Tulsi or Holy Basil
The Tulsi plant or Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum, also known as Ocimum sanctum) is an important symbol in many Hindu religious traditions. The name "Tulsi" means "the incomparable one". Tulsi or holy basil is an important symbol in the Hindu religious tradition and is worshipped in the morning and evening by Hindus at large.
Tulsi grows wild in the tropics and warm regions. Dark or Shyama (Krishna) Tulsi and Light or Rama Tulsi are the two main varieties of basil. The former possesses greater medicinal value and is commonly used for worship.
Tulsi has also been recognized by the rishis for thousands of years as a prime herb in Ayurvedic treatment. It has been traditionally used by Hindus, and now others, for its diverse healing properties. Tulsi is mentioned by Acharya Charak, in the Charak Samhita, the central teaching of Ayurvedic medicine written at least two thousand years ago, and in the Rigveda. Tulsi is considered to be an adaptogen, balancing different processes in the body, and helpful for adapting to stress. Marked by its strong aroma and astringent taste, Tulsi is regarded as a kind of "elixir of life" and believed to promote longevity.
Its aroma is distinctively different to its close cousin, the Thai Basil which is sometimes wrongly called Holy basil, in shops and on the internet, but they can be distinguished by their aroma and flavour. Holy basil is slightly hairy, whereas Thai Basil is smooth and hairless, also Holy Basil does not have the strong aniseed or licorice smell of Thai Basil; and Holy Basil has a hot, spicy flavor sometimes compared to cloves.
Tulsi as an Ayurvedic Medicine
Tulsi is used in Ayurveda. Tulsi’s extracts are used in ayurvedic remedies for common colds, headaches, stomach disorders, inflammation, heart disease, various forms of poisoning, and malaria. Traditionally, tulsi is taken in many forms: as an herbal tea, dried powder, fresh leaf, or mixed with ghee. Essential oil extracted from Karpoora Tulsi is mostly used for medicinal purposes and in herbal toiletry. For centuries, the dried leaves of Tulsi have been mixed with stored grains to repel insects.
Recent studies suggest that Tulsi may be a COX-2 inhibitor, like many modern painkillers, due to its significant amount of Eugenol (1-hydroxy-2-methoxy-4-allylbenzene). Studies have also shown Tulsi to be effective for diabetes, by reducing blood glucose levels. The same study showed significant reduction in total cholesterol levels with Tulsi. Another study showed that Tulsi's beneficial effect on blood glucose levels is due to its antioxidant properties.
Tulsi also shows some promise for protection from radiation poisoning and cataracts. Some Vaishnavites do not use Tulsi for medicine, though, out of reverence. However, the use of Tulsi for purification and as a medicine is widespread throughout India. Many Hindus - along with the ancient tradition of Ayurveda - believe that the healing properties of sacred herbs such as Tulsi were given by the Lord himself, and can be used as a medicine out of reverence.