Tulsi, Your Quiet Herb Friend in the Corner
I remember the first time I heard of tulsi. I was meeting with a bunch of people to
interview for the job of new roommate. I was already nervous; I was
trying to relocate to Asheville, N.C., from my woefully suburban upbringing in the
D.C. area. On a pleasant afternoon in late August, I got out of my car after an
eight hour drive and approached the grand, old Victorian porch (Houses were old
here! It’s not just endless townhouses built in the last twenty years!). My potential
new roommate answered the door. She led me upstairs to the second kitchen
that had been built when the home was a boarding house. “Would you like some
tulsi tea?”, she asked. “What’s tulsi?”, I replied. Everyone in the tiny kitchen
slowly turned their heads to look at me.
My love for tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, has long outlived my time in that
household. At times it seems so humble and gentle a plant that I forget all the
things it does so well. However, it is willing to offer many wonderful gifts to those
who take the time to get to know it better.
Tulsi has long been revered as an Ayurvedic herb. It is commonly found in the
homes and temples of those of the Hindu faith, particularly Hare Krishnas. There
are widely varying stories of how it came to be but it is universally agreed that
Tulasi (Tulsi) was a goddess who became a plant.
Tulsi has been used for centuries in India to cure everything from rashes to
bronchitis to stress and mental health. I personally have found it to be very
helpful as a tonic (small amounts taken daily over an extended period of time) to
gently reduce the fight or flight response associated with stressful situations. The
high eugenol content (the main essential oil also found in cloves) means it is also
helpful as a carminative for digestion as well as spasmodic cough associated
with respiratory illness. Eugenol is hepatotoxic in extremely large doses, but in
reasonable doses both clove and tulsi can be very gently warming, digestive
herbs. Even breathing in the scent of her fresh or dried leaves has a palpable
relaxing effect. To paraphrase one of my herb teachers, “everyone could use
some good nervines and digestive herbs.” Tulsi achieves both in one fell swoop!
Want to try tulsi for yourself? Here is a favorite treat and simple medicine
Fill a jar with fresh or dried tulsi leaves. Cover in honey. It can be helpful to start with a layer of honey and alternate that and the leaves until reaching the top of the jar.
Be sure the jar is almost completely full, ending with a layer of honey to mitigate bacterial growth (this is unlikely as honey is antimicrobial, however, fresh leaves should be watched more closely due to their higher water content).
Try to allow at least two weeks for the tulsi to be extracted in the honey before using it. The honey can then be added to teas or used in place of flavored syrups for sparkling drinks or cocktails. It has the added benefit of antimicrobial properties, so it's a nice honey to use when you feel you might be getting sick!
Photo Credit: Lotus Garden Botanicals