Tulasi is a widely celebrated herb globally. However, the article below is a representation of an extensive research conducted by School of health sciences, RMIT, Victoria on scientific value of Tulasi. (ocimum sanctum).
The predominant cause of global morbidity and mortality is lifestyle-related chronic diseases, many of which can be addressed through Ayurveda with its focus on healthy lifestyle practices and regular consumption of adaptogenic herbs. Of all the herbs used within Ayurveda, tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn) is preeminent, and scientific research is now confirming its beneficial effects. There is mounting evidence that tulsi can address physical, chemical, metabolic and psychological stress through a unique combination of pharmacological actions.
Tulsi has been found to protect organs and tissues against chemical stress from industrial pollutants and heavy metals, and physical stress from prolonged physical exertion, ischemia, physical restraint and exposure to cold and excessive noise. Tulsi has also been shown to counter metabolic stress through normalization of blood glucose, blood pressure and lipid levels, and psychological stress through positive effects on memory and cognitive function and through its anxiolytic and anti-depressant properties.
Tulsi’s broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity, which includes activity against a range of human and animal pathogens, suggests it can be used as a hand sanitizer, mouthwash and water purifier as well as in animal rearing, wound healing, the preservation of food stuffs and herbal raw materials and traveler’s health. Cultivation of tulsi plants has both spiritual and practical significance that connects the grower to the creative powers of nature, and organic cultivation offers solutions for food security, rural poverty, hunger, environmental degradation and climate change. The use of tulsi in daily rituals is a testament to Ayurvedic wisdom and provides an example of ancient knowledge offering solutions to modern problems.
Despite the many wonders of science and industry, modern life is fraught with stress. Mobile devices and the web have vastly increased the pace of life so that many people feel that they are now drowning in an everexpanding ocean of data, while industrial agriculture has burdened us with increasing exposure to unhealthy processed and packaged food and a plethora of pesticides, food packaging materials and other toxic industrial chemicals. Urban dwellers are also faced with increasing wealth inequality, social isolation, excessive noise, air, water and soil pollution and disconnection from nature. Thus, while industrialization has led to longer lifespans and vast increases in human populations, it is now recognized that the greatest causes of death and disease on the planet are preventable lifestyle-related chronic diseases.
We are in the midst of a global pandemic of obesity, diabetes, cancer, dementia, depression and other chronic diseases caused by modern lifestyles and their associated lack of physical activity, high intake of sugar, fat, salt, alcohol and tobacco and exposure to a toxic cocktail of industrial chemicals. The solutions to this current health crisis are therefore more likely to be found in the homes and behaviors of individuals than in medical clinics, hospital or pharmacies.
Tulsi is an aromatic shrub in the basil family Lamiaceae (tribe ocimeae) that is thought to have originated in north central India and now grows native throughout the eastern world tropics. Within Ayurveda, tulsi is known as “The Incomparable One,” “Mother Medicine of Nature” and “The Queen of Herbs,” and is revered as an “elixir of life” that is without equal for both its medicinal and spiritual properties. Within India, tulsi has been adopted into spiritual rituals and lifestyle practices that provide a vast array of health benefits that are just beginning to be confirmed by modern science. This emerging science on tulsi, which reinforces ancient Ayurvedic wisdom, suggests that tulsi is a tonic for the body, mind and spirit that offers solutions to many modern day health problems.
Tulsi is perhaps one of the best examples of Ayurveda’s holistic lifestyle approach to health. Tulsi tastes hot and bitter and is said to penetrate the deep tissues, dry tissue secretions and normalize kapha and vata. Daily consumption of tulsi is said to prevent disease, promote general health, wellbeing and longevity and assist in dealing with the stresses of daily life. Tulsi is also credited with giving luster to the complexion, sweetness to the voice and fostering beauty, intelligence, stamina and a calm emotional disposition. In addition to these health-promoting properties, tulsi is recommended as a treatment for a range of conditions including anxiety, cough, asthma, diarrhea, fever, dysentery, arthritis, eye diseases, otalgia, indigestion, hiccups, vomiting, gastric, cardiac and genitourinary disorders, back pain, skin diseases, ringworm, insect, snake and scorpion bites and malaria.
Considered as a potent adaptogen, tulsi has a unique combination of pharmacological actions that promote wellbeing and resilience. While the concept of an “adaptogen,” or herb that helps with the adaptation to stress and the promotion of homeostasis, is not widely used in Western medicine, Western science has revealed that tulsi does indeed possess many pharmacological actions that fulfill this purpose.
The medicinal properties of tulsi have been studied in hundreds of scientific studies including in vitro, animal and human experiments. These studies reveal that tulsi has a unique combination of actions that include: Antimicrobial (including antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antiprotozoal, antimalarial, anthelmintic), mosquito repellent, antidiarrheal, anti-oxidant, anti-cataract, anti-inflammatory, chemopreventive, radioprotective, hepato-protective, neuro-protective, cardio-protective, anti-diabetic, anti-hypercholesterolemia, antihypertensive, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic, anti-pyretic, antiallergic, immunomodulatory, central nervous system depressant, memory enhancement, anti-asthmatic, anti-tussive, diaphoretic, antithyroid, anti-fertility, anti-ulcer, anti-emetic, anti-spasmodic, antiarthritic, adaptogenic, anti-stress, anti-cataract, anti-leukodermal and anti-coagulant activities. These pharmacological actions help the body and mind cope with a wide range of chemical, physical, infectious and emotional stresses and restore physiological and psychological function.
Many of the physiological benefits of tulsi can be attributed to its ability to assist with the body’s internal housekeeping and protection of the body from toxin-induced damage. These functions are often attributed to tulsi’s high content of phenolic compounds and anti-oxidant properties, with Krishna tulsi (black/ purple variety) having a higher phenolic content and anti-oxidant capacity than white Vana (wild) tulsi.
Laboratory studies have shown that tulsi protects against toxic chemicalinduced injury by increasing the body’s levels of anti-oxidant molecules such as glutathione and enhancing the activity of antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase and catalase, which protect cellular organelles and membranes by mopping up damaging free radicals caused by lack of oxygen and other toxic agents. Tulsi also helps to prevent cancers caused by toxic compounds by reducing DNA damage and inducing apoptosis in precancerous and cancerous cells, thereby reducing the growth of experimental tumors and enhancing survival. Furthermore, tulsi not only protects against the damage caused by toxic compounds, but also enables the body to more effectively transform and eliminate them by enhancing the activity of liver detoxification enzymes such as the cytochrome P450 enzymes, which deactivates toxic chemicals and enables them to be safely excreted.
While these actions are vitally important for protecting against natural toxins produced within the body or by animals or plants, they are perhaps even more important in the modern age to protect against the vast range of pollutants, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, radiation and other industrial toxicants created from human activity.
The ability of tulsi to protect against the damaging effects of various toxicants has been documented in numerous experimental studies. These studies attest to the ability of tulsi to prevent liver, kidney and brain injury by protecting against the genetic, immune and cellular damage caused by pesticides, pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals. Thus, tulsi has been shown to protect against the toxic effects of industrial chemicals such as butylparaben, carbon tetrachloride, copper sulfate and ethanol, and common pesticides such as rogor, chlorpyrifos, endosulfan and lindane. Tulsi has also been shown to protect against the toxic effects of many pharmaceuticals drugs including acetaminophen, meloxicam, paracetamol, haloperidol and anti-tubercular drugs.
In addition to protecting against toxic chemicals, tulsi has also been shown to protect against the toxic effects of heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium and mercury and the toxic effects of radiation. Tulsi exerts its radio-protective effects by scavenging free radicals and reducing the oxidative cellular and chromosomal damage induced by radiation, thereby reducing organ damage and enhancing postradiation survival in experimental animals.
The actions that protect against the toxic effects of chemicals and radiation also help to address the toxic effects of many physical stressors. Prolonged physical exertion, physical restraint, exposure to cold and excessive noise disturb homeostasis by inducing physiological and metabolic stress. When the capacity to adapt to these stressors is exceeded, maladaptation occurs resulting in damage to biochemical pathways, organ function and health. Through enhancing various cellular and physiological adaptive functions, adaptogenic herbs such as tulsi are able to protect against this damage.
Modern research has revealed that tulsi has anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal activity that includes activity against many pathogens responsible for human infections. Tulsi has also been shown to boost defenses against infective threats by enhancing immune responses in nonstressed and stressed animals and healthy humans. While no human trials have been published, there is experimental evidence that tulsi may help in the treatment of various human bacterial infections including urinary tract infections, skin and wound infections, typhoid fever, cholera, tuberculosis, gonorrhea, acne, herpes simplex, leishmaniasis, various pneumonias and fungal infections, as well as mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, malaria and filariasis.
Tulsi has also been shown to be active against many animal pathogens, and this has led to tulsi being used in animal rearing to reduce infections in cows, poultry, goats, fish and silkworms. Tulsi’s activity against water-borne and food-borne pathogens further suggests that it can be used in the preservation of food stuffs and herbal raw materials as well as for water purification and as a hand sanitizer.
Tulsi’s broad-spectrum activity, which includes activity against Streptococcus mutans, the organism responsible for tooth decay, further suggests that it can be used as a herbal mouth wash for treating bad breath, gum disease and mouth ulcers. This has been confirmed in clinical trials that have demonstrated that rinsing with tulsi is as effective as 0.2% Chlorhexidine and Listerine in reducing the levels of Streptococcus mutans and that a herbal mouthwash that includes tulsi is preferred for its taste and convenience.
Tulsi’s unique combination of antibacterial antioxidant, antiinflammatory and analgesic activities also makes it useful in wound healing. This is supported by experimental evidence that has shown that tulsi can increase woundbreaking strength and accelerate wound healing in laboratory animals. Tulsi has also been shown to have anti-ulcer and ulcer-healing activity that has been observed in many different animal models including aspirin-, indomethacin-, alcohol-, histamine-, reserpine-, serotonin-, acetic acid-, meloxicam-, cold restraint-, pyloric ligation- and stress-induced ulceration models. This anti-ulcer activity is attributed to multiple actions including the reduction of offensive factors such as acid-pepsin secretion and lipid peroxidation and the enhancement of gastric defensive factors such as mucin secretion, cellular mucus and longevity of mucosal cells.
In addition to physical, toxic and infective stress, modern living is associated with heightened levels of psychological stress caused by the many demands and fast pace of modern life. This stress compounds the toxic effects of chemical pollutants and the constant fear of pervasive toxic chemicals can itself lead to even further stress and anxiety that may be just as toxic as the chemicals causing it. While the reality of daily chemical exposure cannot be denied, regular consumption of tulsi not only helps protect and detoxify the body’s cells and organs, it can also help reduce toxic stress by relaxing and calming the mind and offering many psychological benefits including anti-depressant activity and positive effects on memory and cognitive function.
The psychotherapeutic properties of tulsi have been explored in various animal experiments that reveal that tulsi has anti-anxiety and anti-depressant properties, with effects comparable to diazepam and antidepressants drugs. Animal studies further reveal that tulsi enhances memory and cognitive function and protects against aginginduced memory deficits. Similarly, in human studies, tulsi has been observed to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, with a 6-week, randomized, double-blind, placebocontrolled study reporting that tulsi significantly improves general stress scores, sexual and sleep problems and symptoms such as forgetfulness and exhaustion.
While modern scientific studies suggest that tulsi is effective in treating a range of stressful conditions, within Ayurveda, tulsi is more commonly recommended as a preventive measure to enhance the ability to adapt to both psychological and physical stress and therefore prevent the development of stressrelated diseases. To this end, many Ayurvedic practitioners recommend the regular consumption of tulsi tea as an essential lifestyle practice.
Regular consumption of tulsi tea may be compared with the regular practice of yoga, which can be considered “adaptogenic” through nurturing and nourishing the body — mind — spirit while fostering a sense of relaxation and wellbeing. In contrast, regular consumption of caffeinated beverages such a black and green tea (Camellia sinensis L.) and coffee (Coffea arabica L.) may be compared with more aerobic exercise, which confers health benefits through stimulation and activation.
Like yoga, tulsi has a calming effect that leads to clarity of thought, along with a more relaxed and calm disposition. The cognitive and memory-enhancing properties of tulsi therefore differ from those of caffeine-containing beverages such as coffee and tea, which heightens arousal and may cause physical and mental agitation. Furthermore, tulsi does not produce the same physical dependence as caffeine and can be safely consumed on a regular basis without the fear of withdrawal effects.
In Hinduism, tulsi is worshipped as a goddess and every part of the tulsi plant is revered and considered sacred, including the leaves, stem, flower, root, seeds and oil. Even the surrounding soil, which has recently been found to harbor beneficial endophytic fungi, is considered an aspect of the divine. As such, Hindi households are considered incomplete without a tulsi plant, typically in an ornate earthen pot situated in a courtyard where tulsi serves both practical and ceremonial purposes. For example, tulsi’s distinct clove-like aroma arising from its high eugenol content serves to link the householder to the divine while also repelling mosquitoes, flies and other harmful insects. Tulsi is further integrated into daily life through evening and morning rituals and other spiritual and purification practices that can involve ingesting its leaves or consuming tulsi tea.
In addition to sanctifying the home, tulsi is used ceremonially in Hinduism and some Greek Orthodox Churches to create “holy water.” Tulsi wood or seeds are also used to make tulsi malas, which are strings of beads used to help the mind focus during meditation, chanting and devotional practices and therefore ceremonially connect mind, body and spirit. Tulsi has also been used in cities to combat air pollution and hundreds of thousands of tulsi plants have been planted around the Taj Mahal in Agra to help protect the iconic marble building from environmental pollution damage.