"Tulasi is a gentle female energy, a sweet little goddess, and should be treated like the queen she is – the queen of medicinal plants. For she is also a plant of power, a powerful lady, a friend, a physician and an ally." -Swami Vibhooti Saraswati
Tulsi, or Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum/sanctum) is an herb to consider for your garden or stoop containers this spring. Tulsi is a secret weapon of sorts for many herbalists and tea companies. I admit that the taste of some herbs is less wonderful than their properties. However, the intoxicatingly sweet fragrance of holy basil is enough to convert any herb skeptic.
Tulsi is native to India, and is cultivated widely throughout the middle east and southeast Asia. Hindus believe Tulsi is the goddess Lakshmi manifested as a plant, possessing great spiritual power. Many Hindu tales are told about tulsi. According to one story, "No amount of gold could outweigh Krishna's power, but a single Tulsi leaf placed on the pan in loving devotion tilted the scale" (Organic India). Today, Indian families still grow tulsi in a clay pot in their home or garden. Many use its leaves to make tea, while others simply honor its sacredness and grow it for protection.
Holy basil is closely related to the sweet basil many Americans know and love (Ocimum basilicum). However, tulsi possesses unique properties that sweet basil does not. In Indian Ayurvedic medicine, tulsi is a rasayana-- an herb that supports longevity and excellent health. In western lingo, studies confirm that tulsi is indeed an adaptogen, supporting energy levels and moderating the body's stress response. Studies have demonstrated its ability to slow the release of corticosterone levels. Keeping these stress hormones at bay helps our body stay out of chronic "fight or flight" mode. This can help to normalize circulation, digestion, weight, immunity, and more.
Due to their support and nourishment of many body systems, adaptogens are commonly paired with chemotherapy and radiation cancer treatments. Adaptogens can offset side-effects of treatment, such as nausea and immune suppression. Tulsi offers the added benefit of radiation protection for the liver, as demonstrated by research. Check out my related article on Fu Zheng Pei Ben here. Talk to your doctor and an herbalist before using adaptogens with cancer treatments.
Like many mint family plants, tulsi's volatile oils support both digestion and mental clarity/relaxation. Studies demonstrate its neuroprotective properties, and many herbalists use tulsi to improve memory and depression. It can also used as an antimicrobial expectorant for bronchial congestion, colds and more.
Lucky for us, holy basil is as easy to grow as other basils. Western NYers will find tulsi seedlings at Lockwood's Greenhouse for the first time this year! Seeds can also be found at Lockwoods, or online for those who live far away.
Holy basil is a highly safe herb. Enjoy its flavor casually in summer beverages and cocktails, or use the tincture, tea, infused honey, etc. daily for the benefits described above.
According to several publications, tulsi's liver-supportive properties may speed up CYP-450 activity. This would also speed the excretion of medications processed via this pathway. If you are taking a medication, talk to your doctor before using tulsi medicinally. Using a few leaves or flowers to occasionally flavor your beverage is safe.