Holy Basil (Tulsi) holds a prominent position in herbal medicine due to it’s natural healing properties. This perennial flowering plant from the mint family (Lamiaceae) is often called, “The Queen of the Herbs”. Originally, Holy Basil was grown in India, but due to demand and growing popularity, it is being cultivated worldwide, however in some climates it can only be grown as an annual. It became known as Holy Basil because of its sacred classification among those who belong to the Vaishnavite sect of Hinduism.
All parts of the plants, including the stems, are useful. It is commonly used fresh and dried for making tea, extracts, essential oils, and blended into other supplements and herbal remedies. Holy Basil can be consumed raw and added to any type of dish. It should be noted that the flavor is extreme, and may be off-putting to some. This is due to the concentration of Eugenol, or commonly called oil of clove, in the plant.
Care should be taken when sourcing Holy Basil, as there are multiple types being sold and marketed. Three types are dominant, Rama, Vana, and Krishna, and they are described in detail in the following section.
Holy Basil Types
Rama (Ocimum tenuiflorum) is the most common type of Holy Basil being marketed today. It is known for its cooling and mellow flavor, making it a favorite for tea. The plant itself has large green leaves which have a droopy look to them. The blossoms are a purplish-white and can extend above the plant for a significant length. The green to purplish stem is thick, giving it a shrub-like appearance. This type basil is very aromatic due to the concentration of eugenol found in it. It is common to India.
Krishna (Ocimum tenuiflorum) like Rama, is a tropical perennial, and gets it’s name from the blue-skinned Hindu God Krishna. It has has purple-veined green leaves in it’s early development, which later turn to a blotchy darker purple shade. The stems and blossoms are also purple. This type has a mild aroma and a crisp peppery flavor. It can be found throughout India, even in the northern areas, where it is cultivated as an annual.
Vana (Ocimum gratissimum), is a wild type of Holy Basil, found throughout the Indian continent. It can grow very large when space allows it, and it most known for its fragrance. The plant has green leaves with a jagged edge. The stems are a similar green color as the leaves and the blossoms are white. This type grows wild in Asia and Africa. It is almost always used for medicinal purposes.
There are a few other types which might come up in conversation. The Temperate or Kapoor Tulsi is cultivated in the United States, but has little medicinal value, tends to bolt, and overproduces flowers. Amrita Tulsi is a very strong perennial, yet isn’t commonly grown. It is a Rama Tulsi type.
Perceived Benefits of Holy Basil
Holy basil is an adaptogen and contains several nutrients, including vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, and zinc. Adaptogens are prized for their stress-relieving benefits. It is also rich in phytonutrients, with measurable amounts of eugenol (oil of clove), oleanolic acid, ursolic acid, rosmarinic acid, and carvacrol. It has been used homeopathically to treat symptoms in three key areas: metabolic, immune, and neurocognitive.
Some studies have supported the notion that Holy Basil can be useful for treating diabetes and blood sugar regulation, cholesterol concerns, blood pressure, weight issues, and improved overall metabolic/digestive function. Additionally, it has been used to relieve mild symptoms of asthma, through improving lung function and reducing inflammation.
It’s commonly given to help balance hormone levels and manage symptoms of mild anxiety. Additionally, it’s believed to increase energy and help overcome periods of fatigue.
Topically is is used to reduce skin and wound infections and treat acne.
Some publications may list Ocimum tenuiflorum as Ocimum sanctum or O. Sanctum – These two different Latin names are used interchangeably in botanical nomenclature.
The information provided in this article is for academic and informational purposes and should not be considered medical advice. Please consult a licensed physician, herbalist, or other medical professional, if you have questions on use, dosage, or other concerns related to Holy Basil.