Prepare a cup of warm Tulsi tea, grab a cozy blanket, and let us embark on a journey to get acquainted with the Holy basil, or ‘the incomparable one’ (the Sanskrit meaning of the word Tulsi).
Tulsi or Holy Basil is a fragrant herb that finds frequent and abundant use across many regions worldwide. The herb bears fresh green leaves and is a quintessential member of home gardens. Tulsi has excellent utility ranging from its role as a garnish to effective medicine. The herb is also revered and worshiped by people of the Hindu faith. Let us get acquainted with the herb, its utility, religious importance, and scientific classification.
Basic Botany Of Tulsi
The botanists call Ocimum tenuiflorum, what the ordinary folks know as Holy Basil or Tulsi. Science classifies Ocimum tenuiflorum as a shrub that grows about 1 meter in height and bears leaves throughout the year. The shrub is native to the northern regions of India, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, some African islands, Australia, and some Middle Eastern countries.
The Tulsi plant is often present as a potted plant in many Indian households.
The Holy basil also uses other vernacular names like Krishnatulsi, tulsi, kalatulsi, karitulsi, and bantulsi. Ocimum sanctum, also known as basil, is a cousin of the Holy basil and a popular herb finding much use in Italian cooking. The leaves of Basil and Tulsi are pretty alike but have subtle differences in shape, color, and even their fragrance.
There are two variants of Tulsi shrubs, one bearing dark green leaves and the other bearing green leaves with a purple tinge.
The simple Tulsi shrub is abundantly helpful in day-to-day life. Let us see how.
Tulsi: The Ancient Remedy
Tulsi has always been closely associated with Ayurveda, the ancient Indian medicinal science. Unani medicine, a highly effective therapeutic system from the Middle East, uses Tulsi abundantly in various prescriptions. The Canadian government has deemed the use of Tulsi in treating multiple disorders legal. The FDA also approves the use of Tulsi as herbal medicine, albeit with proper care and restrictions. The fragrant herb is full of medicinal powers that help cure many disorders. Tulsi has antioxidant, anxiolytic, and lipolytic effects, among other medicinal properties.
- Respiratory Cleansing
Tulsi is an indispensable ingredient of most herbal cough syrups. Tulsi extract is a potent expectorant that helps reduce the accumulation of mucus in the lungs. The extract is a powerful anti-infectious agent and can cure bacterial, viral, and fungal respiratory tract infections. Bronchitis, asthma, common cold, and seasonal allergic cough are some respiratory disorders that respond well to Tulsi-based medicines.
- Detoxifying The Gut
The extract obtained from the leaves of Holy Basil has strong antioxidant properties, which help to cleanse the gut. People consume Tulsi juice regularly to relieve digestive troubles like constipation, gut inflammation, and stomach infection. Tulsi juice is a potent lipolytic and promotes healthy digestion and assimilation of fats. It has a protective action on the functions of the liver and pancreas as well.
- Immunity Booster
The antioxidants in Tulsi extract make it the ideal choice of a natural immunity booster. Tulsi juice is rich in antioxidants that maintain the structural and functional integrity of white blood cells responsible for good immunity. The juice obtained from holy basil prevents premature degeneration of cellular components and retains the healthy functioning of all body tissue.
- Cardio-protective Agent
Holy basil leaves have blood purifying properties that help control blood pressure and protect the cardiac tissue. Tulsi juice has lipolytic properties that help to dissolve cholesterol plaques that threaten to clog the blood vessels around the heart. Tulsi extract is rich in Vitamin K, which also has cardioprotective effects.
- Mental Health Tonic
Tulsi extract stimulates blood circulation to the cerebral tissue and rejuvenates a tired brain. Tulsi-based medicines are known to be very effective stress-relieving agents. Migraines stemming from mental stress respond well to medication having Tulsi extract. Tulsi is also an excellent remedy for sleep disturbances, anxiety, and other mental disturbances.
Holy basil is also effective in managing mouth ulcers, eye infections, kidney stones, and acne, among other conditions.
Tulsi finds mentioned in several Ayurvedic texts and literature. Ayurveda revers Tulsi as the ‘queen of herbs’ and the ‘elixir of life. Tablets, syrups, capsules, consumable powders, and ointments for external application prepared from Tulsi extract are used during Ayurvedic treatment. Ayurveda divides people’s temperaments into three categories, i.e., Rajasik, Tamasik, and Satvik. Ayurveda and Yoga teach that Satvik temperament is the healthiest. The medicinal properties of Tulsi are Satvik and hence very useful.
Patients are advised to consume Tulsi-based medicines only when prescribed by an Ayurvedic doctor.
The Herb That Complements Your Food
European and American cuisines are familiar with various uses of basil leaves in cooking. Basil is used in sauces, as a garnish, and in soups. Tulsi is a cousin of the basil shrub, but their culinary uses are distinct due to a difference in taste.
Tulsi gives a rich flavor to teas and enhances the taste of salads and soups. People often add finely chopped Tulsi leaves to foods like vadas (fried fritters), raitas (Indian salads), juices, and even curries.
Hindus follow a traditional practice of making food offerings to various religious deities as part of multiple traditions and festivals. An ancient custom is to include Tulsi leaves as part of the meal you would offer God. The reason behind this custom is a religious one.
Let us jump to the next section of the blog to learn about the close association of the Tulsi plant with Hindu religious practices.
Why Do Hindus Rever Tulsi?
The Tulsi plant is integral to various Hindu practices that have been around for centuries. Hindus regard Tulsi as the holiest among all the plant life on Earth. Legend has it that the Tulsi plant is a form of Goddess Lakshmi, the Indian deity of wealth. People keep a potted Tulsi plant in their homes in hopes of being blessed with wealth and domestic bliss.
Tulsi is essentially considered a symbol of womanhood and motherhood; traditionally, it has been a woman’s responsibility to care for the Tulsi plant in her home.
Since the olden days, women have enjoyed the privilege of watering the Tulsi plant in their homes after their daily bath. In the olden times, houses often had a front courtyard where a Tulsi plant stood on an elevated pillar-like structure, known as Tulsi Vrindavan. Women adorned the Vrindavan with floral designs and rangoli (a fine powder used to create designs during Indian festivals or religious rituals). Before consuming the same food, it was customary to make food offerings to the Tulsi Vrindavan. Many people follow these customs to date.
The texts are further elaborate that Tuesdays and Fridays are the most auspicious days of the week to worship the Tulsi plant. A Hindu shlok (religious verse) describes the magnificence of the Tulsi plant. River Ganga flows through the roots of the Tulsi plant, and all Hindu deities reside in its leaves and stems. The sacred Hindu scriptures are believed to exist in the upper part of the Tulsi shrub. Therefore, worshiping the Tulsi plant is given due importance in the Hindu religion.
Tulsi leaves are an integral part of garlands made for the idols of Lord Vishnu, Lord Vithoba, and Lord Krishna. Holy beads prepared from parts of the Tulsi plant are used to make strings that people use while meditating and praying. Tulsi leaves are also part of several Indian rituals related to birth, marriages, holy ceremonies, and even death.
People from Orissa (an Eastern state in India) use Tulsi leaves to pray to Lord Hanuman, the monkey God signifying immense physical strength. The Nayyar community is a Hindu sub-caste that believes in warding off evil spirits by using Tulsi leaves. Tulsi is a magnificent shrub that forms an integral part of people’s lives and plays a significant role after death.
The Role Of Tulsi Plant In Hindu Rituals After A Demise
Tulsi plant is a constant in the lives of Hindus from birth till death and even in their after-life. The Tulsi plant is a stairwell that connects heaven and Earth. This could explain the Hindu ritual of placing Tulsi leaves in the mouth of a person who has passed away before the cremation. If twigs from a Tulsi plant are used in the funeral pyre of a person, their soul attains salvation and finds a place in the abode of Lord Vishnu himself.
Religious texts also describe that the one who waters the Tulsi plant of their house daily attains Moksha soon and find their souls liberated from the inevitable cycle of rebirth and death. (CLICK HERE to read more about the cycle of rebirth and death)
Hindus perform the ritual of Tulsi Vivah annually with full pomp and joy to celebrate the union of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu. While the date varies, the holy day falls close to the full-moon night of the Kartik month, per the Hindu calendar.
During Tulsi Vivah, a Tulsi plant is wedded to a symbolic version of Lord Vishnu, such as a photograph of Lord Krishna, Lord Rama, or Lord Shaligram. All the rituals of a typical Hindu wedding take place during the Tulsi Vivah, including ritualistic worshiping, food offerings to the Tulsi plant, and the photograph of the God. People dress in traditional attire, and the air is thick with jubilant celebrations during the Tulsi Vivah.
Tulsi Vivah is preceded by four months of a period known as the Chaturmas. Devout Hindus perform various religious rituals during the Chaturmas; some even give up consuming meat, alcohol, eggs, onions, and garlic. Marriage rituals are not permitted from the initiation of the Chaturmas to the day of the Tulsi Vivah. The culmination of the Tulsi Vivah ushers in an auspicious time of the year for wedding rituals.
Tulsi has many more uses in daily life and has several fantastic health benefits than this article mentions. There is much more to learn about the Tulsi shrub than can be fit into words.
The humble Tulsi plant truly brings joy and bliss to people’s lives in all forms. A small Tulsi plant in the corner of your home will lighten up your home, kitchen, and life!