What is Tulsi (Holy Basil)?


Tulsi or holy basil is a popular herb that originates from the North-central part of the Indian subcontinent. The Hindu culture considers Tulsi as sacred for its immense medicinal, mythological, and spiritual.

A mother complained to the doctor that her daughter is too lazy and lies in bed all day eating yeast and wax. And worriedly asked, “what is going to happen to her”? The doctor calmly replied, “she will rise and shine.”

Likewise, knowing about the Tulsi plant and incorporating them in your daily diet is sure to make you rise and shine with great health.

In my quest to explore and study the botanical gifts from mother nature, tulsi or holy basil holds a special place. It gives me great joy in sharing with you what I have learned.

Alternatively, if you are a person who believes in numbers more than science, did you know?

By 2023, the global basil seeds market is poised to grow by USD 92.37 million.

Therefore, in this article, I would like to share with you the knowledge about holy basil in the following lines.

  • Ocimum genus of the tulsi plant
  • Morphology – Identifying different types of basil
  • Tulsi in various medicine systems
  • Health benefits and
  • Culinary uses of Tulsi

Ocimum basilicum or Tulsi

Firstly, Ocimum basilicum, Ocimum tenuiflorum, or Ocimum sanctum are the scientific names for basil. A study gives reference to the term ‘Ocimum’ as plants known for medicinal value. They belong to the ‘Labiatae’ family known for their therapeutic potential.

‘Labiatae’ or Lamiaceae are a family of aromatic plants widely used as culinary herbs. For example basil, mentha, rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, lavender, etc.

In addition, there are several scientific names associated with different species of the tulsi family. They are, Ocimum sanctum L, Ocimum gratissimum, Ocimum canum, Ocimum basilicum, Ocimum kilimandscharium, Ocimum americanum, Ocimum camphora and Ocimum micranthum. They are cultivated in different parts of the world and are known to possess medicinal properties.

Secondly, Ocimum sanctum L. is known as ‘Tulsi’ in Sanskrit and ‘Holy Basil’ in English. ‘Tulsi’ means ‘the incomparable one.’ And is worshipped as a Goddess. It is cultivated for religious, medicinal purposes and for essential oil. Therefore Tulsi occupies emotional importance in Hindu religious traditions.

While different names have been discussed here. They could be confusing. Let me simplify it.

Ocimum genus can be classified into three popular varieties based on their distinct taste and color.

Color of Leaves Taste Name
Green Slightly sweet Rama Tulsi or ocimum Tenuiflorum
Purplish green Slightly spicy like Pepper Krishna Tulsi or Ocimum Tenuiflorum
Green Strong spicy flavor and clove scent Vana Tulsi or Ocimum Gratissimum

So, the terms basil and tulsi are reciprocally used. The soil, water, climate, and geographical conditions determine the taste, aroma, the color of leaves, and its medicinal properties. More varieties of tulsi can also be found as hybrid species are cultivated across the globe.

Morphology of plant

Tulsi is an annual or perennial shrub. A study describes its characteristics as an erect, much-branched shrub with green leaves that can grow from 30-60cms tall. Its stem is soft and has tiny hair. And flowers are small and white, which emerges from the central stem atop the plant.

In short, the entire plant, its roots, leaves, seeds, and flowers produce a strong aroma that spreads in the region where it grows. That’s why they are also called invasive plants.

Tulsi grows best in well-drained soil with the right quantity of water. Too much water could turn the leaves yellow. Having said that, it also requires ample sun and shade and fails to withstand cold temperatures.

Tulsi in Medicine system

In the Ayurvedic Medicine system, tulsi is the principal herb that is used in most of its proprietary medicines. It is considered as the “Mother Medicine of Nature” and “The Queen of Herbs,” and an “elixir of life”. Tulsi is revered for both its medicinal and spiritual properties. Ayurvedic medicines use tulsi extracts in different forms that include oils, pastes, creams, tablets, and powder.

Several studies based on Ayurveda refer to a range of conditions that tulsi is used for:

  • Anxiety, cough, asthma, diarrhea, fever, dysentery, arthritis, eye diseases, otalgia, indigestion, hiccups, vomiting, gastric, cardiac, and genito-urinary disorders, back pain, skin diseases, ringworm, insect, snake and scorpion bites and malaria.
  • A clinical study reports that tulsi is attested for multiple therapeutic actions including adaptogenic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, and immunomodulatory effects.
  • The American Botanical Council reports that Ayurveda has credited holy basil with numerous actions. They include: adaptogenic, antibacterial, antiperiodic (prevents the recurrence of disease symptoms), antipyretic/febrifuge (reduces fever), antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative (relieves intestinal gas), diaphoretic (promotes sweating), expectorant, nervine, and stimulant.

Siddha medicine is yet another traditional medicine system originating from India and has been practiced for centuries. This system also makes use of tulsi for various therapeutic purposes.

The Unani system of medicine uses the whole basil plant in dried or juice forms for preparing medicines. For example, Amenorrhea, cough, Palpitation, and weakness of the stomach are treated with basil extracts.

Based on hundreds of scientific research (including in vitro, animal, and human experiments) Western medicine reveals that tulsi possesses many pharmacological actions. To name a few, they include:

  • Antimicrobial (including antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antiprotozoal, antimalarial, anthelmintic),
  • anti-diarrheal, anti-oxidant, anti-cataract, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, cardioprotective, anti-diabetic, anti-hypercholesterolemia,
  • anti-hypertensive, analgesic, anti-allergic, immunomodulatory,
  • central nervous system depressant, memory enhancement, anti-asthmatic, anti-thyroid, anti-fertility, anti-ulcer, anti-emetic, anti-arthritic, activities.

Furthermore, another study reports mounting evidence that tulsi leaf and its extracts can address. They include physical, chemical, metabolic, and psychological stress through a unique combination of pharmacological actions.

Tulsi Purple leaves

Basil health benefits

  • A 2014 study reports that the mild spice and bitter taste of tulsi help to penetrate deep into the dry tissue secretions and normalizes phlegm and gas in the body. Moreover, daily consumption of tulsi prevents disease, promotes general physical health and mental well being.
  • It contains alkaloids, carbohydrates, fats, glycosides, phenols, proteins, saponins, tannins, and terpenes.
  • A study reports that there are forty-five compounds and oils found in basil. They include rosmarinic acid (an antioxidant), linalool, methyl chavicol, methyl cinnamate, dimethyl, and eugenol. Its medicinal effects are mostly due to rhymol, eugenol, and camphor.

Culinary Uses of Basil

The use of basil in food and beverage is widely popular in different cultures. One of the most important function of this herb is that it is very user friendly.

Infuse tulsi leaves or extracts in a hot cup of tea, use its leaves as a topping for salads, pizzas, or pasta, grind them with other spices for a delicious Italian pesto.

Likewise, tulsi or basil oil is also used either for direct consumption or can be infused in food and drinks.

Quick recap

  • Daily consumption of tulsi is said to prevent disease, promote general health, wellbeing, and longevity and assist in dealing with day to day life stress.
  • Studies report the use of basil in the treatment of arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, common cold, diabetes, fever, influenza, ulcer, and rheumatism.
  • Clinical trials on Tulsi report that it is beneficial in treating gum disease, mouth ulcers, and bad breath. This is because it fights the organisms that create tooth decay.
  • During the past decade, more than one hundred publications on Tulsi have been published. They reveal its pharmacological and wide range of therapeutic applications. It is noteworthy to mention that the WHO Monograph ( vol.2,2002) also lists the uses of basil.
  • Experimental studies on tulsi have shown that they have a positive effect in improving immunity and restoring homeostasis in the body. stress tests caused by prolonged physical exertion, exposure to cold and excessive noise have revealed these results.

The modern human community is facing physical, metabolic, and psychological stress due to poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles. The current CoronaVirus epidemic has shocked the entire world. But, let us also not forget the pandemics of obesity, diabetes, cancer, dementia, and depression.

In short, the only solution to keep ourselves protected from infections is to take individual responsibility. Make a conscious choice to adapt to a natural plant-based diet and supplements.

Now, I would like to ask you what conscious steps are you taking to keep a check on your Immunity levels?

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