One of the most ancient herbs, Tulsi, now has one of the most modern monikers — immunomodulator. The word was coined by scientists to explain a substance’s power to reinforce and support the immune system. But Tulsi, as well as a host of other herbs and plants in the Ayurvedic health and wellness cabinet, has been known to have this ability for thousands of years. Tulsi is a name that comes from Sanskrit, meaning “beyond compare.”
An immunomodulator most commonly refers to today’s pharmaceutical agents, but back into antiquity, Ayurvedic doctors understood that health and healing occurs through balance. Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, is the queen of immunomodulating herbs. Marc Cohen, School of Health Sciences, RMIT University, Victoria, Australia, calls Tulsi “an herb for all reasons,” simply because its benefits are so varied and useful.
In the Journal of Ayurveda Integrative Medicine, Marc Cohen wrote that the predominant cause of poor health is related to lifestyles that make people predisposed to chronic diseases. Many of these health issues can be addressed through Ayurveda because of its unique focus on healthy lifestyle practices and regular consumption of adaptogenic herbs. “Of all the herbs used within Ayurveda, Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn) is preeminent, and scientific research is now confirming its beneficial effects.”
Of particular relevance to Organic India’s philosophy, Cohen explained that the cultivation of the plant has practical as well as spiritual significance. Tulsi connects the grower to the creative powers of nature. Organic cultivation provides unique solutions beyond the plant’s ability to heal, because it not only offers growers food security, but also a way to battle rural poverty, hunger, environmental degradation and climate change.
Herbalist and author Rosalee de la Forêt described Tulsi as having the ability to strengthen and modulate the immune system. It has long been used in prevention of illness, as well as chronic and acute conditions that include any pathogen, virus, or bacterial health problem. Virtually every part of the body may benefit from its multiplicity of actions.
A Closer Look at Immunomodulators
Out of myriad health-promoting actions on the mind, body, and spirit, Tulsi is a well-known immunomodulator in the world of Ayurvedic healthcare. Naturopathic physician Marisa Marciano, ND, wrote in The Naturopathic Herbalist that immunity is a vital component of the interface between individuals and their world. It is an expression of homeostasis and the relationship between bodily health, emotional well-being, and mental vision and perspective. Many herbs can stimulate immune responses, and these are best described as immune modulators because they facilitate greater immune system flexibility in the body’s natural response to disease.
Marciano explained that immune modulation denotes any effect an herb has on immune system responsiveness. Such herbs may stimulate T-suppressor cells and thereby reduce immune resistance. They also stimulate natural killer cells and macrophages. Ananya Mandal, MD, explained that macrophages are important cells of the immune system that respond to an infection or accumulation of damaged or dead cells. They are specialized in that they engulf, digest, and destroy cellular debris, foreign substances, microbes, cancer cells, and anything else that does not have the type of proteins specific to healthy body cells on its surface. As an immunomodulating herb, Tulsi potentially contributes to fighting malignancies and plays a central role in supporting cells involved in immunological defenses.
Tulsi is one of Ayurveda’s top choices to build up the immune system and help eliminate bodily toxins before they can cause disease.
In the Journal of Allergy and Inflammation, researcher Walaa Najm Abood explained that the immune system is capable of producing diverse molecules and cells that reduce unlimited changes from external and unwanted agents. Modulation of the immune system refers to an alteration in the immune response that includes stimulation, amplification, expression, or activation of some stage of the immune response. Therefore, an immunomodulator is a material used to have an effect on the immune system.
S.C. Mahapatra, Institute Department of Physiology, AIIMS, New Delhi, wrote that the human immune system is very complex and contains a delicate balance between health and disease. Any substance, synthetic or biological, that can enhance, suppress, or modulate the immune system, is an immunomodulator. There are several aspects of modern life that tend to suppress the immune system, including diets filled with artificial ingredients and non-foods; environmental, personal, and household toxins; poor water and air quality; insufficient exercise; and mental and emotional stress. For all of these factors, Tulsi is one of Ayurveda’s top choices to build up the immune system and help eliminate bodily toxins before they can cause disease.
Tulsi Cleans House
Tulsi assists with the body’s internal housekeeping, and its detoxifying action is often attributed to the herb’s high content of phenolic compounds and antioxidant properties. Plant researcher Marc Cohen advises that regular consumption of Tulsi tea may be compared with the regular practice of yoga, which can be considered adaptogenic because it nurtures and nourishes the body-mind-spirit while fostering a sense of relaxation and wellbeing. In contrast, he explains, regular consumption of caffeinated beverages, such black and green tea and coffee, may be compared with more aerobic exercise, which confers health benefits by way of stimulation and activation.
In the Hindu tradition that has been passed down for thousands of years, Tulsi continues to be worshipped as a goddess. Every part of the plant is revered and considered sacred, including the leaves, stem, flower, root, seeds, and oil. Even the surrounding soil in which Tulsi is embedded is special, and has recently been found to nurture beneficial endophytic fungi that colonize healthy and living tissue. Because this wonderful plant is so health-promoting, disease-fighting, and balancing on many levels, it is considered an aspect of the divine.