Highly revered in India for over 5,000 years, tulsi, also known as holy basil, has been valued for its numerous health-promoting properties. This herb is said to purify the mind, body and spirit, and has been cherished for its protective and uplifting nature.1
There are numerous tulsi products available today, such as tulsi tablets, tulsi tea and even tulsi powder. But one of the most popular ways to maximize the potential benefits of this herb is by diffusing or inhaling tulsi essential oil. Here's everything you need to know about tulsi or holy basil oil.
What Is Tulsi Oil?
Tulsi oil is extracted from holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), a species of basil that is native to the Indian subcontinent. This bushy plant can grow from 2 to 3 feet tall, with serrated oval leaves that can range from light green to purple (depending on the variety). Tulsi plants also produce spikes of small pink or lavender blossoms, and fruits that are reminiscent of rust-colored nuts.2,3
The tulsi plant is highly sensitive to frost and thrives best in warm Mediterranean climates, just as other basil species do. But while it grows best out in the garden, you can still grow this herb indoors.4 Because of its many beneficial properties, tulsi has been dubbed the "Queen of Herbs."5 The name itself translates to "the incomparable one," which probably refers to the numerous health benefits it can provide.6
Tulsi is one of the principle herbs of India's ancient holistic health system called Ayurveda. In fact, Ayurveda means "knowledge of life," and herbs are at the center of this practice. This is why it's not surprising that tulsi oil has also garnered considerable attention, particularly because of its soothing effects. The unique fragrance and medicinal qualities that holy basil oil offers definitely make it deserving of the title "elixir of life."7
Tulsi oil has a sharp, fresh, earthy and minty fragrance that's described to be similar to licorice.8 It is pale yellow and has a thin consistency.9
Uses of Tulsi Oil
In India, tulsi is an herb that is considered sacred, mainly because it represents the goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Vishnu, who is one of Hinduism's most important deities.10 There is even an ancient custom in India to worship the plant twice a day, water it and place lamps near it, once in the morning and then at night. Hindus believed that it brings good luck while protecting their family from evil and harm.11
Every part of the plant, from the leaves to the seeds, have astounding uses for the body. For example, the whole plant can be used to alleviate vomiting, nausea and diarrhea, while mixing the leaves and seeds with black pepper may have potent effects against malaria.12 Pills and ointments made from tulsi may be effective against eczema, while an alcohol extract can work for eye problems and insect bites. Fresh tulsi flowers are said to ease bronchitis symptoms.13
In fact, there's a belief that even being physically close to a tulsi plant can protect you from different infections. It's said that adding a few leaves in food or drinking water may help purify and kill germs in it. Even smelling it may help protect against coughs, colds and other viruses.14
Tulsi oil, in particular, is said to be effective for warding off insects, when used as a bug repellent. All that you need to do is dilute the essential oil in a safe carrier oil or purified water, and then apply it to the body (make sure that you have no sensitivities to this plant before doing this). Diluted tulsi oil may also work as a good deodorizer to help eliminate body odor.15
Composition of Tulsi Oil
Eugenole makes up a large bulk of tulsi oil's composition, in some cases up to 85 percent. This is the same constituent that gives clove oil its significant fragrance, which is why these two oils have occasionally been confused with each other. Other beneficial compounds in tulsi oil include estragole, 1,8-Cineole, B-Bisabolene and (Z)-a-Bisabolene.16
Benefits of Tulsi Oil
Both the tulsi plant and the essential oil made from it offer wholesome health benefits, such as:17
• Helping relieve skin problems and warding off mosquitoes.
• Helping protect against cardiovascular problems. The eugenol in tulsi may help manage cholesterol levels in the blood.
• Alleviating fever. It is an excellent germicidal, antibiotic, fungicidal and disinfectant, and may efficiently protect your body from pathogenic organisms.
• Easing respiratory ailments like bronchitis. It helps relieve respiratory congestion, thanks to its beneficial components.
• Providing protection against dental problems. It helps eliminate bacteria that may cause tartar, cavities, bad breath and plaque, while providing a protective effect at the same time. Its astringent properties also help the gums hold the teeth tighter, so they will not fall out easily.
How to Make Infused Tulsi Oil
Pure tulsi essential oil can be extracted through steam distilling the leaves and other parts of the plant.18 When purchasing tulsi oil, make sure that you buy from a manufacturer that doesn't use harmful chemicals or solvents during the extraction process. You can also make a simple tulsi oil infusion at home using this method from VisiHow. This infusion oil is recommended for alleviating scalp problems:19
- 1 to 2 bunches of tulsi leaves (enough to make 10 teaspoon of tulsi paste)
- 1/2 cup coconut oil
- 1 to 3 cups fenugreek grains
- Cut and grind the tulsi leaves until they form a paste. You need about 3 1/4 tablespoons of paste.
- Transfer the paste to a pot. If there's more paste than needed, freeze the rest in a muffin tin.
- Mix the half a cup of coconut oil with the tulsi paste, and put over low heat.
- Add 1 to 3 cups of fenugreek grains. Wait for the grains to pop, and then turn off the heat.
- Let the mixture cool before storing in a sealed container.
How Does Tulsi Oil Work?
Tulsi works best when diffused in the air or when inhaled. By doing this, it can help ease anxiety and stress while enhancing focus. However, this oil should never be ingested.20 Pure tulsi oil is also ill-advised for topical use, unless it has been thoroughly diluted in a safe and mild carrier oil. Since this essential oil is dermocaustic and can lead to skin irritation, it needs to be prepared in an extreme dilution of 0.5 percent or less.21
Is Tulsi Oil Safe?
If diluted properly, tulsi oil is non-toxic and non-sensitizing, and is generally safe to use. However, it is still recommend to perform a skin patch test to ensure that you have no sensitivities or allergies to this oil. Simply put a diluted drop on your arm and see if any irritation occurs.
Tulsi oil is not recommended for pregnant or breast-feeding women, as well as for children under 2 years oil. People who are susceptible to seizures or who have epilepsy should also refrain from using it.22
Side Effects of Tulsi Oil
Despite its benefits, keep in mind that both tulsi and tulsi oil may have potential side effects,23 such as:
• Eugenol overdose — Excessive intake of the tulsi herb can lead to overdose symptoms, which can manifest as expelling blood while coughing or in the urine, and rapid breathing.
• Blood-thinning effects — People who are on blood-thinning drugs should refrain from ingesting tulsi.
• Hypoglycemia — This is having abnormally low levels of blood sugar. Tulsi's blood sugar-lowering effects may cause this, so diabetics should consult their doctor before using this herb or its essential oil.
• Infertility in men — A study found that tulsi led to a significant decrease in sperm count among test rabbits.24
• Premature labor — Uterine contractions may be stimulated because of tulsi, which is dangerous for pregnant women. It can also lead to complications in childbirth or with menstruation.
Lastly, tulsi can interfere with the body's way of processing certain medications. If you're dealing with a health problem, consult your physician before using either tulsi oil or the raw plant.