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Holy Basil

Holy basil is related to the familiar sweet basil that's used in cooking. Its leaves are pale green and have a somewhat hairy appearance.

Holy basil has long been used as a traditional medicine in China and India. Some cultures regard the plant as sacred.

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Gymnema is a shrub that grows in India and Africa. People in India have been using gymnema leaves for thousands of years to try to treat diabetes. The Hindu word for gymnema -- gurmar -- means "sugar destroyer."

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Why do people take holy basil?

Holy basil has a history of use for treating:

It's also been used to try to treat a range of other health concerns, including:

In addition, holy basil may be useful:

More research is needed about the usefulness of holy basil for these health conditions.

Can you get holy basil naturally from foods?

Holy basil leaves, which have a spicy, lemony flavor, are used widely in food in Southeast Asia, such as in Thai stir-fried dishes.

What are the risks of taking holy basil?

Side effects. Research on animals shows that holy basil may:

Risks. Avoid using holy basil if you're allergic or sensitive to it or members of the Lamiaceae (mint) plant family. In a human clinical trial, holy basil caused gastrotintestinal problems.

You should be cautious about using holy basil if you:

Women who are pregnant should avoid holy basil, since it might cause the uterus to contract.

Interactions. Research on animals suggests that holy basil might change the effect of many medications, including these drugs:

  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Pentobarbital (Nembutal)
  • Scopolamine (sold as generic only)

Tell your doctor about any supplements you're taking, even if they're natural. That way, your doctor can check on any potential side effects or interactions with any medications.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate dietary supplements; however, it treats them like foods rather than medications. Unlike drug manufacturers, the makers of supplements don’t have to show their products are safe or effective before selling them on the market.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Kiefer, MD on December 27, 2014

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