Tulsi is growing in popularity in herbalist and culinary circles. Many people advocate the use of Tulsi for its Ayurvedic and purported medicinal effects. With its recent rise in use in the West many people are curious to learn more about the plant.
Tulsi is in the Kingdom Plantae, Division Magnoliophyta and Class Magnoliopsida. It is in the Lamiales order and the Lamiaceae family. It is a member of the Ocimum genus and the O. tenuiflorum species. Tulsi's scientific name "Ocimum Sanctum" is derived from some people's belief that Tulsi has divine qualities. "Sanctum" is the Latin word for divine or holy.
History -- Mythology
Tulsi is an enigmatic plant, originally from South Asia, with a history as old as mythology itself. Many devout Hindus have a Tulsi plant growing outside their front door. This commemorates the rejection the goddess Lakshmi suffered from the god Vishnu. In despondency over her unrequited love, Lakshmi turned herself into a healing herb just outside Vishnu's door. To this day some Hindus believe Tulsi to be a physical incarnation of the goddess and pray to it each morning to ensure the health of friends and family. Tulsi is so revered that it is placed on the lips of the dying to give them sustenance in their transition to the next life. This sacred plant is sometimes called "Holy Basil" in English, or by the royal moniker, "Queen of the Herbs."
Tulsi is most commonly consumed as an herbal tea, though it is also used in cooking. Cooks in Thailand have used the herb in their dishes for hundreds of years, calling it Kraphao, or "Thai Holy Basil." The three varieties of Tulsi -- Vana, Rama, and Vishnu -- are each named after a Hindu deity. Each variety has its own distinctive color and flavor.
Though Western medicine is just beginning to delve into the effects of Tulsi, some preliminary research, primarily in India, indicates that it could be useful in regulating blood sugar, assisting in liver and kidney health and preventing and mitigating the effects of malaria. Practitioners also apply it as a paste to treat ringworm or other skin ailments. Herbalists in the West use it as an "adaptogen," an agent to soothe stress levels.