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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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Why do people take holy basil?

Holy basil has a history of use for treating:

  • The common cold
  • Bronchitis
  • Earache
  • Fever
  • Flu
  • Improvement of energy and general health

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

  • Increased blood circulation
  • Insect bites
  • Kidney problems
  • Skin problems
  • Snake bites
  • Stomach problems

In addition, holy basil may be useful:

  • As an antioxidant
  • For protecting the liver
  • For treating diabetes; in one study, people with diabetes had lower blood sugar while they were taking holy basil.

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:

  • Cause low blood sugar
  • Promote bleeding
  • Decrease fertility

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:

  • Have low blood sugar
  • Are trying to get pregnant
  • Take anticoagulant (blood-thinning) drugs

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:

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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