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This Ancient Herb Can Ease Anxiety, Improve Sleep, Boost Weight Loss and More

Known as 'the elixir of life', holy basil reduces stress — and starts to work in as little as 40 minutes

Miles-long to-do lists and busy days leave many of us feeling stressed and anxious. And while we often hear about elaborate relaxation rituals to usher in calm, who has the time? Fortunately, a simple herbal remedy can help. Here, experts explain how to use holy basil for anxiety, plus reveal more benefits of the age-old herb.

What is holy basil?

Holy basil, also called tulsi, is an ancient herb. While the plant is part of the same family as the basil you use in your tomato sauce or caprese salad, holy basil isn’t a culinary herb. “It is a sacred herb traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine,” explains BreAnna Guan, ND, a naturopathic doctor.

Ayurveda is an Indian system of holistic medical care that taps into the healing powers of plants as well as diet, exercise and lifestyle practices. In Ayurvedic medicine, holy basil is so revered, it is often referred to the “queen of the herbs” or “the elixir of life”, and it’s been used for thousands of years.

According to Marc M. Cohen, PhD, an integrative medicine practitioner and leading expert on holy basil, extracts from the leaves of the plant are common treatments for respiratory ailments such as bronchitis and asthma. Ingesting the herb is prescribed for parasitic infections, headaches, inflammation and various other illnesses. Drinking tulsi tea is said to aid in digestive issues. And the leaves and stems of the plant are even used to treat mosquito bites, he adds. But perhaps where the herb most shines is in its power to reduce stress.

Holy basil plant, which can be used for anxiety

Holy basil for anxiety

Holy basil has been a popular natural stress-buster in recent years, and for good reason. “We’re starting to see Western science verifying some of the historical uses of holy basil,” says Chris D’Adamo, PhD, director of research for the Center for Integrative Medicine at University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Holy basil belongs to a category of substances known as adaptogens. As the name implies, adaptogens help the body adapt to and cope with physical, emotional and environmental stressors. “Stress can physically toxic, increasing cortisol levels and inflammation in the body,” says Guan. “Holy basil helps lower cortisol levels and has a calming and soothing effect on the body.” Cortisol is a stress hormone that also plays a role in regulating the immune system, metabolism and controlling inflammation. (Click through to learn how to lower cortisol in the morning, how holy basil reduces cortisol and how holy basil can beat burnout, too.)

How fast does holy basil work for anxiety?

If you’re just experienced a stressful event, like missing an important appointment, holy basil can provide fast relief for anxiety. Research out of Australia found that sipping one cup of holy basil tea can send cortisol levels plunging by 36% within 40 minutes. Tulsi’s ursolic acid boosts levels of GABA, a calming brain chemical that lowers cortisol spikes.

And when taken regularly, holy basil has long-lasting results for anxiety, too. Research in Frontiers in Nutrition found that folks who took 125 mg of holy basil twice a day reported feeling 37% less stressed within 8 weeks. They also saw a 48% reduction in insomnia scores, reported 53% more sound sleep, and saw a significant drop in their cortisol levels. Further proof it works: A study in the Nepal Medical College Journal found that people who took 500 mg twice daily experienced noticeably less stress and depression within 60 days. (Click through to learn how walking barefoot tames tension, too.)

More health benefits of holy basil

While holy basil is top natural remedy for anxiety, there’s more than the ancient herb can do. “A number of studies report benefits of tulsi on risk factors for cardiovascular disease, blood sugar control, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activity,” says Cohen. Here, more ways it can improve your health.

1. It aids weight loss

If you’re like us, you likely have a few stubborn pounds hanging around that you just can’t seem to shed. Holy basil can help. One small study in the Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry found that people who took 250 mg of holy basil twice daily effortlessly lost more than 2 pounds in 8 weeks (without making any diet or exercise changes). Plus they improved their cholesterol levels and insulin resistance. “Tulsi can help balance blood sugar levels and help with other symptoms of metabolic syndrome,” explains Cohen. “And that may all contribute to supporting a healthy weight.”

2. It boosts hair growth

To help outsmart thinning hair, add 5 drops of holy basil essential oil in a spritzer bottle filled with water and mist your scalp once a day. A small animal study in the Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry suggests that holy basil spurs hair growth as effectively as minoxidil when applied topically. (Click through to learn how black seed oil aids hair growth, too.)

A red-hair woman with her hand in her hair who uses holy basil

3. It lowers inflammation

Chronic inflammation contributes to everything from heart disease to digestive issues to diabetes and even depression. That’s where holy basil comes in. “The anti-inflammatory effects of holy basil are probably related to its high concentration of eugenol,” says Guan. Eugenol, one of the most potent compounds found in holy basil, acts as an inflammation modulator. That means it decreases the production of compounds in the body that cause inflammation. (Click through to learn how holy basil can improve adrenal function and heal your adrenals boost energy, too.)

4. It reduces cancer risk

When it comes to nicknames, “the elixir of life” is fitting for holy basil. Why? It may help ward off cancer. Researchers reporting in the journal Molecules found that eugenol’s anti-inflammatory effects may also help protect cells from mutations that can become cancerous. Additionally, the same study found that eugenol and other compounds in holy basil may also have some anti-tumor effects.

How to get the benefits of holy basil for anxiety (and more)

“Holy basil can play a supportive role in an overall healthy lifestyle,” says Guan. And brewing fresh holy basil leaves into a tea (or buying loose or bagged tulsi tea) is an easy way to get the benefits. As a daily tonic, Guan recommends drinking a cup of holy basil tea once or twice a day between meals. “I’ve heard holy basil described as ‘liquid yoga,’” says Guan. “I love using holy basil tea as part of my own daily ritual of slowing down and drinking something that makes me feel calm and supports my health.” One to try: Organic India Tulsi Tea (Buy from Amazon, $5.69).

A clear mug of herbal holy basil tea, which can be used for anxiety

Not a fan of tea? No problem! You can also supplement with holy basil daily. Most studies on the herb use around 500 mg daily (total), typically split between two doses. Two to try: New Chapter Holy Basil Force (Buy from Amazon, $41) and Gaia Herbs Stress Support Holy Basil Leaf (Buy from Amazon, $28.12).

For more ways to ease stress and anxiety naturally:

Easy Ways to Lower the Stress Hormone Cortisol in the Morning So You Feel Peaceful All Day + Lose Belly Fat Fast

Stressed All Day and Can’t Sleep at Night? Psychologist Says *This* Extract Can Solve Both Problems

30 Journal Prompts That Boost Bliss, Slash Stress and Ease Anxiety — In Minutes!

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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