the physical and psychological experience of stress declines significantly, though without any kind of sedative or “foggy” sensations. In fact, holy basil brings a sense of profound clarity and awareness, allowing you to (hopefully) reframe the situation that was causing you stress, and create a new reaction and experience of it. In this way holy basil is not a temporary fix, but rather a partner in long-term healing, helping to create more effective responses to life challenges, and to increase overall life enjoyment.

There are many different forms of holy basil extract, though from personal experience I find the Holy Basil Force from New Chapter to be the most potent and fast acting. In times of acute stress I suggest to customers that they actually bite the capsules open, take a big sip of water and swish the gel-like extract around in their mouth for a few minutes. This way the herb will pass directly into the bloodstream through the walls of the mouth, producing an effect within minutes.

There are minimal side effects associated with holy basil, though those clients on blood thinners may want to consult with their practitioner first, as holy basil can affect blood clotting. Diabetics will also want to monitor their insulin use and blood sugar diligently if they choose to include holy basil in their healing, as it can have profound effects on blood sugar balance. Come in and speak to a Pharmaca practitioner who can guide you on your path to health (and maybe even enlightenment!) with holy basil.

Ciel is a certified Wellness Coach and Holistic Health Practitioner in Berkeley, Calif., and works at the Rockridge Pharmaca in Oakland. She employs her background in herbs, nutrition, psychoneuroimmunology and Shamanic practices (and a few hundred other modalities) to guide people to a greater understanding of their life processes, leading to vibrant health and much more laughter.