Tulsi, or Holy Basil, is a plant so versatile in its healing powers that Indians have long considered it sacred. In one ritual called Tulasi, Vivaha people witness the ceremonial marriage of the adaptogenic herb to the Hindu god Vishnu, or to his avatar Sri Krishna. This ancient Tulsi wedding brings Hindus to the end of the monsoon season and the beginning of the wedding season.
Tulsi, the queen of the Ayurvedic landscape, is the Incomparable One, the granter of health and renewal that nature has imbued with a cornucopia of healing qualities recognized for more than 5,000 years and now verified by modern science.
Tulsi and the Myth of Samudra Manthan
In one of India’s most enduring myths, Tulsi is related to the Samudra Manthan, which Tamil writer M.D. Muthukumaraswamy explains as being perhaps one of the best-known episodes in Indian mythology, appearing in several texts such as the Mahabharata, Vishnu Purana, and Bhagavata Purana. “The churning requires both the Devas and the Asuras [divine and nature spirits], and signifies that one needs to come to terms with both the demonic and divine qualities within oneself.”
In the myth, when the tumultuous churning is over and things begin to settle, Dhanvantari, the physician to the gods, rises victoriously out of the ocean. In his hands, he holds the elixir of immortality and makes an offering to Vishnu, who is overcome with tears of happiness. As he receives the gift, Vishnu’s first tear falls into the drink from which the Tulsi plant sprouts.
India’s Daily Hunt online explained that Tulsi is hailed as the threshold between heaven and earth and is said to hold Brahma in its branches, the Hindu centers of pilgrimage within its roots; the holy river Ganga flowing through its roots; all the other deities in its stem and leaves; and the holy scriptures, the Vedas, in the tips of the plant.
In Hinduism, Tulsi is hailed as the threshold between heaven and earth.
Health Is the Richest Source of Wealth
Tulsi is regarded as a living manifestation of the divine within the plant kingdom. The ancient Vedic Bhagavata Purana text hails Tulsi as the plant embodiment of Lakshmi, wife of Vishnu and the goddess of wealth and generosity. Over the span of human life, few would disagree with the idea that one who possesses good health is wealthy in an inimitable way.
The benefits of tulsi positively impact the whole human entity, including the spirit, and the breadth of its healing capacity is truly remarkable. There are more than a hundred different varieties of the plant, but among them two stand out above the rest.
Rama Tulsi (also known as Green Leaf Tulsi), a broader Holy Basil leaf variety, is found in parts of China, Nepal, India, and southern South America. It promotes healthy digestion, and though its flavor tends toward the mild, its scent becomes stronger when the Tulsi leaves are crushed. Krishna Tulsi is characterized by its purple leaf and grows in areas throughout India, but remains harder to find than the greener variety.
Krishna Tulsi (also known as Shyama Tulsi or Purple Leaf Tulsi) has gained a reputation for addressing respiratory infections, ear infections, and skin problems. This slow-growing plant features a spicy, pungent flavor and odor with a less bitter taste. Lastly, there is Vana Tulsi, also known as Wild forest holy basil, and Wild Leaf Tulsi. This variety is the most difficult to find, as it grows around the foothills of the Himalayas. Vana Tulsi is considered the tastiest and most beneficial of the Tulsi herb family, and it features light green upper leaves and dark green lower leaves.
Tulsi’s Sacred Constituents
Down through the generations, the worship of Tulsi has been an integral part of Indian tradition. It is a plant that purifies the household, temples, and shrines. It has found its rightful, prominent place in homes across India because pure energy — the essence of consciousness — is the giver of life. Over the past several decades, modern science has confirmed the chemical source of many of Tulsi’s healing, disease-preventing, and health-promoting properties, though the plant’s spiritual qualities remain beyond the capacity of scientific understanding.
Among the well-researched (and beneficial) constituents of Tulsi are eugenol (a volatile oil), ursolic acid (a triterpenoid), and rosemarinic acid (a phenylpropanoid). Other active compounds include caryophyllene and oleanolic acid, carotenoids, vitamin C, calcium, iron, zinc, and chlorophyll.
Over the past several decades, modern science has confirmed the chemical source of many of Tulsi’s healing, disease-preventing, and health-promoting properties.
Secular Franciscan Donnie Yance, founder of Oregon’s Mederi Center, a holistic health and research clinic, reported, “Holy basil modulates the stress response, increases adaptive energy, and specifically elevates and nourishes the ‘Vital Spirit.’ Like ashwagandha (another traditional Ayurvedic adaptogen) and eleuthero, holy basil is well suited for all energetic types. My philosophy is to combine many adaptogens and other complementary plant medicines to create a ‘gourmet meal’ of herbs to improve and optimize health.”
When one discovers the range of healing properties and health benefits of Tulsi, it becomes obvious why the plant is so revered. Along with being an herb for mood enhancement, Ayurvedic practitioners have reported its possible effectiveness in cases of asthma, bronchitis, colds, congestion, coughs, flu, sinusitis, sore throat, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, headaches, earaches, eye disorders, skin diseases, insect bites, cramping, gastric disorders, indigestion, intestinal parasites, mouth diseases, ulcers, vomiting, diabetes and blood sugar imbalances, joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis, kidney stones, and malaria.
Tulsi’s Role According to the Doshas
Organic Tulsi Flowers
Regardless of the seemingly endless list of Tulsi’s health benefits, it is wise to keep in mind that Ayurvedic medicine is a holistic practice. Thus, the Ayurvedic doctor uses Tulsi as he/she does with any other plant — as part of a complete program that takes into consideration the patient’s specific dosha profile. Doshas are one’s Ayurvedic mind-body type, and there are three main categories: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, each of which is derived from the five elements.
Also known as mind-body types, the Chopra Center explains, “doshas express unique blends of physical, emotional, and mental characteristics. In Ayurvedic medicine, health is defined as the dynamic state of balance between mind, body, and environment. You can achieve and maintain a vibrant and joyful state of health by identifying your mind-body type and creating a lifestyle that supports your unique nature.”
One’s dominant dosha reflects the dominant force in the overall mind-body makeup. Secondary and least dominant doshas also play a role in one’s mind-body physiology. The practice of Ayurveda takes into consideration which doshas are out of balance, and from this perspective provides treatment programs to bring the patient back into balance through meditation, herbs, dietary foods, breathing techniques, mantras, and other means. So, when considering what herb is good for stress, look to Tulsi and other herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine.
Meditation and yoga instructor Melissa Eisler writes that Tulsi carries the bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes, and generates a warming influence on the physiology. The plant is predominantly Kapha-reducing, but it can also be used to pacify Vata and Pitta. (It can, however, have a mildly Pitta-aggravating effect on people who are severely overheated.) For excess Vata, ginger and tulsi herbal tea helps support the lungs and immune system while warming the body.
What is Tulsi Tea?
Tulsi herbal tea is made similarly to other teas, by pouring hot water over the Tulsi leaves and then adding a natural sweetener if that is desired. As with all plants, it is important that Tulsi is grown with the utmost care in terms of being organic, and environmentally harmonious. Farmers who grow plants as a labor of love offer the best yields from an energetic and healthful perspective.
For this reason, Organic India’s Tulsi is the result of a profound integration of the earth, human care, and the spirit of wholeness. Like every other adaptogenic herb that it offers, the company’s Tulsi is the result of environmental stewardship beyond “sustainable” – incorporating biodynamic, regenerative farming practices. It is important to reflect upon a company’s purpose and commitment, because this energy goes into its products, and ultimately into your body. Tulsi is a holy, sacred plant that deserves special treatment and respect.