Tulsi, The Sacred Basil
by Anne-Sophie Eckert
“Wherever Tulsi grows there is no misery. She is the holiest of the holy. Wherever the breeze blows her fragrance there is purity”
- Padma Purana 24.2.
If you like being enchanted by the fragrance of aromatic herbs such as peppermint, you'll certainly love Tulsi. Tulsi is the Sanskrit name of a plant which belongs to the basil family ('Lamiaceae'), which originated in north India and now grows throughout southeast Asia.
Tusli's aroma is very different from its cousin the 'basilicum' herb, known in the West through Italian cuisine. The fresh leaves of Tulsi spread a strong, sweet, and warming aroma and when the plant has dried, it takes a peculiar clove-like smell and taste.
The Latin name for Tulsi, Ocimum Sanctum, celebrates its unique aroma: Ocimum comes from the Greek word 'Ozo' which means smell and Sanctum meaning holy or sacred.
In English, Tusli has many translations including "Holy Basil", "The Incomparable One" and "The Queen of Herbs".
After exploring the divine origin of Tulsi, we will discover the unique properties of this long-time used medicinal herb and consider its usage in our daily modern life.
A Divine Origin
Holy Basil has been worshipped since the Vedic period, it is often regarded as a manifestation of the God Vishnu himself.
There are many stories as to how Tulsi came into being. The very name Tulsi refers to a Hindu goddess thought to be the incarnation of Lakshmi, wife of Vishnu, and a symbol of the Divine Mother.
Ayurvedic texts refer to Holy Basil as Rasayana: a natural substance which has the ability to rejuvenate and which promotes longevity. This capacity is said to spring from the fact that Holy Basil possesses ‘Sattvic” energy, bringing harmony and purity.
Every part of the Tulsi plant is considered sacred, including the leaves, stem, flower, root, seeds, and the oil. It is common to find Tulsi planted in the centre of a courtyard of a house in India.
Tulsi is further integrated into daily life through rituals and other spiritual and purification practices that can involve ingesting its leaves or consuming Tulsi tea.
Tulsi is known as an “adaptogen,” this refers to the ability of the herb to adapt to a stressed environment. Basically, Tulsi protects the body from toxin-induced damages and promotes homeostasis, a process by which the physiological body reaches balance.
The hot and pungent qualities of the herb allow its penetration to the deep tissues against chemical and industrial pollutants.
For this reason, Tulsi has also been used in cities to combat air pollution. In Agra for example, hundreds of thousands of Tulsi plants were planted around the Taj Mahal to help protect the building from environmental damage.
In Ayurveda, Tulsi is regarded as a kind of ‘elixir of life’ and its diverse healing properties have been used for thousands of years.
A Herbal Remedy
From its leaves to its seed, Holy Basil is used for treating a wide range of conditions including the common cold, headaches, cough, flu, fever, urinary disorders, skin diseases, arthritis, and digestive disorders.
A tea of Tulsi leaves acts on the respiratory system; the pungent and penetrating nature of the herb clears mucus from the lungs and the upper respiratory tract. It is also used to combat fevers and the flu, as it encourages sweating and lowers body temperature
The light quality of Tulsi clears obstructions of the nerve channels. At the same time, it has a calming effect on the nervous system. This is why Tulsi can be used As it to reduce stress and anxiety and enhance mental clarity.
According to Ayurveda, Tulsi is a warming herb and therefore has the effect of pacifying both Vata and Kapha doshas. It is also fine for Pitta people to use Tulsi as long as they have Pitta Dosha in balance!
A Holistic Herb
In Ayurveda, Tulsi is revered as a herb without an equal, due to its medicinal and spiritual properties.
According to ancient Ayurvedic wisdom, Tulsi helps with purification of the mind and the spirit. It is said to aid the release of deep-seated emotions, such as grief and sadness lodged in the heart and chest area and to help with Moksha or liberation.
The herb is linked to the element of Space and allows for more connection with universal wisdom and cosmic consciousness.
Like yoga, Tulsi has a sattvic effect that leads to clarity of thought, along with a more relaxed and calm disposition. Tulsi is therefore a great alternative to caffeine-containing beverages such as coffee and tea, which may cause physical and mental agitation. Regular consumption of Tulsi tea may be compared to the regular practice of yoga, which can nurture and nourish the body, the mind and the spirit.
From a Vedic astrology standpoint, Holy Basil is linked to the planet Mercury. This planet is related to peace of mind, earnings, intellect, education and business.
If you are curious about how Tulsi can help with your health and wellbeing, it is best to consult an Ayurveda Practitioner first. Although Holy Basil is perfectly safe when consumed in moderate doses, taking large doses or using Tulsi for prolonged periods may have negative side effects, such as affecting your fertility. It is advised to reduce one’s intake to a bare minimum when attempting to conceive and to cease consumption during pregnancy and lactation. Furthermore, it is advised to be very cautious while taking Tulsi in high Pitta conditions without other cooling herbs to counterbalance its effects. High Pitta conditions notably include excessive hunger or perspiration, burning sensations, and bleeding disorders.
Because of its wide-spread healing and spiritual usage, it is wise to consume Tulsi properly and consciously.
You can grow the plant yourself under warm conditions (the use of a greenhouse can be useful in Northern Europe). Once the plant has grown, take the leaves, wash them, dry them under the sun, and grind them into small pieces. Use this powder to make tea and enjoy. It is best to avoid adding milk to Tulsi tea.
A great combination that works on digestive issues is Tulsi with ginger, fennel and cardamom.
This blog was written by a student in our Ayurveda Practitioner Studies degree programme. If you are interested in becoming an Ayurveda Practitioner or want to deepen your professional knowledge, skills, and experience in the field of Ayurveda - see our website here.
Anne-Sophie is an Ayurveda Practitioner Training student at Delight Academy. She also is also a lawyer, a dancer, and a yogini. She has lived in France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and has now settled in the Netherlands with her son and partner. Her aspiration is to spread the beautiful wisdom of Ayurveda and collaborate with students and practitioners all around the world. She has been finding inspiration in Vedic sciences and philosophy including Yoga, Vedanta, Vedic Astrology, and Ayurveda.