Holy Basil Vs Regular Basil

There are more than 100 varieties of basil in the world, and it can be difficult to differentiate among them. But they all have different uses. Let us look at the differences between Holy Basil Vs Regular Basil.

The Holy basil is scientifically known as Ocimum tenuiflorum. Native to India, it is commonly known as Tulsi in India. It has religious importance and significance in Indian culture.

The chemical constituents of Holy basil include oleanolic acid, ursolic acid, rosmarinic acid, eugenol, carvacrol, linalool, and β-caryophyllene. The Holy basil has incredible health benefits. It helps reduce stress and is said to promote long life.

Regular basil is scientifically known as Ocimum basilicum. It is also known as sweet basil. This Basil has a number of different chemical constituents such as eugenol, methyl chavicol, camphene, licorice, citronellol, etc. It has antioxidant, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties.

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Let us find out the differences between the Holy basil and regular basil in this article.

Appearance – Holy Basil Vs Regular Basil

Holy basil is slightly more difficult to tell apart from regular basil than all other basil types. There are however enough differences to distinguish between the two varieties.

Holy basil

The Holy basil grows 30 to 60 cm in height. It has a hairy stem. The stem is covered with white and very tiny thin few millimeters long hairs all over.

The leaves are the easiest distinguishable feature between the Holy basil and regular basil. The leaves of the Holy basil have jagged, tooth-like edges. They are lighter green in color. Holy basil leaves are flatter compared to regular basil, and comparatively smaller.

Sometimes, the Holy basil can have purple leaves too. This is because there are multiple sub-varieties of the Holy basil. The Sri Tulsi and the Krishna Tulsi are two of the sub-varieties of the Holy basil.

The Sri Tulsi has green leaves, while the Krishna Tulsi has purple leaves. Depending on the region that you live in mainly in India and East Asia, you will find one or the other variety growing in the region.

Another feature that makes it easy to differentiate between the Holy basil and regular basil is the flower. Holy basil flowers are pink or purple in color. They are tubular in shape.

Regular basil

sweet basil

The regular basil grows between 30 to 130 cm tall. It has a smooth, hairless stem.

The leaves of the regular basil are pretty smooth all around the edges. They are darker green in color. The leaves are slightly curled, tending to bend downwards. They are oval in shape and comparatively larger.

The flowers of the regular basil are tubular in shape too, but the color of the flowers is always white.

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Holy basil

The Holy basil has a taste that is described as peppery, or like cloves with a hint of aniseed.

This basil is on the spicier side among basil varieties. Some people describe the taste of the Holy basil as that of an aluminum foil when tasted raw.

This difference in taste is because the Holy basil has sub-varieties and they all taste different from each other.

Regular basil

The regular basil too has a similar peppery, clove-like taste. However, this basil is often referred to as sweet basil, because it is more on the sweeter side. Most cuisines prefer regular basil to the Holy basil in cooking, as well as to eat raw.

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Holy Basil

The Holy basil has a lot of religious importance in Indian culture. It is used in religious events.

Raw leaves of the Holy basil are also used in juices and herbal teas.

It is used in herbal medicines and is popular in traditional Ayurvedic treatment.

  • It has anti-bacterial properties making it good as a skin nourishing agent.
  • It is used to make essential oils.
  • It is also used as an insect repellant in some places.

Regular basil

Regular basil is mainly used in cooking because of its characteristic flavor. It is used in various cuisines and for flavored tea.

Regular Basil is used in essential oils. It is also used to mix with milk while preparing desserts like ice creams.

Thai basil Vs Holy basil – What’s the difference?

Cooking – Holy Basil Vs Regular Basil

The Holy basil is not very popular in cooking.

Though popular in Asia, Asian cuisines prefer the Thai basil to the Holy basil.

On the other hand, regular basil is a staple all over the world, especially in Mediterranean and Italian cuisine.

Recipes that use Holy basil

While Holy basil is not widely used in the culinary world, there are still some recipes that make use of this herb, predominantly in Asian cuisine.

Pad Kee Mao, or drunken noodles as they are popularly known, uses Holy basil, along with a large variety of other ingredients such as soy sauces, garlic, broccoli, chilies, and fish sauce. Thai basil can be used as a substitute if Holy basil is not available.

Pad Gaprao, or Holy Basil Chicken, is famous in North America. Holy basil is called Gaprao in the Thai language. The basil is added at the very end of the recipe.

Holy Basil Tea is a special tea. While tea can be made from almost all herbs and almost all varieties of basil, the Holy basil has multiple health benefits.

Recipes that use regular basil

Regular basil is used in almost all cuisines all over the world. It is especially popular in Mediterranean cuisine.

Pesto is the staple sauce in Italian cuisine. It can be used for all types of dishes. While the most famous dish it is used for is pasta, it is also used for meat, chicken, veggies, and fish.

Some other dishes that use regular basil are Caponata, Pasta allo scarpariello, basil pasta salad, Margherita pizza, and many more.

Regular basil is used towards the end of the cook, or just as a garnish. It tastes better that way. The Holy basil, on the other hand, is used earlier, as its taste develops from the heat in the cooking. The heat brings out more flavor from Holy basil and tastes stronger.

It is important to remember that the taste of the basil leaves changes with age. Younger leaves always taste better and they are also fresher. They are smaller in size and are found at the top of the plant.

Medicinal benefits

All varieties of basil have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-bacterial, digestion, and cognition-enhancing properties. However, the Holy basil is one step further.

Holy basil is widely used as medicine in Ayurveda since ancient times. It has a calming effect that helps the body adapt to stress and pulls people into a zen-like state of mind.

This Basil balances cortisol, which is a stress hormone that increases blood sugar.

It is also used to fight respiratory infections and ulcers, as well as to protect against radiation damage and ease grief, mood issues, and depression.

While there is not enough evidence for all the medicinal benefits that the Holy basil apparently provides, it has been used in medicines since ancient times.

Thai basil Vs Regular basil (Sweet Basil)


Can you replace Holy basil with regular basil in recipes?

Holy basil is native to Asia, especially India. It is very difficult to find Holy basil in the Western part of the world. Most western regions use regular basil or Thai basil in their food.

So if a recipe calls for Holy basil, it is very likely that it will be substituted by regular or Thai basil, even in restaurants. So Holy basil is replaced by other varieties all the time.

However, the taste profiles of Holy basil and regular basil are quite different. While you can replace it, your dish will miss the peppery taste that Holy basil brings to the dish. So it is preferred that you do not replace one for the other.

If you absolutely do have to, you have to look at the flavors of the two varieties and add or subtract other spices and condiments accordingly.

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Growth requirements

Basil thrives in a warm climate. It requires 6 to 8 hours of adequate sunlight and moist soil. The soil should be well-drained.

While basil loves moist soil, it will not grow well in waterlogged soil. It does not like the cold and will die in frost.

Holy basil is grown pretty much the same way as regular basil, only with a bit more pampering.

It needs a lot of sunlight, plenty of water and moisture, and well-drained soil. Holy basil is not fussy about extra fertilizers, it can grow just as well without any.

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Life span

Holy basil

Holy basil is a perennial herb. This means that it can live for more than a year, unlike an annual one.

If you live in a region where the winter temperature is always above 5C, you can leave your Holy basil plant outside because it will still grow. But if you live in a place where winters can get harsh, the basil will not last because it is very sensitive to the cold.

In this situation, if you want your basil plant to last for long, grow it indoors.

Regular basil

Regular basil is an annual plant. It lasts for one year or less. As long as you take good care of this plant, it will keep growing for the entire year.

Towards the end of the year, the plant will start flowering. As it flowers, it will go to seeds and dry out and finally die.

If you prune the plant regularly, it can last a bit longer than a year as well.

In conclusion, the Holy basil is a medicinal herb, while regular basil is a culinary herb. They are both used for human consumption.