Ocimum basilicum, O. tenuiflorum, O. sanctum, O. gratissimum
On a visit to Johnny’s Selected Seeds one year, I had the great pleasure
of walking around their extensive herb garden. Neatly spaced (about
three inches apart each way) were more than twenty varieties of basil.
They were all a little different in color, size or shape, yet very much
alike. Beds of short, shrubby plants, all with square stems, presented a
medley of gray and green that sparkled radiantly in the bright summer
sun. The effect was stunning.
Known and loved around the world, basil is widely used both as a
culinary and a medicinal herb. Antiseptic and disinfectant, infusion of
dried basil is effective as a wash on sores or wounds. In the Philippines,
fresh basil poultices are used to kill the ringworm fungus.
We rub fresh basil leaves on insect bites to help reduce itch and
inflammation. I sometimes keep a smudge pot of basil burning while
sleeping under the stars. This highly aromatic herb is especially
loathsome to mosquitoes.
Sweet basil’s genus name comes from the Greek, basilicon, meaning
royal ointment, and basil oil was indeed used to anoint kings. Men seem
to have a cellular memory of this herb and using it in any way evokes a
sense of well-being for them. I’ve made an aftershave lotion with basil as
its primary scent. One friend told me that whenever he splashed it on, it
seems to drive the women wild! When you feel like pampering your man,
use infused oil of basil as a muscle relaxing, nerve soothing massage oil.
Sweet basil is known as basilico among my Southern Italia neighbors.
It’s immensely popular in Mediterranean cooking, and every garden has
several gorgeous basil plants growing in it. Basilico is often used as an
infusion to stimulate digestion and relieve stomach and intestinal cramps.
Holy basil’s genus name, sanctum, refers to its long standing use as a
blessed herb. Sacred to Hindu gods Krishna and Vishnu, basil is
cherished in East Indian households. Hindus regard the plant as an
earthly manifestation of the goddess Tulsi, known as Beloved of Vishnu,
and consider it a symbol of the ideal wife and mother.
The woman who cares for the Tulsi plant daily is believed to gain the
divine grace of Vishnu. Tulsi is considered a threshold point between
heaven and earth and every part of the Tulsi plant is revered and
considered sacred. Even the soil around the plant is holy.
The plant is cultivated for its spiritual as well as medicinal benefit. Many
Hindus have a tulsi plant growing in front of their home or in a central
courtyard. Daily rituals to the Queen of Herbs involve watering and
offerings of food, flowers, incense and prayer.
Tulasi – She who has no comparison
Puspasara – She who is the essence of all flowers
Vrinda – She who is the goddess of all plants and trees
Nandini – She who gives happiness to everyone
Visvapujita – She whom the whole universe worships
Visvapavani – She who purifies the three worlds
The green leaf variety of holy basil is called Shri Tulsi (fortunate Tulsi)
or Rama Tulsi (bright Tulsi). The variety with purple leaves and stem is
called Shyama Tulsi or Krishna Tulsi (dark Tulsi) and considered
especially sacred to Krishna because it matches his bluish complexion.
In Ayurvedic medicine, the juice of holy basil is considered a
rejuvenating and stress-relieving tonic. It is said to relieve chills, cough,
skin problems and earache. One teaspoon of freshly squeezed basil juice
twice a day is the traditional dose. It is also considered a prophylactic
during flu epidemics. Basil’s carminative properties make it a good ally
for soothing digestive woes. It has an outstanding reputation as a mild,
effective antidepressant as well.
Ayurvedic medicine contains a number of herbs in its pharmacopoeia
which are used to improve vitality, promote long life and enhance the
body’s ability to adapt to stress. Most of these are classified as rasayana
herbs. One of the most important of these is holy basil which offers
spiritual and psychological benefits as well. Holy basil is believed to
open the heart and mind and bestow the energy of love and devotion.
Holy basil is immunomodulating, supports the adrenals, is chemo
protective and tumor inhibiting, helps regulate blood pressure and blood
sugar levels, boosts energy levels, protects against oxidative stress,
possesses anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antiviral properties,
supports the liver, enhances the elasticity of skin and supports the growth
of healthy hair and nails.
Holy basil benefits thyroid health and is especially useful in cases of
hypothyroidism. It supports the kidneys and urinary health and inhibits
WARNING! Holy basil has a reputation as an anti-fertility herb. Use
should be avoided if trying to conceive.
The benefits of basil are as varied as the ways to consume it: in salads,
pesto, sauces and soups; as a tincture, infusion and tea. When it’s fresh, I
love to inhale basil’s nerve-soothing aroma. Freshly harvested basil
infused in honey is incredibly delicious. Adding basil to the bath helps
relieve fatigue and exhaustion and brings clarity and strength to the mind.
Drinking an infusion of the dried leaves and flowers can help soothe
nerves and relieve depression. Basil’s rich aroma is an uplifting tonic.
One friend says his morning tea of basil and peppermint keeps him focused.
Basil’s expectorant properties make it useful when dealing with bronchial
problems, sinus congestion or asthma. The dried plant infusion may be
drunk freely and the infused oil (not essential oil) may be rubbed on the
chest, or under the nose. To help clear a head cold, I inhale the steam of
basil simmering in water. For easing a cough, I enjoy it as a syrup or
infused in honey.
Flower Essence - Basil flower essence helps when dealing with conflicts
between sexuality and spirituality, both in love relationships and in
lifestyle. I encourage couples to use the flower essence for a moon cycle
while they open to a new appreciation of love.
Magical Lore - Ancient tradition tells us that a young man will love any
woman from whom he receives a sprig of basil. In Italia, women place
potted basil on their balcony to signal they are ready for their lovers!
Basil gives courage to the spiritual aspirant to pursue expansion.
Culture - Basil plants like moderately rich, moist soil, in either full sun or
part shade. Plant the seed as soon as the soil warms up. Or, start the seeds
inside and transplant when the weather has settled and all danger of frost
is past. Basil is the most frost-sensitive plant in our gardens. It is very
attractive to pollinators, especially the honey bee.
Basil plants grow to about two feet high. Their square stems are typical
of the mint family. Basil’s alternate leaves are usually a deep green on
top and grayish green on the underside. Tiny white or purple flowers
extend out from the leaf axils. I regularly cut off basil’s flowering tips so
the plant grows bushy and full.
We gather leaves from basil plants during the warm days of summer. As
soon as the weather turns cold, I cut the entire plant and tincture
immediately in alcohol or vinegar or infuse it in oil or honey. Basil
makes a delicious herb vinegar. Try adding it to your fire cider!
If dried too slowly sweet basil turns brown. I put the leaves on a drying
rack during hot, dry, breezy weather, or use a dehydrator, so they dry
Holy basil dries beautifully on screens or hung in bunches. I love the
taste of holy basil in teas and infusions, especially combined with lemon
balm, milky oats and roses to create a blend I call Comfort & Joy.
I also like combining holy basil with lemony tasting herbs such as
lemongrass, lemon balm, lemon verbena or lemon peel, and some
hawthorn berries and rose hips…Lemon Chillo, so refreshing!
Ayurveda literally means knowledge of life. It is a system of
medical knowledge that is well over five thousand years old. It originated
in India and remains one of the country’s traditional health care
systems. Ayurvedic concepts regarding health promote the use
of herbal compounds, diets, massage, exercise, lifestyle adjustments
and other unique health practices.
Ayurveda is an individualized system of medicine, and similar to the
temperaments of the ancient Greeks, is rooted in the idea that each of us
is born with a completely personal blueprint for optimum health.
According to Ayurveda, your constitution, prakriti, is the
particular combination of vata, pitta, and kapha that is established
within you at conception and remains constant over the course of
your lifetime. Constitution affects your physiology, your physical
appearance, what appeals to you, your tendencies, habits, mental and
emotional character, as well as your predisposition to illness.
The Five Elements - Ayurveda recognizes five elements as the
fundamental building blocks of nature - earth, water, fire, air and ether
(space). Every substance contains all five elements, though one or
two elements usually predominate over the others.
The Twenty Qualities - Ayurveda identifies twenty qualities that can be
used to describe every substance or experience. These qualities
are organized into the following ten pairs of opposites:
heavy/light dense/liquid soft/hard stable/mobile heavy/light
hot/cold gross/subtle cloudy/clear slow/sharp oily/dry
Certain combinations of elements have unique physiological properties
and functions in nature. Knowing what elements a substance is made of
is important to understanding the kinds of effects it produces. We can
counteract an effect with substances or activities that contain its opposite
attributes, bringing balance and health.
Ayurveda is a beautifully simple and intuitive system. Someone with a
naturally cold temperament who is living in Maine during wintertime, is
likely experiencing an increase of the cold quality. Benefits would come
from hot, stimulating ginger tea, spicy, warming soups and other foods,
hot (salty) soaks in the tub, appropriately cozy clothing, including nice
warm socks and hopefully, plenty of heartwarming experiences.
The Three Doshas - Vata, pitta and kapha embody a unique combination
of elements and qualities to create an energetic force of nature.
Substances that are predominantly composed of ether and air have very
dynamic properties and effects. These are called vata substances. Vata is
the energy of movement and impulse, creativity and connection. This
dosha governs breathing, pulsing of the heart, muscle function, nerve
impulses, sensory perception, communication and our capacity to
experience expansive consciousness. In excess, vata can cause anxiety,
constriction, poor circulation, constipation, dry skin, cracking joints,
emaciation, insomnia, twitches and tremors.
Some substances perform digesting, metabolizing and transforming
functions and are called pitta substances. Pitta is the energy of fire and
water, digestion and transformation. This dosha governs appetite,
digestion, absorption, assimilation, intelligence, charisma, courage and
ambition. An excess causes anger, inflammation, heat, heartburn, loose
stools, migraines, rashes, overactive metabolism and insomnia.
Kapha substances are composed of water and earth elements and their
functions are to support, lubricate and secrete. Kapha is the energy of
structure, cohesiveness, grounding and stability and governs
nourishment, growth, regeneration, fluid balance, fat regulation, stamina,
memory, ability to feel compassion and calm. In excess, kapha causes
attachment, greed, stagnation, heaviness, excessive sleep, depression,
sluggish metabolism, congestion, water retention and masses and tumors.
It is said among the Indian people “Even the gods use Tulsi for healing their ailments.”
Om tum tulasaye namaha. Called the Sanjivani Mantra, this is a mystical chant said to be the most powerful healing chant to sing to Mother Tulsi for physical, mental, spiritual healing and protection in all areas of our lives. You can simply chant this prayer, you can sing it and you can write it down on a piece of paper and keep in your pocket, or give to a client you are working with and for whom holy basil is part of their protocol.
The green leaf variety of holy basil is called Shri Tulsi (fortunate Tulsi). If using the green leaf variety you will want to offer your prayers to the Goddess Tulsi.
The variety with purple leaves and stem is called Shyama Tulsi or Krishna Tulsi (dark Tulsi) and is considered especially sacred to Krishna because it matches his bluish complexion. If using this variety of the herb you may also want to make offerings and prayers to Krishna as well.
Krishna is one of the most widely revered and most popular of all Indian divinities, worshipped as an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu and also as a supreme god in his own right.
According to Hindu tradition, this prayer is chanted when gathering the leaves of the holy basil plant:
tulasy amṛta-janmāsi / sadā tvaṁ keśava-priya
keśavārthaṁ cinomi tvāṁ / varadā bhava śobhane
"O Tulasī of effulgent beauty, you were born from nectar, during the churning of the milk ocean. You are always most dear to Lord Keśava. Now, I am collecting your leaves and mañjarīs. Please bless me.
Say the following prayer when making medicines with Tulsi/holy basil or when treating a client with this plant: O Tulasī, beloved of Kṛṣṇa, I bow before you again and again. My desire is to obtain the service of Śrī Śrī Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. And then make your specific request.
An ending blessing for us:
May the Goddess Tulsi and her consort Krishna/Vishnu bless us, heal us and protect us. Om tum tulasaye namaha
© 2022, Gail Faith Edwards