Known as the “queen of all herbs, ” the use of Tulsi, or holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) reaches back thousands of years as one of the most important Ayurvedic herbs and is now receiving renewed praises for its qualities. This amazing herb, with it’s many varieties continues to offer so much healing on a multitude of levels. Tulsi is growing in popularity these days, now being distributed throughout the world as a tea, yet let’s explore this beautiful plant more deeply and discover even more of it’s beneficial uses and healing potential that you might not know about!
There are three main commonly recognized varieties of Tulsi: Krishna, Rama and Vana Tulsi. The Krishna Tulsi has a deep purple color with rounded leaves. This variety has particular spiritual value, being planted around most temples in India and actually worshipped. Vana Tulsi looks just like Krishna Tulsi except it is totally green. This variety can be seen growing wild all around India and is also known as “wild forest holy basil.” When I was staying with a family in India, which all happened to be medical doctors, they would collect this wild tulsi as well as neem leaves from their own land, dry it, powder it and mix in warm water for a powerful and natural antiseptic mouth/throat gargle. The third common variety is Rama Tulsi, which has more pointed leaves and looks more like basil, with purple and green flowers, but its still distinctively very spicy smelling and tasting. This type is commonly used for distilling the essential oil. The bees love these flowers and they are wonderful to infuse in water to flavor and enhance medicinal value. All Tulsi is quite easy to grow and can be found to propagate itself when the seeds drop from the flowers!
The basil genus Ocimum, native to tropical and subtropical Africa and Asia, contains up to 150 species, and has long been revered world wide for its flavorful, aromatic and medicinal qualities. This can be attributed to the array of oils and other chemical compounds, which are especially high in Tulsi. 1, 8 Cineol, also known as Eucalyptol (also found in eucalyptus, cannabis and common sage), is beneficial for the respiratory tract, easing headaches and even repelling insects. Another compound found in tulsi, Eugenol, which can also be found in cinnamon and clove, has antiseptic and analgesic properties-effective against prevalent bacterial strains such as E. coli and Streptococcus as well as simply helping ease the pain of a toothache. Tulsi essential oil, which contains these compounds I’ve mentioned plus more, is very uplifting and clarifying. It smells like a combination of basil and cinnamon, and is fantastic in an oil diffuser for the house because it will also help clear the air of harmful microbes!
The ancients knew about the healing properties of Tulsi and now modern scientific research has classified Tulsi as an Adaptogenic herb, beneficial for immune system, balancing of hormones, protecting against free-radicals with anti-oxidant properties, treating cancer and radiation exposure as well protection from fluoride exposure. Scientists are now extracting ursolic acid from Tulsi for applications its many biological applications, including fighting cancer. Krishna Tulsi is especially high in phenolic compounds which act as powerful anti-oxidants, due to the higher amount of anthocyanin pigments.
Tulsi has unique spiritual significance especially in India, being the most important plant to Hindus, found in every household and around every temple. Not only are it’s healing properties revered in the ancient Ayurvedic texts, being considered a divya aushadhi (divine herb), it is widely worshipped as a deity. There are many wonderful Indian stories to be explored about Tulsi’s origin. Some people lovingly call the plant “Tulsi Devi” because “she” is believed to be an incarnation of the goddess Lakshmi, bringer of health and prosperity. It is used in puja (devotional rituals) with the leaves of tulsi being put in the blessed water the medicinal and purifying qualities it contains. Offerings of Tulsi are made especially to Lord Vishnu and his incarnations. The childhood home of Krishna, Vrindavan, is actually named after the wild and beloved Tulsi groves that thrive there and just one leaf of Tulsi is believed to be a supreme offering to Lord Krishna. Japa mala beads made of tulsi wood are believed to bring a Sattvic and cooling energy to the one wearing and using them. It is said that just being around the Tulsi plant is beneficial for ones health and well being.
Tulsi is here to serve us in a variety of ways and I am grateful to see that it is becoming more widely grown, known and appreciated for the inherent values it possesses. I encourage you too to get to know “her, ” grow her if you are able to and invite her many blessings into your life. Aloha!