Holy Basil: A Garden-Fresh Approach To Stopping Diabetes

A cousin to sweet basil, holy basil (aka tulsi), is shown to lower blood glucose levels and cholesterol—and best of all, it’s so easy to grow!

by Dawn Combs
PHOTO: George Wesley & Bonita Dannells/Flickr

‘Tis the season for garden-fresh pestos, and with so many varieties of basil out there, it’s easy to make a unique variety most nights of the week. In fact, I came across 38 different types of culinary basil when preparing this piece, but there’s one type that particularly fascinates me: holy basil.

Growing Holy Basil

Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum), also called tulsi, is in the same genus as sweet basil. The plant looks a lot like our common garden basil, but its stems and leaves have purple undertones. Holy basil is easy to grow and can be transplanted from seedlings or direct seeded in a shallow bed. The plant likes full sun and a lot more water than we are presently getting here in Ohio. It will only overwinter in zones 10 or 11, so in temperate zones, you’ll need to bring a plant or two in to enjoy when the snow flies.

Holy Basil’s Health Benefits

I’ve been using holy basil a lot in my family apothecary. It is considered an adaptogen and has a long list of benefits. In Ayurveda, holy basil is classified as a rasayana, meaning it nourishes the body, encourages health and leads to a long life. The plant is known to be anti-inflammatory, good for the digestion, supportive to the nervous and circulatory systems, antimicrobial and immunomodulatory. I have been using it for its anti-diabetic properties.

Holy basil has been extensively studied and has been shown to lower blood glucose levels, as well as the high triglycerides and cholesterol that tend to accompany type II diabetes. My mother, who is a diabetic, has used holy basil as part of her daily regime for over a year with good effect.

As a bonus, holy basil has been tested in those who are concurrently taking diabetic medication. This is a really important note, as some herbs that are used for blood sugar control are not safe to use in those who are already on a prescription. While I tend to feel most things are safe in moderation when enjoyed in food, that might not always be the case when it comes to this sort of interaction.

Happily, there is not much of concern in holy basil. With centuries of human use and a slew of modern clinical research, we know a fair bit about this plant. Not only can it be tinctured and encapsulated, but it tastes wonderful. Holy basil has a bit of an anise-like flavor that works well in a delicious tea all on its own or when added to any number of culinary treats. I like a bit gathered fresh from the garden as an after dinner soother. One of the cuisines it excels most in is Thai, so I here’s a holy basil pesto that you can use to top rice noodles.

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Holy Basil Pesto


  • 1 cup holy basil
  • 1/2 cup cilantro
  • 1/4 cup cashews
  • 1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger, outer bark removed
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste


In a blender, purée holy basil, cilantro, cashews, ginger and Parmesan. Pour in olive oil until you reach the desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or freeze for later use.

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