Every culture and religion grows in the shadow of its own beliefs and practices and despite of enormous progress in the field of science and technology, these rudimentary beliefs cannot be challenged. In India ‘Tulsi’ or Holy Basil as it is known worldwide is a revered plant which is thought to be an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth). A plant of the Holy Basil was planted in every Hindu home and is still carried on by many hindus. The leaves of this plant are offered to Lord Krishna who is said to have special fondness to them in the morning prayers. Mythologically, it is believed that having a ‘Tulsi’ plant is a symbol of spiritual purity, compassion, love and freedom and promotes family well-being and health. Modern research on Holy Basil has concluded that it is one of the highest oxygen giving plants. So both ways having a Holy Basil at your doorstep is indeed advantageous to your mental and physical health. Apart from the lowland stretches of India, this plant is also found in abundance in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar, Thailand, Southern China and Malaysia.
What are the different varieties of Holy Basil?
The Holy Basil grows in wilderness especially in warm, tropical conditions. There are three varieties of this plant:
Sri Rama Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) having green leaves is the most common.
Krishna Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) having purplish or dark green leaves with very strong smell and taste.
Vana Tulsi (Ocimum gratissimum ) with mild green colored leaves that usually grow in forests.
All the three varieties of Holy Basil are rich in essential oils such as carvacol, eugenol, linalool, methylleugenol and caryophylline. Other health benefiting tri-terpenes namely flavonoids and ursolic acids are also present in this plant. The plant also constitutes various types of phyotochemicals.
What is the significance of Holy Basil in Indian history?
There is one branch of wisdom in India which believes that sages and saints in those days were worried about the irresponsible cutting down of trees and were afraid that if these activities were not controlled the various health benefitting herbs and trees could become extinct. So as to preserve this natural treasure they attached certain mythological stories to different plants and trees. Due to this these plants are still cared for and have sustained in the subcontinent. That the ancients knew about the medicinal value of Tulsi is evident from the information found in the two revered health texts from ancient India- Charaka Samhita (around 200 BCE) and Sushruta Samhita (400 to 100 BCE). The use of strings of beads prepared from the Holy Basil stems were thought to provide protection and clarity and helped in concentrating during meditation. The ‘mala’ of these beads is still worn by many traditional Hindus for spiritual and health purposes.
How to grow Holy Basil or Tulsi plant?
If you are interested in growing Holy Basil:
Take a nursery flat or rounded pot and fill it with a mixture of soil and little sand to allow proper drainage. It is important that you start this activity in the first part of spring.
Scatter the seeds on the surface of the soil, tap them lightly and sprinkle some soil above them. Lightly pour water to make the soil moist.
Since this plant requires regular sunlight, it should be kept at a spot that receives sunlight for 6 to 7 hours everyday. Make sure to water regularly.
Once the seeds germinate, thin them apart and re-plant them with a good amount of distance.
If you want to increase the width of the Tulsi bush, pinching the flowery tops induces more leaf growth. These flower tops need not be thrown away as they can be used to flavor teas.
What are the medical conditions for which Holy basil can be used??
Spiritual benefits: Holy Basil is credited to possess sattva (pure energy) and hence its regular intake helps to balance the energies of seven chakras in our body and evoke the qualities of goodness and virtuosity in human being. The Hindu puranas believe that all the parts of the plant –leaves, flowers, roots and seeds are equally beneficial for the sanctity of mind.
Clean lungs: Tea made by brewing Holy Basil leaves is used for treating bronchitis and bronchial mucus as an expectorant. Dried and powdered Holy Basil leaves are used for nasal congestion as snuff and earaches due to cold are treated by pouring fresh juice of Holy Basil.
Stomach upset: It is also used for combating symptoms of vomiting, stomach upset and biliousness.
Malaria Fever: Roots of this plant are very effective in lowering malarial fevers. A poultice of fresh leaves and roots of Holy Basil is beneficial in reducing the pain caused by stings of bees, mosquitoes, wasps, leeches and ants.
Urinary infections: The seeds of Holy Basil in grounded form are used to soothe the pain in urinary tract during urination.
Headaches: In Thailand, the plant is known by the name of Bai gkarprow or kaphrao daeng and is used for treating different ailments such as ulcers, gas, intestinal cramps, influenza, colds, coughs, sinusitis and headaches.
Snakebites: The leaves extract is used since ancient times to treat snakebites.