Holy basil - traditional medicine

As with many species of plants used in Asia, the religious uses of the plants are often linked with their medicinal uses. For example, holy basil was frequently grown in large vessels in the courtyards of Hindu forts and temples to cleanse the body. Today when visitors are taken round the forts the clay pots are empty but the tradition of using holy basil is maintained in many Hindu homes and hotels. Many of these uses are supported scientifically.

Cleansing plant

Leaves and flowers from the holy basil plant are added to bath water and to bowls of water kept near the entrance to a home. The hands of guests are sprinkled with this water as they enter a house or they are invited to clean their hands in the water. Holy basil contains compounds with antiseptic activity that would help kill germs. The scent from the plant also deters insects. Thus flies, including mosquitoes, which can spread diseases such as malaria, would be deterred from landing on people that had bathed in holy basil water.

Ayurvedic medicine

A photograph of a box of holy basil leaf powder, used in traditional medicine for a variety of skin problems.
Image: Holy basil (tulsi) is used in traditional Indian medicine to help various skin conditions.

In Ayurvedic medicine the leaves of the holy basil are used to treat many skin conditions as well as ear aches, fevers, coughs, bronchitis and diabetes. A juice from the leaves is made up as a drink for the treatment of bad skin conditions. When taken as a drink it is often mixed with lemon juice or cardamom.

The Ayurvedic literature indicates that it is very effective in the treatment of snake bites. It can be mixed with ginger and given to young children with stomach aches or mixed with pepper to treat fevers. When used to treat chest infections it is often mixed with honey, ginger and onion juice.

Sidha and Unani medicine

Holy basil is used in Sidha and Unani Medicine as a tonic and for the treatment of fever, skin conditions and for coughs.

This information is provided for general interest only. It is not intended as guidance for medicinal use. Further information on using herbal medicines is available.