Everyday Ayurvedic Herbs #1: Holy Basil

The plant we call Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum or O. sanctum) is known also by the name Tulsi, or as people have called it for thousands of years in Sanskrit: Tulasi ( तुलसी ). Tulasi is perhaps one of the most important herbs to consume on a daily basis. This is because of its profound life-preserving qualities and also for its ability to nourish what is the foundation of all tissue types in the body. This nourishment then cascades through the body like a waterfall bringing rejuvenation along with it. In the Vedic mythology, Vishnu is the cosmic force which sustains and preserves all life. It is said that Tulasi is one of the wives of Vishnu thus having a direct tie to this life-preserving tendency. In Ayurveda the mythology plays an important role since every single plant has a unique story and is thereby powerfully associated with a specific quality of the divine. When one consumes these plants or foods one is putting that divine essence into their body. Lord only knows what stories would be connected to fast foods…


Tulasi is also regarded as a plant of peace and equilibrium, that is it is high in the Sattva quality. Because of this highly Sattwic (pure) quality tulasi is not only medicinal: it is sacred. It is an excellent Ayurvedic herb for releasing the heaviness of colds, fevers and coughs (as it releases accumulated kapha from the lungs) and bringing the body back to state of purity and balance in general. One of the primary reasons for this is that Tulasi nourishes the first of all seven tissues in the body, called Rasa Dhātu. The seven dhātus of the body are the seven levels of tissue that all nourishment must pass or ascend through. They include plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, nervous tissue and reproductive tissue. Ultimately the finally expression is reproductive fluids of either the male or female. If these fluids are used responsibly then this energy will transfer ultimately to pure Ojas, the immunity and strength of the body, and from there to Soma, the nectar of bliss. This is why it is considered of the utmost importance to use your sexual energy wisely and with respect for all of your energy, food and other forms of nourishment culminate in its expression. For this reason Tulasi can even be said to treat this pure sexual energy because of its ability to nourish the first tissue level which is the basis for the entire system. 


If you’re not already making a cup of this powerful herb by now then know that it also regulates the digestive fire of the body because of its mild pungency. As my teacher, Dr. Vasant Lad, has said many times, “A man is only as old as his agni (digestive fire.” So here again Tulasi addresses one of the most foundational elements of the human system. So what of the myriad of ways to prepare and drink tulasi? While it may be obvious that making a simple cup of tea (allowing to steep for 20 minutes for best medicinal value) is a very convenient option, what follows are only a few of the other Ayurvedic methods of preparation:


  1. Swarasa refers to the fresh plant juice and it is considered to be the most beneficial way to receive tulasi’s powerful potential. This can be acquired from the leaves and stems of the plant. As spoken of above, it is this specific form of the plant which has the most direct effect upon the first tissue level of the body, called Rasa Dhātu. In this thread you can plant tulasi from seeds easily obtained online. It is also considered very auspicious to have tulasi growing outside the entrance way to your house.
  2. If the fresh plant is unavailable to you there exists another way of obtaining the powerful impact of Swarasa. Namely, that you obtain the powdered herb and put it in cold water at the ration of 2:1 (herb:water) and let it sit overnight. This carries the same medicinal impact as number 1.
  3. Kwāthana -  decoction - This preparation is done with a ratio of 1:16 (herb:water) and is simmered and brought down to 25% of the original volume. This method of preparation has an affinity for the muscle and fat tissues of the body
  4. The last method we will consider is called Phānt, or infusion. This can be conveniently done with a ration of 1:4 (herb:water). Place the dried herb in a mason jar or other sufficiently sized container and place boiling water over it. Let sit for 4 hours and strain. This resulting tea is filled with healing qualities.

As mentioned above, of course you can simply make some tea and let it steep for a long period of time. However, these four methods will help you to unlock the powerful properties of the tulasi plant and bring its life-preserving and healing qualities into your own life.