Researchers are adding more evidence to what practitioners of Ayurvedic natural medicine have believed for thousands of years—Indian basil has anti-aging properties. Popularly known as holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) or tulsi, Indian basil was studied by researchers at the Poona College of Pharmacy in Pune, India.
While there are more than 40 varieties of basil (all members of the mint family), holy basil in particular has tremendous cultural importance in India and Nepal and is among the most important herbs in the Ayurvedic tradition. It is used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including stress, heart and respiratory problems, diabetes, digestive and skin disorders, inflammation and pain. In their research, scientists set out to substantiate traditional Ayurvedic beliefs in holy basil’s antioxidant and rejuvenation properties.
Experimental groups of mice received either no extract of holy basil or one of three different doses. The findings showed cellular antioxidant effects. Lead author Vaibhav Shinde, MPharm, told me that the study concluded that holy basil “is highly protective against oxidative damage, with a multidimensional role — it scavenges free radicals, balances the antioxidant enzyme system, and stimulates metabolism of oxidative waste products.”
Holy basil is typically ingested in one of two ways… the traditional Ayurvedic method is to boil fresh leaves and water until the water reduces to half. Then you can either drink the resulting “tea” or eat the crushed herb when it cools. However, since it is difficult to find the fresh leaves in the US, you can also use dried holy basil. It is also available as an ingredient in commercially available herbal teas.
Holy basil has a clove-like fragrance and a sharper, spicier taste than the more familiar sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) commonly used in Italian, Asian and American cooking, though the two are closely related. Holy basil can be found online and in health food stores as a supplement and the fresh leaves are available in many Thai and Vietnamese markets. Generally speaking, however, it is more valued for cultural and healing purposes than for cooking.