Holy Basil Tea: Are There Health Benefits?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on September 08, 2022
3 min read

Holy basil is an aromatic plant in the same family as the more familiar sweet basil, which you can find in pizzas and other cooked food. Holy basil, however, has been cultivated for use in religious and folk medicine settings.

Ocimum tenuiflorum or Ocimum sanctum is the scientific name of the plant. Holy basil is also known as tulsi, tulasi, and Queen of the Herbs. To identify holy basil, look for deeply veined green leaves and pale purple flowers. When eaten, expect a bold peppery taste.

Native to north-central India, the herb has a long cultivation history across Southeast Asia. Today it grows in Australia, the Middle East, and West Africa, with interest gaining in the United States and elsewhere.

A ¼-cup of fresh holy basil leaves contains: 

  • Calories: 1.38
  • Protein: 0.189 grams
  • Fat: 0.038 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0.159 grams
  • Fiber: 0.096 grams
  • Sugar: 0.018 grams

The aromatic herb is a good source of: 

Holy basil is rich in vitamin K, a fat-soluble micronutrient that helps support heart health and bone mineralization. In fact, one-half cup of fresh leaves contains almost your full daily recommended intake of vitamin K. The nutrient is also beneficial for digestive support and brain function.

Therapeutic uses of holy basil feature the leaves, stems, and seeds, to brew a herbal tea or tincture, but also to make an essential oil. It is a common herb in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, known to help skin, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and joint conditions.

Research and studies on this herb have begun to support several of the traditional medicinal uses of holy basil. Potential health benefits of holy basil include the following:

Reduction of Respiratory Issues

Holy basil contains bioactive compounds like eugenol, camphene, cineole, and camphor that may help to open your airways and improve breathing. These compounds may also have antimicrobial and antiviral activities that help reduce the duration of common cold and flu symptoms. 

Stress and Anxiety Regulation

Known as an adaptogen herb, holy basil has several components that may help reduce mental stress that comes from physical, environmental, and emotional triggers. Holy basil may have a direct influence on cortisol hormones that circulate in the blood, helping to balance the adrenal glands and reduce excess cortisol. 

Improved Dental Health

Components like ursolic acid, rosmarinic acid, and eugenol work to reduce inflammation. Since they also have antibacterial and antioxidant properties, these compounds found in holy basil may reduce plaque buildup on your teeth and lower your risk of developing other periodontal conditions. 

While holy basil and holy basil tea have several potential benefits, it may affect some people negatively. Consult with your doctor before adding holy basil tea to your daily routine.

Here are some of the potential risks:

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding Concerns

It isn’t fully known if drinking holy basil tea while pregnant or breastfeeding could result in health risks. To avoid any possible negative effects, don't take the herb in any form if you're pregnant or nursing your child. 

Decreased Fertility and Sperm Mobility

If you and your partner are trying to conceive, it’s best to avoid holy basil tea. Effects are inconclusive as to whether this herb affects sperm count and mobility.

Blood-Thinner Interactions

If you're taking blood-thinning medication, avoid taking holy basil tea because it may result in bruising or bleeding. Blood-thinners are medications such as aspirin, heparin, and more. You may be more familiar with names like Coumadin, Fragmin, Plavix, Lovenox, or Ticlid.

Surgery Interactions

Since the aromatic herb can slow your blood's ability to clot normally, it’s best to avoid drinking holy basil tea before surgery.