Stress relief, cortisol reduction and holy basil
by Connie Cagley —
Holy basil (ocimum sanctum) has an ancient history as an adaptogenic tonic in Ayurvedic medicine. Also known as tulsi, “the incomparable one,” it is considered the Mother Medicine of Nature in the Ayurvedic tradition. It is revered as a “rasayana” or an herb that on its own nourishes a person’s growth to perfect health and enlightenment.
An excerpt from the Padmapurana, a 5,000-year-old healing text from India, states: “Leaves, flowers, fruits, root, branches, the main stem and everything about tulsi is sacred; even the soil under the tulsi plant is holy.”
Native to India, tulsi often graces shrines and homes as an aromatic perennial shrub. The fragrance of its leaves also is quite attractive — spicy and complex, often resembling clove. It is viewed as a sacred plant and is a must in every Hindu’s house.
Traditionally, tulsi was known as a perfect insect repellent, perhaps explaining its central position in every home. It also releases a small amount of ozone gas which helps cleanse and purify the atmosphere. In addition, the juice of the leaves has been used to treat fever and as an antidote for snake and scorpion bites.
In addition, scientific literature currently portrays holy basil as an anti-inflammatory agent that also is anti-stress, analgesic, antipyretic, anticataract, antiparasitic, antibiotic, antiviral, anti-ulcer, antidiabetes and anticancer. Furthermore, it acts as an immunomodulator, strong antioxidant and blood thinner. It also helps lower LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and increase HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol). Quite a list of benefits from one plant.
Holy basil often has been used to treat respiratory tract infections, coughs, bronchitis, skin diseases, and diarrhea and is said to play a role in the management of immunological disorders, such as allergies and asthma.
Not only does the herb improve stress resistance, but it also has a normalizing influence on blood pressure and blood sugar imbalances. It is richly endowed with bioavailable antioxidants, vitamins A and C, and calcium.
Tulsi is an uplifting and energy-enhancing adaptogenic herb, having much in common with other triterpenoid-containing plants, such as ginseng and eleuthero (formerly known as Siberian ginseng). One study, published in 1991 in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology, found that holy basil was the most potent anti-stress agent of the three and had the highest margin of safety.
Holy basil, stress and cortisol levels
Dr. Andrew Weil validates the theory that holy basil may help counteract the effects of stress. He points out that preparations made from holy basil are widely used to treat both stress and elevated levels of cortisol.
Cortisol, a critical steroid hormone made by the adrenal glands, is released in the body during stressed or agitated states. It has gained widespread attention as the so-called stress hormone; however, it is necessary for the functioning of almost every part of the body. Cortisol excesses or deficiencies can lead to various physical symptoms and dis-ease states. Following a stressful or threatening event, cortisol levels can remain elevated over a long period. In fact, cortisol levels can remain persistently elevated in the body when a person is subjected to chronic stress or chronic illness (e.g., chronic fatigue syndrome). Holy basil helps reduce this continuous stress.
Holy basil supports the balance of normal cortisol levels, blood sugar and insulin metabolism. Holy basil has been associated with improving less than optimal blood sugar levels, especially when used in combination with chromium GTF.
In summary, holy basil has a long and sacred legacy of uplifting, calming and balancing a being at many levels. When the leader of India’s Ayurvedic Medical Association was asked why people in the West might find that holy basil promotes a positive stress response and elevates their spirit, he replied, “Holy basil delivers nutrients to the mind necessary for the experience of enlightenment.” And who can argue with enlightenment?
Connie Cagley, Ed.D., M.H., along with her husband, Guy Devin, Ph.D., own Conscious Light Botanicals, an herbal botanical store on 5th Avenue in Old Town Scottsdale. 480-970-6157 or www.consciouslight.com.
Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 24, Number 2, April/May 2005.