Holy Basil vs Ashwagandha – Which One Should You Take?

Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.


More good-for-you foods from Mother Nature! This time we're talking about shatavari, which is actually a type of asparagus. Long known in the ancient healing system of Ayurveda, the time has come for this plant to step into the mainstream.

We all want to be as healthy as we possibly can. But in our modern world, it can seem so difficult. There are all sorts of products available and it can be hard to know which one to rely on. Here we’re looking at two important Ayurvedic herbs–holy basil and ashwagandha–to see which one may be right for you.

An Overview Of Ayurveda

Ayurveda is the name for a healing tradition from the Vedic culture of India. According to the Ayurvedic Institute, “Ayurveda places great emphasis on prevention and encourages the maintenance of health through close attention to balance in one’s life, right thinking, diet, lifestyle and the use of herbs.” Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word that means “science of life.” It is thought that Ayurveda is one of the oldest healing disciplines; however, while we have some written records of Ayurvedic teachings dating back thousands of years, Ayurveda was primarily taught through oral tradition, passed down from masters to students. Due to the lack of written records, much of the knowledge of Ayurveda has been lost to us. However, some Western medicine, such as homeopathy, is based on the Ayurvedic knowledge available to us. (1)

Holy Basil vs Ashwagandha in Ayurveda

If you wish to incorporate Ayurvedic principles into your own life, guides like these are very helpful. The reason? Ayurveda is not a one-size-fits-all model, especially when it comes to the herbs you use. Ayurveda is used to “create this balance of body, mind, and consciousness according to one’s own individual constitution,” according to the Ayurvedic Institute. Your constitution is “a particular pattern of energy—an individual combination of physical, mental and emotional characteristics” which “is determined at conception by a number of factors and remains the same throughout one’s life.” 

Things such as stress, emotional trauma, the food you eat, your relationships, your job, or even the weather patterns contribute to the way you experience this world. The herbs you choose to take, among other factors, can help you restore balance, hence why individual analysis is so important. (1)

An Introduction to Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha, scientifically named withania somnifera is an important herb in Ayurveda. It is known as a “Rasayana,” which is a rejuvenating tonic in Ayurveda. It gets its name because the “root smells like horse (“ashwa”),” and “on consuming it gives the power of a horse.”

Alternate names for ashwagandha include “Indian winter cherry” and “Indian ginseng.” (2)

Importance in Ayurveda

Many of the herbs promoted in Ayurveda are anti-stress agents, and ashwagandha is no exception. However, it also has additional properties that make it a Rasayana. Rasayana herbs promote a “youthful state of physical and mental health and expand happiness.” They “are also taken by the middle-aged and elderly to increase longevity.” Many of ashwagandha’s properties have been scientifically proven to assist with those goals. (2)

Ashwagandha As An Adaptogen 

If you aren’t familiar with what adaptogens are, they are any “substances (a combination of amino acids, vitamins, and herbs) that modulate your stress response or reaction to a changing environment.” Adaptogens, such as ashwagandha “help the body cope with external stresses such as toxins in the environment and internal stresses such as anxiety and insomnia, or any stress-related disorders.” (3)

Health Benefits Of Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha has been known to help prevent ulcers, aid in constipation relief, treat insomnia, help soothe chronic stress, and assist in balancing hormones, as well as a variety of other conditions, such as:

Stamina Level

There have been several studies done on a wide array of animals to test the effects of ashwagandha on stamina levels. Time and again, it has been found to increase them. In one 1999 study, rats were given ashwagandha root during a swimming test. After receiving the dose, the rats were able to swim for longer. In fact, “the control group of mice swam for a mean time of 385 minutes, whereas the drug-treated animals continued to swim for a mean duration of 740 minutes,” nearly doubling the amount of time they were able to swim for. (2)


Multiple studies on rats showed that ashwagandha was able to assist pharmaceutical drugs in reducing the size of tumors. (2)

Cognitive Function

According to researchers, “dozens of studies that show that Ashwagandha slows, stops, reverses or removes neuritic atrophy and synaptic loss” present in memory conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s. It seems to be useful at any stage, so whether you have received a diagnosis or are just noticing you’re a bit more forgetful than normal, ashwagandha has the potential to help. (2)

An Introduction To Holy Basil

Holy Basil, scientifically named ocimum sanctum, is another important Ayurvedic herb. Also known as Tulsi, holy basil has been called the “queen of herbs.” It can be taken in many forms, including brewed in teas or by chewing the leaves. (4, 5)

Importance of Holy Basil in Ayurveda

According to researchers, “emerging science on tulsi , which reinforces ancient Ayurvedic wisdom, suggests that tulsi is a tonic for the body, mind, and spirit that offers solutions to many modern day health problems.” Furthermore, “Tulsi is perhaps one of the best examples of Ayurveda’s holistic lifestyle approach to health.” (4)

Health Benefits of Holy Basil

The general health benefits of holy basil are legion, being “credited with giving luster to the complexion, sweetness to the voice and fostering beauty, intelligence, stamina, and a calm emotional disposition.” If that wasn’t enough, holy basil is said to help “anxiety, cough, asthma, diarrhea, fever, dysentery, arthritis, eye diseases, otalgia, indigestion, hiccups, vomiting, gastric, cardiac and genitourinary disorders, back pain, skin diseases, ringworm, insect, snake and scorpion bites, and malaria.” (4)

Stress And Metabolism

Swimming studies conducted on rats have also been used in determining the effectiveness of holy basil. The results found that “tulsi enhances aerobic metabolism, improves swimming time, reduces oxidative tissue damage and normalizes many physiological and biochemical parameters caused by physical stressors.” (4)

Emotional Regulation

New Delhi Television’s food site says that research shows holy basil lowers the body’s production of the stress hormone, cortisol, which “is known to subside various symptoms of depression, which may include anxiety.” (5)

If Holy Basil Is Right For You. . . 

There are benefits to both ashwagandha and holy basil. But if the unique mood-enhancing properties of holy basil seem right for you, it might be hard to know what form to take it in. 

The Be Serene supplements have a daily dose of holy basil as one of their five natural ingredients which work to relieve your stress and allow you to find the emotional balance that Ayurveda and holy basil are known for. (6)

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About Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

Dr. Morgan is an expert in Functional and Integrative Medicine with a Strong Emphasis in stress related illnesses like anxiety and insomnia. In addition to his 20 years of work in Functional Medicine, he has expanded his practice to include work on the deeper aspects of our being that point to the root cause of our illnesses working with Mind Body Wellness, Energy Medicine, and Healing with Consciousness.
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ashwagandha, ayurveda, holy basil, natural healing