Tulsi: Getting to Know Your Herbal Allies
Aah tulsi. Aromatic, delicious, beautiful, and sattvic, tulsi is one of those magical Ayurvedic herbs that can benefit just about everyone. Our corner of the world is currently heavy, cold, and gray—what a perfect time to immerse ourselves in an herb that offers to anoint us with its lightness, warmth, and clarity (yes, please!).
Before you begin reading, we highly recommend you first brew a soothing cup of tulsi tea to heighten our time together as we share the wonders of this beautiful herb and what it can do for you. Pull up a chair, get cozy with your tea, and join us as we tell the tales and sing the well-earned praises of this Queen of Herbs.
This vibrant green herb with its halo of cheerful blossoms carries the venerable Latin name of Ocimum sanctum, or holy basil. This is a nod to the longstanding title it has held as a spiritual herb. In fact, tulsi is called the most sacred plant on earth in the ancient Vedic Puranas (sacred Indian texts).1
From the tradition that gave us Ayurveda, and by extension Ayurvedic herbalism, that’s saying something. To this day, tulsi is still accredited with this title, and it is widely used for its medicinal properties.
It’s impossible to say which came first—its use in herblore or its spiritual recognition—but in the end, looking at both gives a greater understanding and a deeper respect for tulsi.
Tulsi in Spirituality and Folklore
In the East
Tulsi’s presence is steeped within many ancient Indian myths, and some spiritual traditions consider tulsi to be the embodiment of the goddess Lakshmi, with her spiritual powers infused within the plant.2
Because of this belief, you could say that owning a tulsi plant is like caring for a living blessing that constantly purifies your home. It is no wonder tulsi is grown in many home courtyards throughout India, where it is offered gratitude and reverence as part of daily puja (worship). In fact, the lack of a tulsi plant in a courtyard is considered by some to give a feeling of emptiness and dullness in the home.3
Tulsi is also present in some pretty big life transitions in Indian culture. Tulsi plays a huge role in kick-starting the wedding season across the country. Only after the completion of Tulsi Vivaha (the yearly ritual in which the tulsi plant is symbolically wed to Lord Vishnu) is it considered a good time to start planning a wedding.
Thanks to its purifying nature, tulsi is also present at a much different juncture—at the deathbed. By placing tulsi upon the dying person, it is said to help cleanse the soul of sin and to help stop the cycle of death and rebirth.4
In the West
Tulsi’s recognition as a deeply spiritual herb goes beyond India’s borders and is even rooted in some profound legends within Christianity. For example, tulsi is said to have greeted Christ’s disciples at his tomb after his crucifixion—the tomb was empty, but the surrounding countryside was carpeted with blooming tulsi.
A few hundred years later, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine found a hill similarly covered in this aromatic plant. According to legend, hidden under this hill was the cross of Christ. From these legends, tulsi became a Christian symbol of holiness and spiritual birth. and is still used to this day in Christian rituals. 5 For example, as a powerful purifier, it has a role in the Greek Orthodox tradition of preparing holy water.6
Ayurveda also recognizes the sacred nature of tulsi. Its Sanskrit name translates as “the incomparable one.” This could be interpreted in several ways, but perhaps it simply means there are literally no comparisons or substitutions for this herb and what it has to offer.
This could explain its rather inspiring power to heighten awareness and mental clarity, as well as its unique ability to open the mind and heart to love and devotion. (We bet you’re enjoying your tea on a whole new level now!)
Health Benefits of Tulsi
And then there’s prana—that which animates us, our vital life force. Ojas protects prana, and tulsi increases both!8 Talk about a win-win setup.
Adaptogenic Super Herb
Another lens to view tulsi is through its adaptogenic properties. Adaptogenic herbs are huge allies to us in today’s busy, overwhelmed, and overstressed world.
Tulsi helps the body cope with the many varied stresses of daily life. Feeling overwhelmed and ungrounded? Tulsi can help calm you down. Feeling stuck and unclear? Tulsi can help lighten your mind and bring clarity (there are those sattvic qualities at work again!). It doesn’t stop there—tulsi even helps reverse the effects of stress and supports the body’s ability to rejuvenate. 10
Tulsi has been deliciously called “liquid yoga” by some. Like yoga, tulsi’s properties help nourish the holistic self while bestowing a mellowed-out sense of well-being. And, like yoga, tulsi bestows clarity, awareness, and calmness.11 Whether you chalk this up to its high levels of sattva, its adaptogenic properties, or its ability to increase prana and ojas, (and in the end, these are all linked to tulsi’s properties) this is one powerful, divine plant.
Tulsi in the Tissues
Beyond the phenomenal work we’ve already discussed, tulsi also helps to reduce kapha throughout the body and mind. It supports the lungs by removing kapha buildup and promoting healthy, uncongested breathing.
It also balances excess vata or kapha in the head and nerves. And, tulsi is used to soothe vata in the digestive tract. If that wasn’t enough, it promotes healthy circulation thanks to its work in the plasma tissue layer (rasa dhatu), and, by extension, tulsi encourages a strong and healthy heart.
The list continues: tulsi helps promote healthy weight management thanks to its effect in the adipose tissue layer (meda dhatu), and to top it all off, it mysteriously helps maintain a normal body temperature.
While tulsi can be incredibly beneficial in such a wide spectrum of situations, it is important to note that it is not normally recommended when there is a health situation involving high pitta. Tulsi is warming, so if pitta is a factor, it is best to combine it with cooling herbs like brahmi/gotu kola and hibiscus.12
How to Incorporate Tulsi into Your Life
It goes without saying that tulsi is a pretty complex and amazing herb. But the ways in which you can use it to enjoy all these benefits can be surprisingly simple and easy to integrate into your day. Here are a few ideas to get started.
For a simple and delicious cup of tea, just mix our powdered tulsi with hot water and enjoy. If you’re experiencing a little excess kapha, add some honey to your tulsi tea. If you would like to increase the sattvic qualities and promote even more ojas, or if you have an excess of vata, add a little ghee to your tea.
Tulsi for Immune and Respiratory Support
Here at Banyan, we definitely lean on tulsi when it’s time to support our immune systems. We take a combination of one dropper-full each of Tulsi liquid extract and Ginger liquid extract several times a day.
Or alternatively, we might make a big pot of tea with tulsi powder and ginger powder to sip throughout the day. This is like gently but effectively jump-starting a lagging, tired immune system that needs some power to get recharged.
You can also find tulsi, along with a variety of other powerful immune-boosting herbs, in our Immune Strong liquid extract and our Immune Strong tablets. Looking for respiratory support? Check out our Lung Formula and Bronchial Support Herbal Syrup.
Tulsi in Other Products
If you can’t tell by now, we seriously love tulsi. It is incredibly versatile and effective, and we have included it in many of our herbal formulas and products.
For an easy and convenient source of tulsi, simply take our Tulsi Tablets.
How about general kapha management? Tulsi is in our Healthy Kapha tablets, paired with a few of the quintessential kapha-busting herbs.
And thanks to its ability to support healthy circulation of blood and lymph, you can also find it in our Breast Care Balm.
Sattvic, ojas-full, adaptogenic, beautiful, and downright delicious, it’s a bit of a mystery how one small herb has so much to offer.
There is absolutely no way we have encompassed the entirety of this herb in this one overview. We encourage you to make fast friends with tulsi and discover more about this powerful herbal ally on your own journey to well-being. As for us—well, we’re off to make another pot of tulsi tea!