Holy Basil or Tulsi are names for the Ocimum tenuiflorum plant, also sometimes given the scientific name Ocimum sanctum. Native to and widespread in tropical regions of Asia, the holy basil plant has a long history of cultivation and use both as a medicinal plant, a seasoning, and as an herbal tea.
Aroma and Qualities of Holy Basil Tea:
Holy basil is highly aromatic and produces a rich and full-bodied herbal tea. Upton Tea Imports describes tulsi tea in their catalog as having a complex and spicy character, and compares the aroma to anise, pepper, citrus, cinnamon, mint, clove, and spice. Tulsi tea is caffeine-free and is usually described as having a calming or relaxing effect, and is widely used as a general remedy for stress.
According to Mountain Rose Herbs, a company that sells an organic loose-leaf variety of the herb, tulsi is classified into three varieties: Krishna, a purple-leafed variety, Rama, the most common and green-leafed variety, and Vana, a wild variety growing naturally in forests. The names Krishna and Rama refer to the Hindu deities, whereas Vana means forest. A different cultivated variety, usually called kha phrao or Thai Holy basil, is used as a seasoning in Thai cuisine. This plant is a different species from the usual Thai Basil, which is a variety of sweet basil.
Effects & Health Benefits:
Tulsi has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine, a form of traditional medicine originating in India. Modern herbalists have begun to discuss holy basil as an adaptogen, a plant safe for general consumption that has a stabilizing effect on the body’s systems and a positive effect on overall health. The scientific research on tulsi is relatively young and much of it is not conclusive, but there is a growing body of evidence that points towards a number of health benefits and seems to support the view that holy basil is good for overall health. Like tea and many other plants, tulsi is rich in antioxidants. Other benefits with some scientific evidence supporting them include antiviral activity, stimulation of the immune system, protection against liver damage, prevention and treatment of cancer, and protection of damage caused by stress, among others.
Precautions & Risks:
Although holy basil tea is generally safe for regular consumption as a beverage, there are a few points of concern. If grown in polluted area, the plant can accumulate potentially dangerous levels of chromium, a toxic heavy metal. Knowing the source of your herbs, and buying organic herbs when possible, or growing your own, is thus important.
There is also some evidence that tulsi may slow blood clotting, similarly to aspirin. The tea should be used with caution whenever slow blood clotting could be problematic, such as during pregnancy, or for people undergoing surgery.
Growing Holy Basil / Tulsi:
Tulsi is easy to grow in a sunny location. It will grow as a perennial in tropical and mild climates, but can be grown as an annual in colder regions.