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Tulsi – Ocimum sanctum

holy basilLast spring I started seeds inside to get a jump-start on the growing season. When I planted the healthy seedlings out the first week of June, the weather consisted of downpour, near-freezing temperatures overnight, and incredible winds that smacked my innocent seedlings around with no pity. None of the fifteen or so different species made it. Needless to say, I was heartbroken. I made another go with direct seeding, with varying degrees of success; zinnia, globe amaranth, chickweed, sunflower, teasel, elecampane, wild carrot germinated while the light-dependent germinators like tobacco, zahir poppy, foxglove, figwort, evening primrose, bee balms and holy basil did not.

Then while weeding the gardens in the middle of summer, I stumbled upon an uplifting surprise–holy basil! It was hiding underneath a canopy of bee balm and overgrown lamb’s quarters. Some how it made it through six weeks of gardening before I noticed it. Did it shoot up fairly recently? Or has it been there the whole time and I never payed attention? However baffling it may be, it is very welcomed.

Mmm…the aroma of tulsi is sublimely spicy and complex, yet hits the nose in a clear way. I use the names Tulsi and holy basil equally,but the plant is the same; Ocimum sanctum. Like the common kitchen herb basil, holy basil is in the Lamiacea or mint family originating from India and growing through Indo-China (southern China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Thailand) (Winston, 168). It looks a little like basil, with serrated leaf edges and the pinkish-purple flowers. There are a few different varieties of holy basil, the one I chose from Horizon Herbs was rama tulsi because it is a more cold-hardy.

Tulsi has been (and still is) used in Ayurveda for as long as we know, which is at least three thousand years (168).

“Holy basil is sacred to the Hindu god Vishnu and is used in morning prayers to insure personal health, spiritual purity, and family well-being. String of beads made from the plant’s stems are used in meditation to give clarity and protection. The ancient ayruvedic texts, the Charaka Samhita (approx. 100 BCE) and Sushruta Samhita (400-100 BCE) both mention the use of this herb to treat people with snakebites and scorpion stings.” (168).

Tulsi is an adaptogenic herb, enhancing the body’s ability to respond to stress of all kinds (or non-specific stress). In particular, tulsi promotes a sense of mental clarity and calmness. Winston describes its medicinal actions as: adaptogenic, antimicrobial, antidepressant, antioxidant, carminative, diuretic, expectorant, glactogogue, radioprotective, stress-reducing and supporting the immune system. There are numerous studies on holy basil which are all interesting in their own right. I suggesting reading Winston’s Adaptogens book for those of you who, like myself, are intrigued by scientific studies.

To summarize an herb with so many medicinal actions isn’t always possible, but there are some ways , holy basil is an adapotgenic herb well-suited for treating the mental and emotional body, at least in my opinion. Winston uses holy basil for reducing a “mental fog” and “stagnant depression” when people cannot seem to move past an event or trauma that brought them down. Holy basil makes a worthy addition to just about any uplifting/antidepressant or memory tea or tincture blend.

Here is my one of my favorite teas with holy basil, used for seasonal depression:

  • 2 parts Holy basil
  • 2 parts Lemon balm
  • 1 part Rosemary
  • 1 part St. John’s wort
  • 1/2 part Rose hips
  • 1/2 part Hibiscus
  • 1/2 part Fennel seeds


Winston, David. Adaptogens, Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief.

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