Indian Essentials: What is Tulasi? | Indian Holy Basil | An Essential Ingredient in Every Kitchen and Medicine Chest

Tulsi is an amazing herb, indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. The word “tulsi” means “the incomparable plant“.  It is a bushy shrub that grows up to 2 metres in height. The plant has hairy stems with leaves that are oval and serrated of about 5cm in length – the colors ranging from light green to dark purple, depending on the variety. The plant has delicate lavender-colored flowers, and its fruit consists of tiny rust-colored nuts. There are two main varieties, the one with the green leaves is called Rama or Shri Tulsi and the one with the reddish leaves is called Krishna or Shyama tulsi.

You might like to try Tulsi Rasam and Phanta Tea with Tulsi.  Tulasi can also be spelt as Tulsi or Thulasi, or called Holy Basil. Don’t get it confused with Thai or Sth East Asian Holy Basil, it is an Indian Holy Basil and quite different to the Thai herb. Our Tulasi recipes are here.

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Tulsi is a very sacred plant that has a whole raft of health benefits. For more than 5000 years Tulsi (also known as Holy Basil) has been considered “Queen of Herbs” and revered as one of the most sacred herbs in India, infused with healing power. Hindus view Tulsi as a goddess in the form of a plant bestowed with great spiritual and healing powers. In India, Tulsi is traditionally grown in an earthenware pot in every family home or garden, and tended carefully and lovingly by the women. Its leaves are used to make a delicious and refreshing tea that has wonderful health benefits.

Modern research has classified Tulsi as a herb that supports the body’s natural immune system while relieving the body’s negative reaction to stress. It has been used in traditional Ayurvedic herbal medicines for thousands of years to promote and maintain wellness. It’s referred to in ayurveda as a rejuvenative, rasayanas or restorative herb. It helps the body adapt to environmental, physical and emotional stressors, supports normal functions, and restores balance.


Tulsi is used in many forms which includes in the form of a tulsi tea, juice, fresh leaves, and dried powdered form. According to Ayurveda, tulsi promotes purity and lightness in the body, cleansing the respiratory tract of toxins and relieving digestive gas and bloating. Tulsi leaves offer a rich source of essential oil, containing eugenol, nerol, camphor, and a variety of terpenes and flavonoids. The oil is a strong antiseptic against many kinds of disease-causing organisms, including bacteria, fungi, and parasites.

Tulsi’s Benefits in Soothing Stress

Tulsi has antioxidant properties that may explain its effectiveness in reducing the damaging effects of stress on the body. A number of studies have shown that tulsi protects healthy cells from the toxicity of radiation and chemotherapy. In addition, tulsi seems to influence the neurochemistry of the brain in a way similar to antidepressant medications.

If you are taking tulsi for stress relief, we recommend growing your own plant from seeds or cuttings. To benefit from their health-promoting effects, nibble on a few leaves every day. You can also use holy basil freely in your cooking and in making freshly brewed tea.

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How to Use & Cook Tulsi

The leaves have a sweet, aromatic smell and a minty taste; they’re used in garnishing food, sauces and soups. They’re also commonly used to make juices, flavored water and tulsi tea. In India, people eat tulsi leaves raw in order to cure a cough or cold.

You can buy and care for a tulsi plant, or you can buy tulsi leaves and powder from a health food store. If you buy fresh tulsi, look for leaves that are vibrant and green, without any holes or dark spots. To prepare tulsi leaves, clean them thoroughly, and then chop them coarsely with a kitchen knife.  It’s best to use fresh tulsi leaves within a day or two, but they can be stored in a sealed bag in the refrigerator for five days or so.

Tulsi tea is a popular beverage in India that’s consumed in place of coffee. Tulsi tea boosts metabolism and helps with weight loss; it’s rich in antioxidants and prevents aging effects as well as cancer. Tulsi tea is also soothing, and it balances our system and improves immunity; it increases your resistance to stress and chronic fatigue syndrome; plus works as a natural remedy for anxiety.

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You can find tulsi tea at many health food stores; it comes in boxes of tea bags. You can also buy dried tulsi leaves in bulk and use your tea steeper to make this beneficial and tasty tea. If you’d rather have an iced tea, it’s simple to let the tea cool, add ice, and even some honey or lemon for flavour.

You can also prepare tulsi juice, which includes five tulsi leaves that have been infused in water. The juice is known to enhance kidney function and relieve diarrhea, vomiting and fever.

Tulsi essential oil can be found in many health food stores or online. The essential oil is extracted from the holy basil and is used in lotions, soap, perfume, shampoo and conditioner. You can also diffuse the oil in your home; the calming and immune-boosting properties can be inhaled as well.

Tulsi Recipes

We have a number of recipes using Tulsi – you can find them here.

Tulsi Tea | Infusion | Tulasyadi Phanta

Other Health Benefits of Tulsi

Tulsi has a large range of health benefits if taken regularly – from preventing cancer and managing diabetes to dental issues, respiratory disorders and headaches. Here are some reference articles for you:

This is cross posted with our sister site, A Life Time of Cooking. It appears here as part of the Indian Essentials series.