Tulasi -The Holy Basil

The herb of basil is considered as a sacred plant in Hinduism. Found in almost all Hindus’ houses, the holy basil is mandatorily planted in and around Hindu shrines.
The Sanskrit term tulasi literally means ‘the incomparable or unmatched’. In Hindu culture Tulsi Vivaah is the ceremonial wedding of the holy plant) to the Hindu God Vishnu or (his Avatar) Lord Krishna.

The herbal plant has pleasant aroma and innumerable medical benefits due to what it is one of the precious herbs as described in Ayurvedic pharmacopeia texts such as Bhavaprakash and Dhanvantari Nighantu.

Scientific Classification:
Latin: Ocimum tenuiflorum/sanctum/basilicum
Family: Lamiaceae
Synonyms: Tulasi, Tulsi, Basilic Sacré, Surasa (as its essence is used in worshipping rituals or rites; ‘rasa’ means the juice or the essence, ‘su’ stands for goodness), Gramya (as it used to be planted in every village; gramya in Sanskrit means ‘belonging to village’), and Sacred Basil etc. (Source: DravyaGuna Vigyana by Dr. Priyavritta Sharma, An Ayurvedic Text Book)

Medicinal Values:
The whole plant of holy basil (all parts like stem, leaves, and flowers etc.) possesses medicinal values. It has proven properties of antibacterial1, genoprotection for genotoxicity2, radioprotection3, and anti-hyperlipidemic for cardio-protection4.

Pale yellowish oil found in the seeds of the holy basil possesses anti-inflammatory and anti-histaminic action5. Also, a research on Ocimum sanctum to know its biological activities show that the plant has potent antipyretic (preventing or alleviating the fever) properties5. Furthermore, the holy basil has been prescribed by ancient folk practitioners to cure various types of ulcers due to its anti-ulcer activity as a combination of antisecretory, antagonistic and anti inflammatory action5.

The best way to use tulasi as medicine is taking its juice (or essence) from the leaves. Juice from the holy basil leaves can be taken PO (per os, by mouth) and also used topically for several skin problems such as irritation due to insect bites. The topical use of holy basil juice is due to its powerful insecticidal properties. It is rubbed onto the skin as natural repellent for insects.

Tulasi is also widely used in cosmetic products such as soaps, shampoos, hair oils, face packs, hair packs and skin cream to improve the hair and skin texture. Also, in toothpastes, the extracts of holy basil are used for maintaining healthy gums and teeth.

Holy basil (Tulasi) in Culture and Cooking

The sacred basil is an integral part of all the rites performed for worshipping Indian Gods. During poojas (Indian ritual to worship the god with diyas), the basil leaves are put in water to make it holy. This water is sprinkled around with the belief that it makes the place sacred by destroying the evil spirit and negative energy. Also, the holy water of basil is given to everyone at the end of religious rite as prasadam.

The herb of tulasi in Indian cooking has its own importance. Putting herb in various dishes and drinks not only betters the recipe in aroma and taste but also turns it into a healthy diet. Tulasi alone or some time along with other spices and herbs is put in teas and decoctions to clear mild to moderate respiratory tract infections such as tonsillitis, sore throat, pharyngitis, laryngitis and xenophonia (hoarseness of the voice) and even in pneumonia. The action is believed to happen because of volatile substances found in holy basil that possess anti-cough, anti histamine, anti-tussive and antibacterial properties6.

Tulasi is one of those unique herbs, recipe of which can be modified according to the health ailments. Said this, the leaves of holy basil can be cooked with other herbs and spices as per the signs and symptoms. Let us take two examples with holy basil as common ingredient but two different dishes indicated in allergic problems and abdominal discomfort respectively.

The holy basil raita (an Indian side dish of yoghurt and other ingredients) for allergic problems:-
Sacred basil leaves: approximately 20 in number
Finely chopped onion: 4 tablespoons
Cumin seed powder: 1 teaspoon
Rock Salt: 1/4th teaspoon
Yoghurt: Half a cup
Coriander and Mint Leaves for dressing
Method: Mix basil leaves and onion well and keep aside for 10 minutes. Add yoghurt, rock salt and cumin seed powder and mix well again. Dress it with coriander and mint leaves while serving.

The holy basil rasam: In South Indian states, holy basil is widely used in complexly made dish called rasam that is served with white or brown rice, the staple food of South Indian states. The main ingredients of rasam are mashed toor (thoor) daal, holy basil leaves, tamarind paste, turmeric, green chili, tomato, asafetida and mustard. It can be taken as healthy soup as indicated in indigestion, abdominal discomfort and flatulence.

Where get Tulasi?
In America, the best source of getting tulasi plant is from Hindu shrine places like temples (ISKCON Temples  in USA for example). Also, you can contact Indian houses and stores to get the seeds to plant. Or, as a final resort, you can purchase tulasi seeds or plants online (such as on HorizonHerbs.com). The plant does not require much attention as keeping seeds in a pot with little fertilizer and black soil and watering them daily will get you a healthy holy basil plant in a few months.

Readymade tulasi teas in the form of green teas are available in supermarket that you can ask at the counter. And if you want tulasi pills, you can place an order online for single herb Tulasi as manufactured by many renowned herbaceuticals (herbal pharmaceuticals) like Himalaya Healthcare.

1.  www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18928141
2.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3052594/
3.  http://maciej.bioinfo.pl/pmid/journal/Pharm%20Biol
4.  http://www.biomedsearch.com/nih/Anti-hyperlipidemic-cardioprotective-effects-Ocimum/21305853.html
5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17569280
6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19597641

Author: Dr Maulik Vyas

I am a holistic Doctor with 10 yr of experience in medical/health and wellness industry. Also, I am a professional content writer with 1000s of articles published across the web. I'm available for content writing, natural treatment consultancy, business ideas about healthcare/wellness industry. I am the proprietor of company named Mouls Incorporation.


  1. nice article on Tulsi, Tulsi is really one of the best herb for cold, cough related problems, I always use tulsi when suffering from cold, cough or tonsillitis. Simply chewing tulsi leaves help in removing mouth odour too..

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