Holy Basil: An Ayurvedic adaptogen that reduces stress, modulates the immune system, and protects the heart and brain

Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) is adaptogenic herb from India and is highly valued in Ayurvedic medicine. Related to the commonly used culinary herb, sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), it is an aromatic herb in the mint family. The name holy basil comes from its use in spiritual rituals.

Holy Basil as an Adaptogen

Powdered Holy Basil LeavesLike cordyceps and ashwaganda, holy basil is a nourishing adaptogen that can be taken over long periods of time as an aid to general health. Regular use of the herb is believed to balance the chakras, thus promoting a balanced state of physical and emotional well-being. It is also thought to prolong life.

Like many adaptogens, it appears to modulate the HPA axis to reduce the output of cortisol. This helps protect the body from the effects of stress and also helps to improve immune function. This ability is demonstrated by the fact that holy basil is used to treat generalized anxiety disorder in India.

So, if you have chronic feelings of stress and anxiety, holy basil may help. It's a common ingredient in many formulas for easing stress and supporting adrenal function where it is combined with other adaptogens like eleuthero, rhodiola, schisandra, and ashwagandha.

Holy Basil and the Immune System

Holy Basil Flowers

Holy basil has several powerful uses that can aid the immune system. The essential oil is highly antimicrobial and is better at fighting infections than sweet basil oil. The herb is used to ease respiratory ailments in Ayurvedic medicine. It acts as an expectorant and infection fighter for treating bronchitis, coughs, and colds. It also has a diaphoretic action which helps to reduce fever.

Holy basil is an immune modulator, which means it helps reduce overactive immune reactions. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is included in a variety of herbal formulas for reducing inflammation.

This makes it a safe immune-enhancing herb for people with autoimmune disorders. It also helps to reduce allergic reactions in asthma and hay fever. Professional herbalist David Winston, who I think is one of the most knowledgeable herbalists in the United States, says he finds it particularly helpful for allergic rhinitis due to molds and animal dander.

The herb has also been shown to have anticarcinogenic activity. It helps detoxify carcinogens and also helps protect the body from damage done by chemotherapy and radiation. This makes it another useful adaptogen to support people who are undergoing conventional cancer treatments.

I think this is a very important use of adaptogens since these treatments cause a lot of stress in the body and adaptogens help the body cope with the treatments, thus reducing side effects and aiding overall recovery. I'd recommend that anyone undergoing conventional cancer treatments try using a formula based on adaptogens like holy basil.

Nervous System Activity

Holy Basil LeavesHoly basil also helps protect the nervous system from damage. It reduces the risk of dementia and may help mild forms of depression. David Winston says he uses it for “stagnant depression,” a form of situational depression caused by trauma that the person starts to revolve their life around. Along with therapy, it helps them move on with their life. Other herbs he says are helpful here are damiana, rosemary, and lavender. It may also help to enhance mental alertness and aid memory.

Holy basil can help people process grief and fear. It promotes cheerfulness and clear thinking. It can help overcome brain fog and is used in Ayurvedic medicine to help people whose brains have been clouded by excessive use of cannabis. According to Matthew Wood, sweet basil can also help people recover from the effects of past use of marijuana.

Other Potential Benefits Holy Basil

Holy basil is also beneficial for circulation. It protects the heart from stress and lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It also inhibits platelet aggregation. The herb helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and may also protect liver and eye health because of its antioxidant properties.

Holy basil can be taken as a tea or decoction and can also be taken as an encapsulated powder or tincture. The dose for a 1:5 tincture is 40-60 drops three times daily. Capsules would be 1-2 twice a day.

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