Tulsi Plants

Overview

Tulsi basil (Ocimum sanctum) is a special species in the same genus that includes sweet basil and the scented basils such as cinnamon basil, lemon basil and Thai basil, or anise flavored basil. Tulsi is clove scented and has been known and used in India for centuries, where it is sacred to those of the Hindu faith. It is often called "holy" basil. A study conducted in 1991, which was reported in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology, reported that Tulsi was effective in reducing stress in test subjects.

History and Description

Native to India, Tulsi basil has been grown around temples for centuries, where it is said to provide relief for thirst among weary travelers who happen upon it. Tulsi leaves are still used in worship in India, and an old Indian healing text reported, "Even the soil under the Tulsi plant is holy." It was introduced into Europe in the 16th century. In India and other subtropical and tropical climates, Tulsi is a perennial shrub, but in temperate climates, it is grown as an annual. It's similar in appearance to the familiar sweet basil---its leaves are slightly smaller, its stems are often tinged with purple and its scent is like that of cloves. Flower spikes with many small purple flowers emerge from the plant in mid summer.

Types of Tulsi

Several cultivars of Tulsi basil exist---some look quite different from the others, because they belong to different species. The three main varieties of Tulsi are Rama, Krishna and Vana. Rama Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) has green stems and leaves. Krishna belongs to the same species as Rama and has stems and leaves with a purple tint. Vana (Ocimum gratissimum) is a wild variety that has not changed under cultivation. Tulsi is a plant that adapts itself to many different environments, and its appearance can differ depending on the soil, rainfall and other conditions in which it lives.

How to Grow Tulsi

Tulsi basil is easy to grow from seeds. Finding a young plant might be a little tricky unless you have a good specialty nursery in your area, or perhaps an herb garden that propagates this plant. Scatter seeds in a nursery pot or flat filled with any standard potting soil, and then cover them with a small amount of soil. Water gently but thoroughly and place your pot in a sunny location. Expect germination in about one week. When young plants are 3 to 4 inches tall, transplant them to a sunny spot in the garden. After they're established, they require little water. Tulsi plants will self-sow and often reward you with new plants the following spring.

How to Use Tulsi as a Medicine

Tulsi basil is classifed as an "adaptogen," meaning that it is appropriate for use as a daily tonic. Claims state that it is good for whatever ails the human body and that it can help to maintain good health. The easiest, most common method of preparing Tulsi basil is to make a tea. The flowering tops are especially tasty and contain much of the plant's essential oils, so snip off two or three flower spikes, chop them into ½ inch lengths, drop them into a teacup and then pour boiling water over them. Strain and enjoy your tea with honey, sugar, lemon or other additives of your choice.

Harvesting and Storing Tulsi

It's best to snip off the flower spikes of Tulsi basil to encourage the plant to become bushy and to continue growing as long as possible. Because the flower tops are rich in essential oils and nutrients, you can use the ones you clip off in teas or tinctures. When the plant is at the end of its annual life cycle in the fall, pull up the entire plant and hang it to dry in a warm, dark, dry, well-ventilated place such as a garage. Strip the dried leaves and flowers off the stems and store them in plastic zipper bags or glass jars with lids that seal to keep out all air.

Keywords: tulsi basil, Ocimum sanctum, holy India

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi‘iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Barbara wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, GardenGuides.com and eHow.com. She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.