Tulsi tea is a caffeine-free herbal tea made from the leaves and other parts of the tulsi, or holy basil plant. This plant goes by the scientific names Ocimum sanctum or Ocimum tenuiflorum, and is in the same genus as the familiar sweet basil plant. Tulsi tea has a fairly strong relaxing effect, and a pleasing, spicy aroma, resembling cloves. It has many different effects on the body, most of which are positive. There is some scientific research supporting its use to treat anxiety, depression, type 2 diabetes, and a number of other medical conditions.
Some companies promoting tulsi as an herbal medicine or nutritional supplement have made bold claims about both the efficacy and safety of tulsi. Some websites claim that tulsi tea is totally safe has no adverse reactions or no side-effects. These claims are not true: at best they are exaggerations and at worse they are outright false, as there have been at least a few documented side-effects or risks associated with tulsi use.
Tulsi is safe in moderation for most people:
Tulsi can be safely consumed in moderation as a beverage by most people. However, even relatively safe substances and herbs can be damaging in large enough a concentration, and tulsi is no exception. Heavier use of tulsi for medicinal purposes, or its use in more concentrated forms, such as by brewing a stronger-than-typical tea or drinking several cups of tea throughout the day, should be supervised by a professional herbalist or other medical professional familiar with the herb and its safety profile. Tulsi has been used in Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India, for hundreds of its years, and those proficient in Ayurveda may know more about this plant than others whose knowledge is limited to western herbal traditions.
Side-effects of Tulsi Tea:
There are several possible side-effects of drinking tulsi tea or using tulsi for medicinal purposes:
- Tulsi is an anticoagulant, also called a blood thinner. While this effect can be desirable in some cases, it can be considered an undesirable side-effect in others. Anticoagulants prevent blood clotting, which can be dangerous during surgery, childbirth, or in any other circumstances where bleeding is problematic. Tulsi should also be avoided or used with caution by anyone taking other blood-thinning medications, in order to prevent interactions or cumulative effects.
- Chromium contamination – tulsi has a high tolerance for chromium, at levels which would kill most plants; the chromium, which is toxic to humans, can be taken up by the plant, reaching dangerous concentration. Consumption of contaminated tulsi tea can result in poisoning. Knowing and trusting the source of tulsi is thus important; buying organic tulsi is one way to minimize this risk.
- Unknown safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding – There is conflicting information about the safety of tulsi during pregnancy. While a number of sources claim that it is safe, others recommend more caution. Tulsi’s anticoagulant properties need to be considered late in pregnancy.
Tulsi tea is relatively safe for most people to consume in moderation. However, its use in western cultures is relatively new, and it has not been as extensively studied as most other herbs. Its safety profile, especially for pregnant or breastfeeding women, is largely unknown. There are also a number of known side-effects of tulsi: sources claiming that it is free of adverse effects are exaggerating. The main documented side-effect is its action as a blood thinner or anticoagulant.