The Benefits of Tulsi (Holy Basil)

The Benefits of Tulsi (Holy Basil)

Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum), also known as holy basil and tulasi, is one of the most revered herbs in the Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia. Considered sacred in many cultures, this herb has been revered for centuries thanks to its ability to impart clarity and lightness to the body, mind, and spirit. 

In this article:

What Is Tulsi? Characteristics of the Tulsi Plant

The tulsi plant is a small, leafy, vibrant green shrub that is either a perennial or an annual, depending on where it’s grown. A member of the basil family (Lamiaceae), its leaves can be green or purple, depending on the variety. It has a halo of fragrant, aromatic blossoms—a favorite among bees and pollinators of all kinds.1,2

Considered one of the most revered and celebrated Ayurvedic herbs, tulsi grows abundantly throughout Southeast Asia—especially in India.3 Our partners at Banyan Farm in Southern Oregon have also had success growing an abundance of tulsi. The growing season in Southern Oregon provides plenty of sunlight and heat, two requirements that help tulsi thrive.

 

Tulsi plants in a field

What Is Tulsi Used For?

Tulsi has many benefits for the body, mind, and spirit, offering support on both physical and subtle levels. Some of the benefits of tulsi include:  

  • Offering Adaptogenic Support. Considered one of the foremost adaptogenic herbs, tulsi helps the body cope with stress, promotes mental clarity, and supports rejuvenation. 
  • Supporting Lung Health. Tulsi is renowned for its support of the lungs, removing kapha buildup, and promoting healthy, uncongested breathing. 
  • Promoting Healthy Circulation. 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. 
  • Supporting Weight Management. Tulsi helps promote healthy weight management thanks to its effect in the adipose tissue layer (meda dhatu).
  • Maintaining a Normal Body Temperature. Mysteriously, although considered heating, tulsi helps maintain a normal body temperature. In Ayurveda, this is called its prabhava, a quality that cannot be understood by looking at its energetics alone.
  • Balancing Vata and Kapha Doshas. In addition to its ability to balance kapha in the lungs, it also balances excess kapha and vata in the head and nerves, and is often used to soothe vata in the digestive tract.

Tulsi and Ayurveda

Tulsi has a pungent rasa (taste), a heating virya (energetic effect), and a pungent vipaka (post-digestive effect). Balancing for vata and kapha doshas, it may increase pitta in excess.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, while tulsi is certainly beneficial to physical health, it is especially renowned for its ability to benefit the mind and spirit.

Known as “the incomparable one,” tulsi is called the most sacred plant on earth in the ancient Vedic Puranas (sacred Ayurvedic texts).4 To this day, it plays an integral part in the daily lives of many—it is frequently used in daily puja (worship), and is often found in home courtyards to support a positive, uplifting environment.5 Tulsi is also present during important life transitions in Indian culture, including weddings and funerals.6 

In addition to its enduring role in India, tulsi is also a part of Christian legends dating back centuries. It continues to play a role in the Greek Orthodox tradition of preparing holy water.7, 8

Tulsi is high in sattva—the principle of light, perception, and clarity. Ayurveda encourages us to welcome in sattvic energy whenever possible to promote these qualities within ourselves.

Tulsi is also said to increase and protect ojas and prana, two subtle forces in the body. Ojas promotes joy, vigor, and a healthy immune system, while prana is the body's vital life force, which supports intelligence, communication, and perception.

More ojas means a healthier immune system, and it also means more joy, vigor, and “juiciness” infused throughout your life.

Tulsi has been deliciously called “liquid yoga” by some. Like yoga, tulsi’s properties help nourish the body, mind, and spirit, while bestowing a peaceful sense of well-being. And, like yoga, tulsi bestows clarity, awareness, and calm.9

How to Take Tulsi

Tulsi can be taken in a variety of ways to support your health. Thanks to tulsi's uplifting, sattvic energy and warming pungency, it does well on its own. This herb also mixes exceptionally well with other ingredients, making it a helpful addition to various formulas.

Here are a few ideas on how to take tulsi:

Modern Research on Tulsi

Tulsi/holy basil has been the subject of many studies over the years. Here is a look at some recent studies that explore tulsi’s benefits:  

  • “The science behind sacredness of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn).” PubMed abstract. Dec 2009.10
  • “Chloroplast DNA Phylogeography of Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) in Indian Subcontinent.” PubMed abstract. Jan 2014.11
  • “Genome sequencing of herb Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) unravels key genes behind its strong medicinal properties.” PubMed abstract. Aug 2015.12
  • “Diversity of the genus Ocimum (Lamiaceae) through morpho-molecular (RAPD) and chemical (GC–MS) analysis.” PubMed abstract. Jun 2017.13

Is Tulsi Safe?

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.14

Contraindications

Tulsi is not recommended for those who are pregnant or nursing, or those who are trying to become pregnant. It is also best avoided if you have low blood sugar. If you are taking medications, we recommend speaking with your Ayurvedic practitioner or healthcare provider before trying tulsi.15

 

Tulsi harvest

Growing and Harvesting Banyan’s Tulsi

Tulsi grows in a variety of climates, including tropical and subtropical conditions. It does best in temperate weather, with full sun, moderate rainfall, and humid conditions.

Banyan’s tulsi is sourced from both India and Banyan Farm in Southern Oregon. The farms we partner with in India usually plant tulsi simultaneously with other crops during autumn, which is known as the Kharif season. On Banyan Farm, which grows tulsi for our Tulsi Fields tea, the rows of tulsi thrive from June to September.

When it’s time to harvest, the aerial parts of the plant, including the stems, flowers, and leaves, are cut by hand. Tulsi plants are generous—an individual patch can be collected 7–10 times each season.

After harvesting, the parts are rinsed and spread on drying racks, where they dry over several days. This slow drying prevents rapid oxidation and release of its volatile constituents. Once the tulsi is fully dry, it is bagged and sent for cutting, sifting, and preparation.

Sustainability of Tulsi

In both India and Southern Oregon, we partner with small, privately-owned farms that ensure that the herb comes from the best-quality seeds available, and that the plant is sustainably grown and harvested. Our partners also ensure that the workers are paid a fair and honest wage in a timely manner for their efforts.

While there are no sustainability concerns for tulsi at present, it is always worthwhile to support sustainably sourced and fairly traded herbs. As a part of a bigger conversation on the sustainability of Ayurvedic herbs, it is important to understand where and how plants are grown and harvested.

Herbs can be cultivated and harvested on private farms where sustainability can be managed, or they may be wild harvested in a legal way. When plants are wild harvested illegally, it threatens the long-term sustainability of valuable plants and plant-based products.

This is why we ensure sustainability by sourcing the botanicals used in our products from privately owned farms where each plant has been cultivated, or from legal wild-craft sourcing.

Our herbs and ingredient-producing plants are harvested at optimal times, using environmentally sustainable practices that are sensitive to the long-term health of the plants.

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