Tulsi and Health Benefits
History of Tulsi
In India, for thousands of years, the herb Tulsi (sometimes spelled Tulasi) has been venerated for its medicinal and health promoting properties. It is a principal herb in Ayurvedic medicine and is commonly called sacred basil or holy basil. It is regarded as a goddess incarnated in a plant form. Tulsi is also referred to as "The Queen of Herbs", "The Incomparable One" and “The Mother Medicine of Nature.” In the Vedas, the ancient Indian scriptures, Tulsi has the supreme position among the various medicinal herbs. The Padmapurana and the Tulsi Kavacham described Tulsi as being a protector of life, accompanying the human being from birth until death. The Pauranic texts call Tulsi Vishnu Priya, “Beloved of Lord Vishnu.” In the Bhagavata and Mahabharata (ancient holy epics and scriptures), it is described how Tulsi, a goddess and devotee of Lord Vishnu, was ultimately re-incarnated as the plant Tulsi. It is said that in order to express her devotion to her beloved Lord, she took this form as an herb which would be offered in worship and service to him.
The ancient sages (rishis) ensured the integration Tulsi into daily life by incorporating it into religious rituals. Hindus perform pujas (religious rituals) several times each month on auspicious occasions. The rishis included leaves of the primary three varieties of Tulsi (Rama, Krishna, and Vana Tulsi) at the pinnacle of the puja when the devotee forgets his ego and touches the feet of God. In this way people at all levels of society routinely consumed Tulsi to their health benefit during worship in their temples and households. As a sacred plant and a goddess, Tulsi is worshiped and venerated daily by traditional Hindus, and is part of all such households to this day. It is typically grown in an earthen pot in the family home or garden.
Various passages of the Padmapurana scriptures reveal the importance of Tulsi in Indian mythology. Lord Shiva described the power of Tulsi to the rishi Narada (the omnipresent and eternal rishi and devotee of Lord Vishnu) saying: “O, Narada! Every house, every village, every forest, wherever the plant of Tulsi is grown, there misery, fear, disease and poverty do not exist. Tulsi in all aspects and places is holier than holy. Where the breeze blows through Tulsi plants, it spreads Tulsi's fragrance making the surrounding area pious and pure. Lord Vishnu and other gods shower their blessings on the people who worship and grow Tulsi. Oh, Narada! The three gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra (aspect of Lord Shiva) reside in the roots, middle parts of the plant and in the flowering tops respectively. This is why the plant of Tulsi is the most holy plant of the earth.”
Again in the Padmapurana scriptures: “Leaves, flowers, fruits, branches and the main stem and everything about Tulsi is sacred; even the soil under the Tulsi plant is holy.” And again: “Even one plant of Tulsi put into the fire of the funeral pyre is capable of providing salvation to an individual.”
Generally, the best method for using Tulsi as a medicinal herb is fresh and raw. If this is not available, then the herbs can be used in their dried form. In modern human research and clinical applications, Tulsi is most frequently taken in capsule form, prepared from dried leaves, and it is recommended to use the whole herb to benefit from the full synergistic interactive effects of the many bioactive components of the plant. Tulsi is generally effective in a single dose of 300 to 600 mg of dried leaves each day for preventative therapy and 600 mg to 1800 mg in divided doses each day to cure various ailments. With equal efficacy, Tulsi can be consumed as a pleasant tasting herbal tea.
Clinical Studies on Tulsi
Tuslsi may be useful in acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), where the cell-mediated immunity is markedly reduced, due to leukopenia - especially the T lymphocytes. As the incubation time of AIDS is very long, regular use of Tulsi may prevent the manifestation of the disease by modulating the cell-mediated immunity. The water-soluble polar substances from Ocimum basilicum (a close basil relative of Tulsi) showed potent anti-HIV-1 activity induced cytopathogenecity in MT-4 cells. In addition, these aqueous extracts inhibited giant cell formation in co-culture of Molt-4 cells with and without HIV-1 infection and showed inhibitory activity against HIV-1 reverse transcription (Yamasaki et al., 1998).
if a person is allergic to an allergen, it's direct contact causes an inflammation of the skin. With some allergens this inflammation of the skin (redness and swelling) appears after 1 to 2 days (delayed hypersensitivity). This type of allergy is called T-cell mediated hypersensitivity because it is mediated by the helper T lymphocytes (a subgroup of the lymphocytes).
In a placebo-controlled study, di-nitro chlorobenzene (DNCB), serving as the allergen was applied to the skin of the forearm of patients to evaluate the T-cell mediated immune response (Kumar et al., 1982; Singh, 1986b; Dixit and Singh, 1987). Kelsey was given to 20 patients for four weeks, and significantly enhanced this cell-mediated immunity (i.e., a greater number of immune defense cells were formed and the immune protective response was more marked). The property of increasing cell-mediated immune response is useful for defense against viral infections, stress and malignomas where cell-mediated immunity is reduced. Prolonged use of Tulsi can be particularly beneficial to elderly persons, or a decline in normal immune response occurs - primarily due to a reduction in T cell function of the immune system (because of a decrease in thymus gland activity).
Aqueous extract of Tulsi leaves in doses of 100 mg/kg given orally for three months had an anabolic effect (enhancing protein synthesis) in rats.
Tefroli, an Ayurvedic preparation containing Tulsi, has been found to be effective against viral hepatitis. Extracts of leaves of Ocimum sanctum showed highly significant clinical and biochemical clearance of viral hepatitis (Rajalakshmi et al., 1988: Rastogi and Mehrotra, 1995a). An antiviral effect of dry powder of Tulsi leaves has been demonstrated in chickens infected with IBD virus (Kolte et al., 1999). The antiviral activity of the juice of Tulsi leaves has been well documented for the top-necrosis virus of the pea plant (Singh, 1972; Tripathi and Tripathi, 1982).
Histamine provokes bronchial asthma in guinea pigs. Tulsi reduces the bronchial spasms and the mortality induced by bronchial spasms. In clinical trials studying the effects of Tulsi on humans with bronchial asthma, 500 mg of dried Tulsi leaves were given to 15 patients three times each day for one month. There was a lowering of the eosinophil count in sputum and blood (showing a reduction of allergic reaction), an increase in hemoglobin and an increase in body weight in the majority of patients. There was a reduction in frequency of spasmodic attacks, a significant reduction in breathlessness, a decrease in respiration rate, an increase in forced vital capacity, maximum breathing capacity and increased expectoration. Overall, there was a marked improvement in these patients at the end of one month. Some improvement was noticeable the first day of treatment as the expectorant and bronchodilator effects of Tulsi started within hours after the first ingestion.
Albino rats display aggressive behavior when subjected to audiogenic stress. Tulsi significantly reduces this aggressive behavior showing that Tulsi has a calming effect on the central nervous system in situations of physical stress.
In a Japanese study, edible Japanese plants were screened for nitric oxide generation inhibiting properties. Methanolic extract of Ocimum Tulsi varieties significantly inhibited nitric oxide synthase activity. The results suggest that basil (Tulsi) and various other edible plants contain secondary metabolites and cancer preventative activity through reduction of excess amounts of nitric oxide (Kim et al., 1998).
Tulsi significantly decreases the incidence of benzo(a)pyrene-induced neoplasia (squamous cell carcinoma in stomach of mice) and 3-methyldimethylaminoazobenzene induced hepatomas (liver cancer) in rats (Aruna and Sivaramakrishnan, 1992). Topical treatment with the ethanolic Tulsi leaf extract produced significant reduction in the values of tumor incidence (papillomas) in the skin of albino mice (Prashar et al., 1994). Tulsi leaves have also been shown to induce carcinogen detoxifying enzyme glutathione-S-transferase (GST) in Swiss mice (Aruna and Sivaramakrishnan, 1990). The component terpene urosolic acid has been demonstrated to have anticancer activity (Rastogi and Mehrotra, 1995a).
Tulsi, in the form of fresh leaf paste, aqueous extract and ethanolic extract word topically applied and the extracts were orally administered to buccal pouch mucosa of animals exposed to 0.5% of dimethyl benz(a)anthracene. Incidence of papillomas and squaw most cell carcinomas were significantly reduced, and there was increased survival rate with the topically applied leaf paste and orally administered extracts. The orally administered aqueous extract showed greater effect than fresh leaf paste and ethanolic extract (Karthikrysn ry sl., 1999)
The staminator effect of Tulsi shown in mice prompted a study of anti-fatigue effects in humans. One capsule of 300 mg of dried, slightly crushed Tulsi leaves was given daily 256 aging patients for a period of three months to one year, in addition to their other herbal treatment programs (addressing high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, etc.). Within one week 90% of the patients described a reduction of fatigue, and within one month all patients felt in improvement of fatigue symptoms. After discontinuing Tulsi, the effect lasted for more than one month. In the patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, an increase in body weight, hemoglobin percentage of the blood and increase in muscle power (as judged by increase of the grip strength) was observed (Singh and Abbas, 1995a – unpublished). In a follow-up placebo-controlled study, 500 mg of dried Tulsi leaves were given twice each day for three months to 27 young male Indians suffering from chronic fatigue (Singh and Abbas, 1995b). There was a significant reduction of fatigue in the patients receiving Tulsi in comparison to those on placebo.
Tulsi was found to decrease the intestinal passage of charcoal in rats. Ocimum gratissimum Tulsi was found to possess antidiarrheal activity against several bacteria and was most effective against Shigella dysenterae (Omoregbe et al., 1996). Extracts of Ocimum sanctum have been shown to have antidiarrheal effects in rats (Godhwani et al., 1987; Offiah and Chikwendu, 1999). A direct smooth muscle relaxant activity on the rabbit ileum is described (Kashinathan et al., 1972). Tulsi oil, and eugenol extracted from it, have significant relaxant effect on the trachea and lesser relaxant effect on ileal muscles (Reiter and Brandt, 1985).
Tulsi was found to be effective in reducing the effects of experimental diabetes mellitus in rats. In human trials, Tulsi has been shown to be effective in non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (type 2) (Agarwal et al., 1995). A significant decline in blood and urine glucose levels was shown with Tulsi as compared to a control group (Pushpangadan and Sobti, 1977). The effects of Tulsi on fasting and after-meal blood glucose and serum cholesterol levels were studied in humans. Tulsi decreased both fasting and after meal blood glucose levels significantly (Agarwal et al., 1996).
Ayurvedic texts strongly promote Tulsi’s pro-fertile effects in both women and men. The herb is described as a childgiver and great spermatogenesis agent, increasing the production of sperm. They report that Tulsi is a fertility improver and enhances the chances of women bearing children.
High Blood Pressure
A placebo-controlled, double blind clinical study was conducted to evaluate the effect of Tulsi on mild to moderate high blood pressure were stress appeared to be a significant factor (Singh 1986b; Srivastava et al., 1986). In one group of 25 patients, 500 mg of powdered, dried Tulsi leaves was given three times each day for a period of six weeks. In the control group of 25 patients, on the in active placebo was given. Tulsi produced a significant average fall in systolic (26 mm Hg) and diastolic ( 16 mm Hg) blood pressure from the second week on. The blood pressure lowering effect continued for at least two weeks after discontinuing use of the herb. Tulsi can be used for long periods in the prevention and treatment of stress-related high blood pressure, as it reduces the blood pressure smoothly to acceptable levels (in this case, to an average of 124 mm Hg systolic and 84 mm Hg diastolic) and is free from negative side effects.
Tulsi has been demonstrated to be an immune modulating agent. This means, the immune system is restored to peak self-regulating efficiency. A methanol extract and an aqueous suspension of Ocimum sanctum Tulsi leaves were investigated for their immune-regulatory profile in response to antigenic challenge of Salmonella tyhphosa and sheep erythrocytes in albino rats. The study demonstrated an immune stimulation of humoral immunologic response as represented by an increase in antibody tirtre in both the Widal and sheep erythrocyte agglutination tests, as well as by the cellular immune response represented by E-rosette formation and lymphocytosis (Godhwani et al., 1988). Essential oils of leaves of Ocimum sanctum and fixed oil of Tulsi seeds were investigated for some humoral and cell-mediated immune responses in non-stressed and stressed animals. In non-stressed subjects, both substances produced significant increase in the anti-sheep red blood cells (SRBC) antibody titre, a measure of humoral immune response, and decrease in footpad thickness and percentage leucocyte migration inhibition measures of cell-mediated immune response (Mediratta et al., 1987 and Mediratta and Sharma, 2000). Recently in 2002 Mediratta et al., reported Tulsi’s immunomodulatory effects to be mediated by GABAeregic pathways. Vana Tulsi (Ocimum gratissimum) was found to improve phagocytic function without affecting humoral or cell-mediated immune system (Atal et al., 1996). The immunosuppressant effect of restraint stress on humoral and cell-mediated immune responses was effectively blocked by pretreating the animals with Tulsi leaf oil as well as seed oil (Mediratta and Sharma, 2000).
Aqueous and methanolic extract of Tulsi inhibited acute and chronic inflammation in rats (Godhwani et al., 1987). In another study Ocimum sanctum Tulsi fixed oil showed potent anti-inflammatory activity in rats, due primarily to its linolenic oil content (Singh and Majumdar, 1997, 1999). Singh et al., (1996) reported anti-inflammatory activity in Tulsi fixed oil possibly due to its fatty acids. Singh, (1998) has further reported that not only Ocimum sanctum but other Ocimum species, such as Ocimum basilicum and Ocimum americanum also have anti-inflammatory activities. This is likely due to the presence of linolenic acid in these species. Tulsi contains other phytonutrients (e.g. ursolic acid and oleanollic acid) that have significant cyclo-oxygenase-2 (COX-2) inhibitory effect. COX-2 inflammation is believed to lie at the root of many diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's disease and many forms of arthritis (Newmark and Schulick, 2000).
Liver protective and antioxidant
Tulsi has been found to protect against free radical damage to the liver of animals and humans.
Medical research has discovered that certain herbs induce SNIR or State of Non-Specific Increased Resistance to stress. These agents which enhance the capacity of the body to cope with and adapt to stressors are called adaptogens. The ideal adaptogen / antistress agent must satisfy three criteria. 1. It must be non-toxic in nature, 2. It must have the effect of normalizing the body’s physiological functions, and 3. It must promote SNIR allowing the body to more efficiently cope with stress. Aging is closely related to a diminishing capacity for dealing with stress.
Tulsi is considered a main pillar of Ayurvedic medicine and, thousands of years ago, was included in worship to ensure that all people consumed it regularly and received its benefits in their daily life. In India, many clinical studies have been performed that demonstrate Tulsi’s superior adaptogen properties. Much of the research was performed by D. Narendra Singh and his team in the 1980s. 50 medicinal plants were screened and five were found to have a substantial adaptogenic activity. Of these five plants, Tulsi was found to be the most potent.
Tulsi was found to significantly improve the swimming performance, physical stamina and endurance of mice. Thus Tulsi is said to have a staminator effect. A comparative study was performed in evaluating the staminator potential of a variety of herbal antistress / adaptogens, including Siberian and Chinese ginseng and popular synthetic allopathic drugs. Tulsi was found to increase stamina more than any of the other herbal adaptogens or the synthetic drugs. The toxicity of Tulsi is much less than Siberian or Chinese ginseng. High toxic doses of Panax ginseng in humans produce a corticoid-like syndrome with elevated blood pressure, diarrhea, swelling, restlessness and insomnia which limits its use as a health tonic. Such toxic symptoms are not observed with Tulsi which also has a higher potency. These data support the contention that Tulsi is an ideal antistress agent for long-term use in the prevention and treatment of human stress-related ailments such as myocardial infarction, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, bronchial asthma, and ulcers.
Radiation protective effects
Rats treated with Tulsi and exposed to experimental radiation have a lower mortality rate than rats in a control group. The reduction of mortality was 30% to 70% after seven days treatment with Tulsi.
Tulsi tea can be purchased in most health food stores or online from Organic India.
This article is a very brief presentation about a very important, nearly miraculous medicinal plant that has been held at the pinnacle of Ayurvedic medicine for over 5,000 years. For more detailed information about the clinical studies that have been performed regarding Tulsi, one is strongly advised to purchase a copy of the book Tulsi – The Mother Medicine of Nature by Dr. Narendra Singh and Dr. Yamuna Hoette, ISBN 81-88007-00-5. It appears to be out of print but it can be found doing a search for the ISBN number. The information in this article is from this book.
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