Ayurvedic traditions, which date back over 3000 years, use many tropical herbs and plants for cognitive enhancement purposes. Holy basil (also called “Tulsi”) is one such cognitive enhancer, antioxidant, and adaptogenic herb.
Holy basil is particularly useful as an antioxidant nootropic, which can help to reduce inflammation and its symptoms . They also have a positive effect on boosting the immune system . Beyond antioxidant benefits, holy basil also improves reactions to stress and anxiety . These stress relieving properties classify holy basil as an “adaptogen” herb.
Ancient Indians used holy basil as a libido enhancer, which may happen through testosterone boosting effects . However, these are countered by a lower likelihood of conception and fertility .
Also Known As
Ocimum sanctum, Green Tulsi, Sacred Basil, Tulsi, Ocimum tenuiflorum
Editors’ Thoughts on Holy Basil
Holy basil seems to be consumed most often for anti-anxiety even though the evidence isn’t certain on this benefit. In general, I don’t find holy basil to be anything too special. Most people have never tried it and compared to ashwagandha and bacopa monnieri, it is doubtful the effects are much greater.
One thing I’m personally scared of is losing fertility permanently even after I quit using the compound. This is probably an irrational fear, but given that I want to reproduce (from an evolutionary biology perspective it’s the only reason I’m here) I stick to it.
Mansal Denton, Nootropedia Editor
Benefits of Holy Basil
The main benefits of holy basil are related to anxiety and stress reduction. Though there are not a high quantity of evidence, what exists looks promising. A study showed that 1 gram of holy basil daily was able to reduce anxiety and related depression over the course of 60 days. The patients were diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) , which makes them generally more resistant to treatment. The same effects acted as anti-stress in rats as well .
Another benefit of holy basil is an increase in testosterone. One study showed that rabbits could increase their testosterone levels by using holy basil . While this may be the cause of the libido enhancing properties that Indians have used for centuries, there is evidence to suggest the nootropic drug hurts fertility via lower sperm count . You can read more on that in the side effects section.
A common benefit of holy basil often overlooked is the liver protecting effects. Holy basil can prevent damage to the liver. The effects are so positive, studies paired milk thistle and found synergy between them .
Finally, one of the most commonly touted benefits of holy basil is as an antioxidant. The flavonoid content (a marker of antioxidants) is very high in holy basil . This creates a host of benefits and one of the main byproducts is reduced inflammation and a bolstered immune system .
How Does Holy Basil Work?
There are a few mechanisms that allow holy basil to be an effective nootropic. One of them is the flavonoid profile, which is unique to holy basil and supports the antioxidant benefits. As with many of the herbs, there are a few main psychoactive ingredients that alter brain chemistry. With holy basil these include:
- Ursolic acid (also found in apple peels and may lead to anti-fertility)
- Ocimumosides A and B
Side Effects of Holy Basil
There is one main side effect of holy basil, which is a reduction in fertility. There are many theories as to why that is, but the speculation is, ursolic acid is the main cause of anti-fertility properties in holy basil . Whatever the cause, it leads to a reduction in sperm count and general fertility.
Holy basil leaves are typically well tolerated (as is the oil extract) at normal doses. Toxicity was found at higher doses, however.
Holy Basil Dosage
The literature suggests a holy basil dosage of 1 gram dried leaves. This is the primary recommendation for people who are just using general adaptogenic and anti-stress effects.
For improving testosterone with holy basil, doses for a 150 pound person are estimated at 1 – 2 grams. One should not exceed beyond 3 – 4 grams if they want to remain within the recommended holy basil dosage.
How and Where to Buy Holy Basil
Despite the lack of scientific evidence, holy basil is popular because it is such an old compound and supplement. Ayurvedic medicine has a strong influence and you can find holy basil for sale in many local stores and health shops. However, you’ll get a more affordable and safer brand if you research online.
Many of the Ayurvedic herbs have been bad-mouthed for having heavy metals. Many have been removed from the shelves in order to protect the public so you should buy holy basil from a recommended supplier.
Selected Community Experiences
“…I feel that it helps me immensely in school, and it certainly keeps me level headed. Aside from nootropic activity it also seems to cause increased levels of testosterone…”  – Sleepwalker94
“I swear by holy basil. I decided to give it a shot 5 years ago when I was in a bad spot, didn't expect much, & it worked wonders. Whenever I have work & obligations start to pile up I go into a small panic & stress out because I don't know where to start. I feel like the walls are closing in. With holy basil I look at situations like this in a more structured way.”  – SiriusC
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