Treasure the Benefits of Tulsi

By Staff
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Tulsi, also known as Holy basil or Tulasi (Ocimum tenuiflorum, Ocimum sanctum),  grows abundantly in temperate regions of India through the Southeast Asian tropics.   Tulsi is India’s most sacred and powerful plant both medicinally and spiritually. Its species name, “sanctum”, refers to this sacredness. In Sanskrit, tulsi means “beyond compare.”  Indeed, the leaves smell and taste of a unique blend of cinnamon, clove, licorice, peppermint, and lemon.  Holy basil is rich in history and folklore, reverently called, the elixir of life and The Queen of Herbs.

Tulsi and the Mint family

Tulsi is not the same as common culinary basil (Ocimum basilicum). They are different species, although they do have some overlapping properties and uses.  Tulsi and Basil are both in the Mint family (Lamiaceae or Labiatae ). All mints have:

  1. Square stems, which can be easily discovered by rolling the stem between the fingers to feel the four sides meeting at right angles;
  2. Opposite leaves–each pair of leaves emerging from the same level, on opposite sides of the stem ( unique to tulsi is a  hairy stem) 
  3. “Lipped” flowers–blossoms shaped like open mouths, the upper and lower lips of varying sizes, depending on the species.

Most, but not all, mints are aromatic, with volatile oils that give the plant a strong aroma and taste (basil, thyme, rosemary, lavender etc). The fragrant volatile oils found in Mints are antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, antiseptic. Volatile oils are easily transported from fresh plants to hot water, when steeped briefly as a tea, but not brewed hours (sun tea or herbal infusion), because they become horribly bitter.   

The Many Types of Tulsi

There are at least three different types of Tulsi/ holy basil, and while they can be used somewhat interchangeably, they also have their slight differences in appearance and taste.

Tulsi Rama (Ocimum tenuiflorum)

Tulsi Rama is the most common type grown in India and easiest Tulsi to find in seed to grow.  It likes to grow in full sun with moderate water and fertile well-draining soils. Rama is known for its cooling and mellow flavor. The plant has green leaves, white-to-purplish blossoms, and a green or purplish stem.

Tulsi Krishna (Ocimum tenuiflorum )

Tulsi Krishna tastes peppery and has dark green to purple leaves, purple stems, and blossoms.

Vana (Ocimum gratissimum)

Vana, aka. “forest type”tulsi, grows wild on roadsides and in waste places. It has large green leaves and stem, with white blossoms and the plant can easily attain 5 feet tall.  Vana tulsi can overwinter indoors in a container with window sunlight. It can be transplanted in the garden when spring warmth returns.

How to Prepare Tulsi

If you want to make a tincture or elixir of Tulsi, you will want to allow it to flower and gather the aerial tops–flowering racemes and leaves. Also, to reseed for next year, leave some on.  As we do with other culinary herbs, if you want to encourage growth and keep aromatics, gently “deadhead” or pinch off the blooms. 

Tulsi is used multiple ways as a tea, infused honey, syrup, elixir, tincture, vinegar, in cosmetic lotions, soaks, toothpaste, and in food and drink recipes.

Tulsi nourishes and tones as an adaptogen. Herbal adaptogens help the body adapt to physical and emotional stress. Herbalist David Winston describes Tulsi as a “rasayana” herb, one that enhances body resiliency and promotes longevity. Holy basil promotes energy, endurance, and helps to boost immunity.

As an antimicrobial herb, it can be used topically or internally to treat bacterial, viral and fungal infections. Tulsi can assist with upper respiratory viruses like the cold or flu.  As an expectorant, it eases lung congestion,  inflammation, bronchitis, and asthma.

In these stress-filled hustle and bustle times, holy basil can help ground you, slow the pace down a notch, and quiet the mental chatter ‘monkey brain’ in your head, so you can focus and collect yourself. 

In addition, Herbalist David Winston shared that he finds tulsi helpful as a cerebral stimulant to aid people with poor memory or cloudy thinking, or ‘brain fog’ experienced by those in menopause or who have fibromyalgia. Tulsi may be beneficial for individuals with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and to speed up recovery from head trauma.

Tulsi has many beneficial actions on the heart, including promoting good circulation, lowering stress-related high blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. (note contraindications below).

Like other mints, holy basil can support digestion and ease bloating gas, and nausea.  Additionally, Tulsi has the pain-relieving aspect of mints. Many herbs, including Tulsi, are Cox 2 inhibitors decreasing pain and inflammation in sore, stiff and swollen joints, muscles, etc.. Tulsi is high in eugenol, a constituent that is helpful to decrease pain.

We routinely focus on plants medicinal or culinary uses, however, plant spirit healing emphasizes the collaboration between plants and people to bring about healing beyond just the physical realm, to include emotional, psychological, energetic, and spiritual aspects. This can be accomplished in various ways, such as meditating with a plant, having the live plant in the surroundings (home, office, etc), spiritual bathing or misting with plant infused waters/essences, or carrying a part of the plant in medicine bags/sachets.  

Grow and care for a tulsi plant in your home or garden and connect with it on a deeper level, both spiritually and physically. You can also wear a little pinch of tulsi in a pouch/medicine bag or carry some in your pocket or place around doorways.  It can be used for smudging/incense as we do with sage or cedar. Tulsi can protect personal boundaries and energy of your home and your own personal energy and Tulsi Cautions/Contraindications

Tulsi might have an anti-fertility effect on both men and women and should not be taken by couples wishing to conceive or by pregnant women. It is slightly blood thinning and should not be taken by those who are currently taking warfarin. Diabetics who are taking insulin may need to adjust their insulin levels while taking tulsi.

The most common way to prepare Tulsi is as a tea. Holy basil combines well with other herbs, such as rose petal, lemon balm, lavender, ginger, nutmeg, and other spices. It can be brewed in milk and added to Golden Milk made with turmeric. If you don’t grow your own, numerous kinds of Tulsi teas are on the market so you can still enjoy a cozy mug. Tulsi Rose is my favorite way to wind down the day!

For Tea

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp-2 tsp dried tulsi, or 4 tsp fresh (really based on the taste you prefer)

  1. Bring the water to a boil. Remove from the heat and pour over the tulsi in a heat-safe container.
  2. Allow the tea to steep, covered, for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Strain tulsi from tea and enjoy daily.

Use Fresh Leaves

Add chopped leaves to culinary dishes just as you would basil. Freeze leaves in ice cubes to add to summer drinks.  Eat a few fresh leaves to get phytonutrients and boost your immunity.  

Tulsi/Holy Basil Tincture (alcohol extract)

 I prefer using fresh tulsi in tea as well as a tincture.  I snip the aerial parts (flower tops and leaves), coarsely cut the plant up, and pack a jar full. Usually, with tinctures, we add 80-90 proof alcohol, such as vodka, to cover all the plant. I like brandy tincture also, especially with tulsi. Place lid on jar, label and shake daily for several days. Store out of direct sunlight in a cupboard or kitchen. Do not refrigerate.  I wait the 6 weeks, then strain off the plant, squeezing out any liquid from the plant, compost it or return it to the earth.

Tulsi Elixir

A mix of brandy and honey are my favorites for elixir. Tulsi elixir is spicy fragrant and delicious!.

  • Select jar size of your choice (1-pint jar etc) enough fresh tulsi flowers and leaves to fill the jar.
  • Everclear or vodka/brandy to fill the jar 3/4 (I prefer lower proof alcohol like brandy for this preparation too)
  • Glycerine or raw honey to fill the jar 1/4 (I like local raw honey best).
  1. Fill the jar with the tulsi blossoms/leaves– snipped up a bit.
  2. Add raw honey or glycerine, then fill with alcohol.
  3. Shake well.
  4. Let sit for 3-6 weeks, shaking regularly.  You can strain the plant off at the end of that time or you can just pour off the amount of elixir liquid you want to use a little at a time.

Tulsi Infused Honey

 I like making tulsi infused honey to take by teaspoon, add to tea, or eat on baked goods, or as a nice hint of flavor addition into strawberry, blackberry or mandarin orange scones.

  • A Jar (sized based on available tulsi)
  • Enough tulsi leaves to fill a jar
  • Enough honey to cover the tulsi

  1. Fill any size jar to the top with coarsely chopped fresh tulsi leaves. 
  2. Pour honey over the tulsi until it is completely covered, stirring as needed to remove air bubbles, until the jar is full.
  3.  Cap securely and label.
  4. Wait at least 4-6 weeks.
  5. You can leave the leaves in to eat or gently heat the honey and strain the leaves off.    

Tulsi Vinegar

Rosemary Gladstar suggests using raw apple cider vinegar and fresh tulsi to make herbal vinegar. Simply pack a wide mouth quart jar about three-quarters full with holy basil leaves, then cover nearly to the top with raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar. Cap it, shake gently, and allow to infuse for 3-4 weeks. If you use a metal lid, place wax paper between the lid and jar, as vinegar will corrode away the metal. Some people use plastic lids on their glass jars of vinegar. Once it’s ready, strain out the herbs and use  the infused vinegar

Herb/plant infused vinegars make popular mocktail concoctions, shrubs and switchels.  A sipping vinegar or shrub is basically a combination of vinegar, sugar or honey, and plant.  You can use any vinegar you’d like (apple cider, white wine, red wine, etc), although some herbs go better with certain vinegar for taste. I prefer to use an organic apple cider vinegar (like Braggs)  for most herbs.   The herb vinegar syrup (shrub)  is used as a mixer in water, sparkling water, club soda, or even cocktails. A switchel is made with cider vinegar and sweetened typically with molasses, or maple syrup.

 Mountain Rose Herbs has a recipe for Holy Basil Sipping Vinegar.


 Cech, Richo. Strictly Medicinal Seed,LLC. Tulsi (Holy Basil) Comparisons

Jirsa,Amy. (2015) Herbal Goddess: Discover the Amazing Spirit of 12 Healing Herbs with Teas, Potions, Salves, Food, Yoga, and More.

Montgomery,Pam (2008). Plant Spirit Healing: A Guide to Working with Plant Consciousness.

Seal, Julie Bruton and Matthew Seal (2011)  Kitchen Medicine: Household Remedies for Common Ailments and Domestic Emergencies.

Winston,David ” Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief .”  10th International Herb Symposium, Weaton College,Newton,MA. 2011. And Plant Medicine Summit 2019.

Winston, David and Maimes, Steven. (2007). Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief.

Wood, Matthew. (2008). The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants.


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