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The Tulsi basil shrub can grow up to 18 inches in height and boasts stems which are covered in fine hairs. Its ovate leaves are opposite ranging from green to purple in color depending upon variety and have slightly toothed edges. The Tulsi basil plant blooms with elongated purple flowers which grow in clusters of whorls and like the leaves are highly aromatic and exude a sweet herbaceous scent. Tulsi basil offers a clove-like flavor with hints of mint, spice and musk similar to that of traditional basil only much stronger.
Tulsi basil can be found growing year-round in tropical climates.
A member of the Lamiaceae family, Tulsi basil is a perennial herb botanically known as Ocimum tenuiflorum. Also known as Holy basil and Kraphao there are four varieties of Tulsi basil; Krishna Tulsi, Rama Tulsi, Kapoor Tulsi and Vana Tulsi, each varying slightly in color, aroma and flavor. Tulsi basil is both cultivated and foraged for in the wild, predominately today for use in Aruveydic medicine as well as for religious purposes. It is also being studied for its ability to provide an inexpensive way to remove fluoride from water. Tulsi is available fresh, dried, powdered and as an essential oil which is derived from the leaves of the plant. Historically this particular variety of basil has not yet been utilized extensively as a culinary herb though some cultures and chefs have experimented with using it in lieu of traditional basil.
Tulsi basil is often used in Ayurvedic medicine where it is known as the “elixir of life” and thought to promote longevity. It has also long been used to treat an array of medical issues such as headache, stomachache, heart disease, indigestion, colds, inflammation and malaria. The highly aromatic leaves can also be used topically as an insect repellant. Oil which is extracted from the leaves of Tulsi is being studied for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to help lower blood sugar, promote healing of wounds and organs and as an adaptogenic herb aiding the body’s resistance to stress and stress related diseases. When ground up Tulsi basil produces a compound known as Eugenol which has been shown to kill breast cancer cells. Scientists at Western Kentucky University are currently studying how they can maximize the content of Eugenol produced by Tulsi basil in hopes of finding a new treatment for cancer.
The leaves of Tulsi basil are commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine and to make a tea or tincture consumed for its therapeutic properties. It can be used fresh or it can be dried, powdered and saved for future use. It can also be added to honey or ghee to infuse the liquid with the basil’s flavor and medicinal properties. In Thailand Kraphao or Thai Holy basil as it is known there is used often in stir fries, most commonly in the traditional dish known as Phat kraphao. It can be utilized in preparations calling for traditional basil though when using it as an herb, keep in mind its flavor is much more robust than that of traditional basil.
A sacred herb in India, Tulsi basil in the Hindi faith is an important religious symbol. It is thought to represent devotion to Vishnu and Krishna and can provide divine protection. All parts of the plant; the leaves, stem and even the soil it is grown in are considered sacred. Plants can be found in Hindi households and temples in planters adorned with deities. As a result of its sacred status those of Hindi faith rarely will consume the plant as food but rather tend to it with reverence and utilize it in worship. Leaves given as an offering to Vishnu may be consumed raw and a tea made of the leaves also may be given to the dying to help their soul’s transition from one world to the next. The thick stems can be cut and made into beads which are stringed and used in meditation.
Tulsi basil is native to the Indian subcontinent where it has been grown for thousands of years. In addition to India today it can be found growing in Shri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Pakistan and Southern China. Rarely found fresh in the commercial market place in the United Sates, Tulsi basil can be found in specialty stores sold as a medicinal tea. In Sanskrit Tulsi translates to, “the sacred one”. The Tulsi basil plant will thrive in warm to hot climates and prefers moist soil and at least three hours of full sun exposure a day. Like many other herbs flowers should be plucked off to prevent the herb from going to seed prematurely.
Recipes that include Tulsi Basil. One is easiest, three is harder.
|Masala Herb||Tulsi Syrup|
|The Secret Formula||Adrak-Tulsi ki Chai (Ginger-Basil Tisane)|