Tulasi is regarded as the greatest heritage holy plant in India. It is an aromatic perennial shrub that is widely cultivated in Tamil Nadu and other parts of India. Ocimum tenuiflorum – as the herb is botanically known – is considered “The Queen of Herbs.”
Tulasi is a small, erect, branched herb growing from 30 to 100 cm (1 to 3 feet) tall. It is pleasing to the eye, clove scented, sweet and spicy, pungent, and astringent. It adds an excellent taste to tea and it is good for the control of blood pressure. Tulasi contains hundreds of beneficial compounds called phytochemicals. It also contains strong anti-oxidants and has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, adaptogenic, and immune-enhancing properties.
Tulasi is ubiquitous in Hindu tradition and is worshiped as an embodiment of Goddess Lakshmi. Padmapurana, an ancient 5,000-year-old healing medical text from India, states, “Leaves, flowers, fruits, root, branches, and the main stem – everything about Tulasi is sacred; even the soil under the Tulasi plant is holy.” Because it is part of the basil genus Ocimum, and because of its spiritual significance, the plant is sometimes referred to as “holy basil.”
Place of Origin
Tulasi is native to India and throughout the tropics of the Eastern Hemisphere. It has a history of more than 5,000 years in India, where it decorates temple shrines and houses.
In India, tulasi is considered to be divine. It is known as tulasi in Sanskrit, meaning “incomparable one.” Unlike other herbs that are thought to be sent by God for the utility of mankind, tulasi is considered to be an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi herself. Thus, bowing in front of tulasi is the same as bowing to the goddess. Any offering to Lakshmi would be incomplete without tulasi.
Moreover, whereas devotees of Lord Vishnu envision tulasi as Goddess Lakshmi, the devotees of Lord Rama see the herb as Goddess Sita. The worshipers of Lord Krishna consider the herb as Goddess Vrinda, Radha or Rukmani. The herb is also the incarnation of Kalyani, Vishnu Priye and Moksha. Two types of tulasi are worshiped in Hinduism: The first, Rama tulasi, has large, light green leaves. The second, Shyama tulasi, has dark green leaves and is used for the worship of Lord Hanuman.
According to the classic Hindu Purana (myth) Samudra Manthana (The Churning of Cosmic Ocean), the Devas (gods) won the churning of amrit (divine drink) contest against the Asuras (evils). Lord Vishnu emerged from the ocean carrying amrit for the Devas and shed happy tears that fell into the ocean. The tears took the form of tulasi, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu’s consort, Goddess Lakshmi.
It is said that Lord Vishnu was so impressed by the sincerity, devotion, and righteousness of Goddess Lakshmi that he blessed her with a boon that she would be worshiped by everybody in the form of tulasi. To celebrate this legend, tulasi is ceremonially married to Lord Vishnu during a festival that is conducted annually on the 11th day of the Tamil month Kaartika in the lunisolar calendar. The festival continues for five days and concludes on the day of the full moon which falls in mid-October.
Tulasi is extensively used to maintain purity. It is known as Bhutagni, the destroyer of evil spirits. Hence, it is kept for protection during death ceremonies.
Ocimum is a genus with around 35 species. It belongs to the family Lamiaceae and order Lamiales. Some of the varieties are:
Ocimum basilicum – Called sweet basil. It is used in cooking.
Ocimum americanum – Known as lime basil. It is an annual herb used for medicinal purposes.
Ocimum campechianum – It is referred to as alfavaca in Brazil. It is a plant with small leaves and it has a pungent flavor.
Ocimum gratissimum – Called clove basil, African basil and wild hazel. Its extracts and essential oils have many medicinal values.
Four forms of mainly recognized Tulasi in India are:
Krishna Tulasi (Ocimum sanctum) – with purple leaves
Rama Tulasi (Ocimum sanctum) – with purple stems
Kapoor Tulasi (Ocimum sanctum) – with green leaves
Vana Tulasi (Ocimum gratissimum)– unmodified from its wild form. It grows widely in the Himalayan region.
The herb shows great variations according to soil type, rainfall, and the place where it grows. The growing environment has an effect on the size of the plant as well as its medical strength and efficiency.
Tulasi has been used in India for more than 5,000 years in Ayurvedic medicine. The herb has been shown to have numerous beneficial effects: pharmacological, anti-microbial, anti-malarial, anti-allergic, immunomodulator, anti-stress/adaptogenic, anti-fertility, anti-diabetic and more.
Each part of the plant has therapeutic value. The leaves of the tulasi are particularly useful. They strengthen the stomach and induce copious perspiration. The leaves also cure various types of fevers. They are used for a nerve tonic and as an ingredient in many cough syrups. Chewing tulasi leaves relieves coughs and flu. Extracts of the leaves help to decrease mental stress, eventually reducing blood pressure. The leaves have also been shown to be effective in reducing fertility activity in rats and mice – arresting spermatogenesis in males and reducing the implantation of ovum in females.
Essential oil of tulasi has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral effects. It inhibits the activity of E.coli, B.anthracis, M.tuberculosis, and other pathogens. It also has larvicidal activity against Culex mosquitoes.
The herb contains adaptogens that work efficiently on stress caused by tension, emotional difficulties, poor lifestyle, disease, infection, pollution, and other factors. Tulasi is rich in anti-oxidants. It bolsters immunity, enhances stamina, provides support during cold season, promotes a healthy metabolism, and is a natural immunomodulator that balances and improves immunity in human body.
Tulasi cures cardiac diseases, reduces blood cholesterol, and relieves diarrhea and vomiting in children. It is used to treat mouth infections, skin disorders, eye disorders, teeth disorders, and headaches. Recent studies have shown that tulasi can protect against radiation poisoning and cataracts. Furthermore, it can repair cells damaged due to radiation.
The herb is used in Thai cuisine and it also acts as an insect repellent. It wards off snakes and mosquitoes through its fragrance and for that reason many people in India grow tulasi in front of their houses.
Ocimum tenuiflorum is known by the name tulasi or tulsi in India and many other Asian countries. It is well-known for its medicinal values around the globe. It is stated in Charaka Samhita, the oldest of three surviving ancient treatises of Ayurvedic medicine, that the herb is an antidote for poisons, a curative for kidney disease and arthritis, a preventative for mosquito and insect bites, and a purifier of polluted air.
During rainy seasons, drinking tulasi tea offers protection from dengue and malaria. The decoction of tulasi boiled with powdered cardamom in half a liter of water is mixed with sugar and milk. This drink should be consumed once every two hours to reduce fever.