The Science of (Tulsi) Holy Basil

Article at a Glance

Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum/tenuiflorum) is a plant highly valued in India and throughout Southeast Asia.

While much of the research on holy basil has focused on ingestion of different parts of the plant and its botanical extract, the essential oil also has a number of benefits when used aromatically and topically. A recent clinical trial evaluated how the topical use of holy basil (tulsi) essential oil may help keep the mouth clean and healthy.

Holy Basil, Ocimum sanctum

Ocimum sanctum (or Ocimum tenuiflorum) plant is a perennial that is native throughout India and much of Southeast Asia. Commonly referred to as holy basil or tulsi, the plant holds special significance in the Hindu culture and religion, so much so that it is often referred to as “Elixir of Life” in the Ayurveda system (1). Traditionally, the plant is grown in the center of homes and the roots and stems are used to make prayer beads.

Furthermore, different parts of the holy basil plant and botanical extracts have been used for a variety of benefits. When the aerial parts of the holy basil plant are steam distilled, an essential oil with a spicy balsamic-like aroma is extracted that has rich concentrations of eugenol1,8-cineole, and methyl chavicol. Recent clinical research has investigated the efficacy of holy basil essential oil in the maintenance of dental hygiene. 

The Study

In order to evaluate the cleansing efficacy of holy basil essential oil in an oral health context, researchers recruited 40 participants to take part in a longitudinal clinical trial (2). The participants had to meet a strict set of inclusion criteria, including being 4–9 years of age and having clinical signs of necessary dental care. All participants provided four baseline samples to determine the current status of their oral health.

The participants were randomly separated into two groups: the trial group who had a holy basil essential oil intracanal medicament (a temporary placement of compounds to support oral cleansing) and the control group who received a more conventional paste (triple antibiotic paste, TAP).

After three days, two more samples were provided. The samples were then stored in two separate mediums, an anaerobic (without oxygen) and aerobic (with oxygen) broth and incubated under normal conditions for 48 hours. After incubation, all the samples were tested and colony-forming units (CFUs) counted. The data was analyzed to determine whether  holy basil essential oil has capacity to support dental hygiene. 

The Results

Data analysis showed that the use of holy basil essential oil, although not as effective as the TAP, had a statistically significant positive effect on the CFU count in both the anaerobic and aerobically incubated samples. The difference in results between the anaerobic and aerobically incubated samples was not significant. Previous experimental research had provided evidence that holy basil essential oil may have cleansing properties in other contexts (3, 4).

The researchers suggested that further research, both clinical and in vivo, should be conducted to gather more data to further determine the value of holy basil essential oil as a natural alternative to support dental cleansing and hygiene.



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