Sunday, February 22, 2015

Medicinal Herb Spotlight: Holy Basil

By J.S. Corser (Forest Hills G.C.)
Durham Co. Extension Master Gardener
Holy basil Ocimum scanctum  or O. tennuiflorum is related to the herb sweet basil O. basilicum that's used in cooking and it is one of 35 basil species to the genus Ocimum. It is an aromatic, annual or short-lived perennial subshrub (up to 3' tall) with upright, branched, basally woody, hairy stems. Leaves are grey-green and have a somewhat hairy appearance with pink or white flowers(1). Holy basil leaves, which have a spicy, lemony flavor, are used widely in food in Southeast Asia, such as in Thai stir-fried dishes(2).
 O. tennuiflorum.
Holy basil has long been used as a traditional medicine in China and India. Some Hindu cultures regard the plant as sacred(3). Supplements of holy basil are available over the counter in many health stores and pharmacies(4).
Why do people take holy basil?(5)
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 in attempt to treat a range of additional health concerns, including:
  • Increased blood circulation
  • Insect bites
  • Kidney problems
  • Skin problems
  • Snake bites
  • Stomach problems
In addition, holy basil has seen anecdotal effectiveness:
  • 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.
(However, more clinical research is needed to actually measure the usefulness of holy basil for these health conditions.)
What are the risks of taking holy basil supplements? (4)

Research on animals indicated that holy basil may cause the following side effects:
  • 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.
Cautions: Persons should avoid taking holy basil supplements if they have low blood sugar, are trying to get pregnant, take anticoagulant (blood-thinning). 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) and Scopolamine (sold as generic only).
Fusarium wilt of basil (Fusarium oxysporum  f. sp. basilicum)
Debbie Roos, NCSU Agricultural Extension Agent,

Chatham County, NC.
Growing Holy Basil
Holy basil requires the same conditions as other basil varieties. Grow in light, fertile, well-drained soil in full sun, but on a sheltered site such as next to a house foundation. Water adequately during hot summer months and pinch blossoms to stimulate leaf growth(1).
More detailed information on growing basil can be found in the NC Cooperative Extension publication, Basil Production, AG-477,
Pests and Diseases
Basil varieties are susceptible to: aphids, whiteflies, spider mites, Fusarium wilt, gray mold, bacterial spots, root rot and downy mildew(7). For a more detailed description of treatments for fungal and bacterial infections, see the Clemson Univeristy Cooperative Extension fact sheet on basils,
1.  Brickell, C. & Cathey, H.M. (1996). A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants (rev. U.S. ed. 2004). New York: The American Horticultural Society.
2. Hakkim, F. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Oct. 31, 2007.2. 
3.  Mondal, S. Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, October-December, 2009.3 4. Kiefer M.D., D. (2014, December 27). Holy Basil: Web Retrieved February 22, 2014, from
5. Natural Standard Professional Monograph: "Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum L.)."
6. NC Cooperative Extension. (1995, January) Basil Production, AG-477 (reprinted). Retrieved February 22, 2015 from
7. Clemson University Cooperative Extension. (2015). HGIC 1327, Basil.  Retrieved February 22, 2015 from

No comments: