Can Holy Basil Help With Weight Loss?

Maybe not directly, but it can support you on your journey.

Holy basil

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  • Holy basil is called Tulsi in its native country, India. It’s been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of conditions, from stress to coughs and colds.
  • There’s not much evidence supporting its efficacy as a weight loss aid, but it can help you lose weight in ways other than directly.
  • Studies show it can be helpful for managing blood sugar and lipid levels as well as for soothing anxiety and stress and bringing your body back into balance.

If you’ve ever browsed the herb section of your favorite nursery, chances are you’ve come across a plant called holy basil, aka Ocimum sanctum or Ocimum tenuiflorum. Despite its name, it’s not culinary basil (such as the more common Genovese or sweet basil) but rather an ancient herb used for centuries in India for various health conditions.

Holy basil is also known as Tulsi and is considered a sacred herb. It has long, four-sided, hairy stems and small leaves and looks a little like Thai basil. It reaches up to two feet tall, and blooms with edible petite purple flowers. Crushing the leaves releases a slightly minty smell.

For thousands of years, healers have used it in many ways, from managing stress and mood to creating balance in the body. In its native India, it’s known as the “Queen of the Herbs.”

Some research has shown it can also help your mental and metabolic health, which can help support weight loss. However, it’s worth noting that studies on those claims are very few and far between. 

Here’s all you need to know about what holy basil is used for and whether it can help with weight loss. 

Dietary supplements are minimally regulated by the FDA and may or may not be suitable for you. The effects of supplements vary from person to person and depend on many variables, including type, dosage, frequency of use, and interactions with current medications. Please speak with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before starting any supplements.

What It’s Commonly Used For

Holy Basil is used to ease many physical and psychological issues. Some research has shown Holy Basil and one of its elements, eugenol, have antioxidant benefits that might one day be helpful in cancer treatment. 

Holy basil is a sacred plant that’s played a role in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. According to the Indian government, every part of the plant has a spiritual significance for Hindus. The roots represent religious pilgrimage, its branches represent divinity, and its top denotes an understanding of Hindu scriptures. Indians use the leaves as a remedy for cough and congestion.

Some other uses for Tulsi are:

  • Reducing psychological stress
  • Reducing immune system stress
  • Regulating blood sugar
  • Managing blood lipid levels 
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Helping memory and cognitive function
  • Acting as an antimicrobial agent in mouthwashes, hand sanitizers, and wound healing

Metabolic Benefits of Holy Basil

Researchers haven’t conducted many large-scale, long-term clinical trials on Tulsi’s weight loss effects on humans. However, a few studies show it can help you control your blood sugar and cholesterol levels when used as a supplement. Controlling your blood sugar can help prevent diabetes. It can also keep you from blood sugar crashes that cause you to overeat.

The healthier your heart, the easier it is to maintain a healthy-weight-promoting lifestyle, which includes regular exercise. Managing cholesterol levels protects your heart health because too much bad cholesterol can cause atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis, in turn, causes heart attack and stroke.

What the Research Says

A 2017 review of 24 studies found holy basil safe to use as a supplement. Researchers concluded it might also help you manage your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Holy basil might also have other holistic benefits when added to your diet or used in addition to medication you’re already taking, according to the review.

Another small pilot study of 30 overweight and obese young people found the herb helped them reduce their insulin resistance (a problem that leads to type 2 diabetes) and cholesterol levels.

In a 2012 study of 100 people, those who took 5 milliliters of holy basil extract for three months showed marked improvement in markers for metabolic syndrome, including their blood glucose, blood pressure, and lipid profiles. Researchers believed it was due to a compound in holy basil called eugenol.

However, more studies are needed to determine whether holy basil could help with weight loss and what a suitable, recommended dosage might be for most people.

Holy basil is an adaptogen—plants that help your body respond to stress, anxiety, fatigue—so it can also help you on your weight loss journey by helping you feel balanced in your mood and body. 

How Adaptogens Work

Adaptogens are used to power up your immune system, increase your energy and enhance your body’s ability to deal with physical and emotional stress. Studies on adaptogens are limited and focus on specific properties of certain herbs.

However, natural medicine practitioners use them to help restore your sense of balance.

An herb must do the following to be considered an adaptogen:

  • Support your entire body’s ability to fend off stress
  • Help your body return to a state of normality after your body has changed in response to stress
  • It must be nontoxic at average doses

Sources of Holy Basil

You have two options when it comes to holy basil: Grow your own or buy it over-the-counter (OTC) as a supplement. It’s available in vitamin, health food, and supplement stores and online.

The plant is biennial, which means it grows for two years before dying, although you can keep it alive longer by growing it inside. People who use Holy basil as a supplement use all of the aerial parts: the leaves, stems, and seeds. If you grow the plant, you can use its delicate, pale purple flowers as a garnish or in a salad because they’re edible.

Holy basil is available as:

  • Capsules or tablets
  • Premade tea blends
  • In extracts

How to Use Holy Basil

Holy basil can be ingested, made into tea, or taken as a supplement.

While there isn’t yet evidence that drinking tea made from the leaves can help with weight loss, plenty of websites (especially Indian ones) will give you directions on making tea with it for that purpose. 

Many retailers offer several varieties of holy basil tea. Manufacturers often blend holy basil tea with rose, chamomile, or another Ayurvedic herb called ashwagandha for added benefits. (Note: Ashwagandha can interfere with many medications.)


There is no agreed-upon dosage for holy basil. 

You can brew tea from fresh leaves and flowers or packaged tea bags. If you make it fresh, pour boiling water over the leaves and brew for 10 minutes. (If you brew tea with herbs in addition to Tulsi, it’s important to know their drug interactions, too.)

OTC supplement dosage varies by brand and type. Be sure to read the label.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only loosely regulates supplements and doesn’t monitor dosage or effectiveness. Make sure to get a supplement from a reputable source that is third-party tested. It’s also important to talk to your healthcare professional before taking Tulsi to rule out drug interactions or possible negative health consequences.

Is Holy Basil Safe?

Holy Basil appears to be safe. However, some people shouldn’t use it because there’s not enough research proving it’s safe for them:

  • Infants and children
  • People who are pregnant or lactating
  • People who already have diabetes
  • People taking some medications. (Note: If you’re taking any medications at all, or have any health conditions, talk with a healthcare professional before taking Tulsi.)

Side Effects of Holy Basil

Holy basil contains eugenol. Eugenol is responsible for a lot of its anti-congestive and other beneficial properties. But, ingesting way too much eugenol can cause:

  • Tissue injury
  • Liver injury
  • Seizures
  • Coma

While the eugenol in holy basil might be useful in preventing type 2 diabetes, it can also reduce blood sugar to a dangerously low level for those who already have it. Be sure to talk to a healthcare professional before taking it.

Can You Take Too Much?

It’s possible to take too much of any supplement. Taking a much greater amount than suggested on labels can lead to side effects or more intense side effects. Try to stick as closely as possible to the suggested amounts.

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  2. Jamshidi N, Cohen MM. The clinical efficacy and safety of tulsi in humans: A systematic review of the literature. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017;2017:9217567. doi: 10.1155/2017/9217567

  3. Rizvi SI, Mishra N. Traditional Indian medicines used for the management of diabetes mellitus. Journal of Diabetes Research. 2013;2013:e712092. doi: 10.1155/2013/712092

  4. Manaharan T, Thirugnanasampandan R, Jayakumar R, Ramya G, Ramnath G, Kanthimathi MS. Antimetastatic and anti-inflammatory potentials of essential oil from edible ocimum sanctum leaves. The Scientific World Journal. 2014;2014:e239508. doi: 10.1155/2014/239508

  5. American Heart Association. What is cholesterol?

  6. Satapathy S, Das N, Bandyopadhyay D, Mahapatra SC, Sahu DS, Meda M. Effect of tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.) supplementation on metabolic parameters and liver enzymes in young overweight and obese subjects. Ind J Clin Biochem. 2017;32(3):357-363. doi: 10.1007/s12291-016-0615-4

  7. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Whole Health Library. Adaptogens.

  8. Eugenol(Clove oil). In: LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; 2012.

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