What is the Difference Between Holy Basil and Basil?

If you thought there was only one type of basil, prepare to be surprised. Not all basil plants are the same. While they may share the same origins, they actually have very different appearances, uses, and properties. Take holy basil (​Ocimum tenuiflorum​ or ​Ocimum sanctum lamiaceae​) and basil (​Ocimum basilicum​) as an example. Both derive from the same species of Ocimum, but that’s where the similarities end. Whereas basil is typically used in cooking and as an ornamental plant, holy basil’s medicinal properties imbue it with a very different appeal.


One of the first indicators that basil and holy basil are two very different things is their unique appearances. As sfgate.com points out, holy basil is tall and leggy, with an average height of around 2 to 3 foot. Basil, on the other hand, can grow to a vast array of heights, sometimes sitting as small as 8 inches tall and sometimes shooting up to over 3 feet. Aside from height, holy basil and basil have a number of other differences. As yourindoorherbs.com (yourindoorherbs.com/holy-tulsi-basil-vs-basil-the-4-differences-with-photos/) notes, holy basil has a hairy stem characterized by thin, white hairs of a few millimeters in length. The stems can be either red or white. Basil, on the other hand, has a smooth, hairless stem. Whereas holy basil has fairly flat leaves, the leaves of basil bend backward. The color and feel of the leaves are also different. While the leaves of holy basil are grey-green, course, and ragged, the leaves of basil are soft, smooth-edged, and a vibrant dark green. The blossoms produced by the two varieties are one of the easiest ways to tell them apart. While holy basil produces pink/ purple blooms year-round, the flowers of basil are always uniformly white and only appear in summer.

Soil Preferences

A difference in soil preference won’t necessarily help you tell holy basil apart from basil, but if you intend on growing either one, it pays to know what each one requires. While both plants like to grow in full sun, holy basil does best in a pH range of 6.5 to 7.5. Basil is less particular and will tolerate a wider spectrum of pH 5.1 to 8.5.


Going to the effort of growing a herb that lasts for just a few months isn’t necessarily an ideal scenario. So, just how long can you expect basil and holy basil to last, and does either one have a longevity advantage? Basil is an annual herb. Providing it gets adequate supplies of sun, water and care, you can expect it to flower, go to seed, and dry out within the space of around 10 to 11 months. As a true annual, it won’t rejuvenate the following year: if you want to benefit from a supply of basil leaves the following season, you’ll need to replant it. Holy basil, by contrast, is a perennial herb. If you live in a cold climate, you can expect your plant to die at the first sign of frost (if you want to prolong its life, bring it inside as soon as you take out your winter coat). If you live in a climate where the winter temperature stays consistently above 41F, you can leave it outside to overwinter.


Whereas basil and holy basil have certain differences in appearance, it’s their properties and uses that really marks them out as two very different things. In cooking, basil is noted for its spicy, pungent aroma. Holy basil, by contrast, has a sweeter, more mellow fragrance. The leaves of both bruise easily, and will quickly release their scent when rubbed. Both varieties have a pungent, sharp taste when eaten raw, which loses some of its tartness during cooking. While both varieties can be used for culinary purposes, basil tends to be the more commonly used of the two. While you can use it in whatever way you like and in whatever dish you prefer, some of its most common applications include grinding the leaves with olive oil, garlic, and pine nuts to create a pesto sauce for pasta, tearing off the leaves and scattering them over a salad, meat dish, or pasta, or stirred into a soup to create a colorful, fragrant addition.

Medicinal Uses

While basil is primarily used for cooking, holy basil is typically used more for its medicinal purposes than anything else. As Hunker (www.hunker.com/12532651/the-difference-between-basil-holy-basil), outlines, holy basil, which is native to Southeast Asia, can be consumed in many different ways to enjoy its benefits. Its extracted oils are often used to treat insect bites, while its flowers are used to help treat illnesses such as bronchitis.

It holds a particular reverence for Hindus, who’ve used the herb since ancient times to heal mind, body, and soul. As well as being used to ease stress, it’s even believed to prolong life. According to healthresearchfunding.org, some of the most common conditions holy basil is believed to treat include memory loss, fever, cough, sore throat, headaches, cuts, scrapes, bites, acne, and diabetes. Some studies have even suggested it can help depression, alleviate allergy symptoms, lower cholesterol, help with blood pressure, and improve concentration in people with attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Its antibacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties aren’t the only things it has to offer: as an adaptogen, it’s believed to be able to adapt its properties and serve whatever condition it needs to.

How to Use Holy Basil

While regular basil is sometimes used to help treat inflammation, the range of uses to which holy basil is put to elevates it to a league of its own. Although consumption methods vary, reports suggest that the most effective way of drawing the most benefit from holy basil is to drink it in the form of a tea. If you’re interested in trying it for yourself, the method is simple. Simply tear a handful of leaves into pieces and leave them to steep in a teapot of boiling water for around 7 minutes Pour the tea into a cup using a strainer to catch the leaves (although it’s perfectly fine to eat the leaves, the goodness will by now have passed into the water). Add honey or the sweetener of your choice (this isn’t necessary, but most people find the tea slightly bitter to drink alone) and sip away to enjoy the goodness within.

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