By Jonathan Rigden

Tulsi, commonly known as holy basil, is growing in popularity in medicinal and culinary circles. It has been used for centuries in India to flavor recipes as well as to help treat disease. Buttt, the secret is out! Western cultures are growing more and more curious about this plant and its extraordinary potential.

Holy basil In human hands
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Scientific Classification

Tulsi belongs to the Kingdom Plantae, Division Magnoliophyta and Class Magnoliopsida. It is in the Lamiales Order and the Lamiaceae, or mint family. It is a member of the Ocimum, basil, genus and the tenuiflorum species. Tulsi's scientific name Ocimum sanctum comes from the belief that Tulsi has divine qualities. In Latin, "sanctum" means divine or holy.

History & Mythology

Tulsi is a mysterious plant, originally cultivated in 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. For these reasons this sacred plant is called "Holy Basil" in English, or by the royal moniker, "Queen of the Herbs."

Herbal tea in a cup with tulsi leaves
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Culinary Uses

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.

Medicinal Benefits

Tulsi Basil Herb
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The benefits of tulsi are ABUNDANT and wide-ranging. Though Western medicine is just beginning to discover the effects of tulsi, preliminary research from India indicates that it can be useful for regulation of blood sugar, assistance in kidney and liver function, and prevention of malaria. Practitioners also grind the plant, and apply it in paste form to treat ringworm and other skin ailments. Herbalists in the West use it as an "adaptogen," an agent to soothe stress and anxiety.