Holy Basil (also known as Tulsi) is a member of the mint family and closely related to sweet basil used in cooking. Originally from India, the plant is considered sacred and has many uses in Ayurvedic medicine. As an adaptogen, this herbal remedy is thought to bring the body back to balance.
According to WebMD, holy basil is useful for stress relief. After a stress response, it reduces the levels of stress hormone and counters the effect of chronic stress on the body.
Natural Stress Response
When faced with stress, our natural stress response activates. The body releases stress hormones into the bloodstream to get the body ready to face the incoming challenge. The adrenal glands above the kidneys release adrenaline and cortisol. When the stress clears, the body normally clears the stress hormones.
One of the marvels of the modern world is the chronic stress that we live under. While our bodies are made to deal with stress hormones on an acute level, the chronic effect of stress hormones can be damaging to the body. Mind-body techniques of exercise and meditation can bring us to balance. Herbals and medications may also be helpful. While there are many ways to find balance, we are all unique and must find our own way.
Many herbals offer a gentle way to balance the body. An herbal contains multiple active ingredients. This makes it difficult to study in a pharmaceutical model where one chemical is usually isolated and studied. The compound effect of all the active ingredients pose a challenge to understanding the mechanism of how these herbals work. The reported benefits are sometimes observational and not scientifically rigorous; however, many herbals have been studied and shown to be beneficial for various medical conditions.
In the United States, herbals are considered food supplements and not allowed to claim any medical benefits. They are available without prescriptions, but the production is not as regulated and consistent.
Check out holy basil as a gentle herbal that can bring the body back to balance and counteract the effects of chronic stress on the body, mind, and spirit.
My favorite are the Tulsi Teas.
The Tulsi Myth (Time for a story…)
Tulsi is considered sacred in India and represents the goddess Vrinda. In fact, most Indian households have a Tulsi plant that has a place of honor in the house as well as an herbal remedy.
(Myths are sometimes a little hard to follow and often there are many versions. Here’s a synopsis.)
In Hindu mythology, there are three main gods: Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer). Together, they keep the universe in balance.
Vrinda is a goddess and devotee of Lord Vishnu (the preserver). In an arranged marriage, she weds Jalandhar who becomes invincible because of his wife’s chastity. (I’m not sure how that works.) Jalandhar gets really cocky and challenges all the gods. He is out battling Lord Shiva (the destroyer) and about to defeat him to become the Supreme Power of the Universe (impressive title).
Meanwhile, the balance of the universe is in Lord Vishnu’s hands. Lord Vishnu goes to Vrinda and tricks her by pretending to be Jalandhar. Vrinda touches Lord Vishnu who is pretending to be her husband and loses her chastity. (I don’t know how that works either.) Jalandhar is no longer protected by his wife’s chastity, so Lord Shiva kills him. Lord Vishnu reveals his true self to Vrinda, who realizes that she was tricked. She curses Lord Vishnu to become the Shaligrama stone which is found near the Gandaka river (which he accepts for some reason). She is still pretty heartbroken about the whole thing and decides to end her life.
Before she dies, Lord Vishnu takes pity on his devotee and blesses Vrinda by saying that she will now be known as Tulsi. She becomes a plant that is worshiped along with him.
That is why you will find Tulsi leaves in the Hindu rituals to Lord Vishnu. And that is why Tulsi is sacred in India, representing health and well-being, even as an herbal remedy.