Holy basil sacred plant is locally in India, called tulsi; its botanical name is Ocimum tenuiflorum. The herb is mentioned in Charaka Samhita. There are monographs of O. tenuiflorum published in the Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India (Vol. II, 1999, and Vol. IV, 2004), Unani Pharmacopoeia of India (Vol. V, 2008), Thai Herbal Pharmacopoeia (Vol. I, 1995), Vietnamese Pharmacopoeia (1st ed., 1983), and World Health Organization (WHO) Monographs (Vol. 2, 2002).

There are multiple references to this plant in ancient Hindu literature. Some describe the plant as “The Mother Medicine of Nature,” and it is referred to as such in ancient Hindu literature. An ode to the plant in the Kanva Sakha branch of the Vedas is quoted below:

Of all flowers, Tulsi is the best. She is worshipable and beautiful and burns up the fuel of sins like a flame of fire. Of all the goddesses, she is the most sacred. Because no one can compare to her, she is called Tulsi. I worship this goddess who is entreated by all. She is placed on the heads of all, desired by all, and makes the universe holy. She bestows liberation from this world and devotion to Lord Hari[12]. I worship her.

Holy basil sacred plant is attributed to possessing mythical properties in Hindu literature.

“Every home with a Tulsi plant is a place of pilgrimage and no disease, messengers of Yama, the God of death can enter it.”

– Skandapurana, 2, 4, 8, 13 Padmapurana Uttarakhanda

There are references to tulsi in the oldest Vedic texts—the Rig Veda. The following extract from the Patalkanda of the Padmapurana illustrates the worship of tulsi:

One who hears Tulsi Devi’s glories will have all his sinful reactions, stored from many births, destroyed, and very quickly attain the lotus feet of Sri Sri Radha-Krishna.

The leaves, flowers, roots, bark, branches, trunk and the shade of Tulsi Devi are all spiritual.

One, whose dead body is burnt in a fire, which has Tulsi wood as fuel, will attain the spiritual world, even if he is the most sinful of sinful persons, and the person who lights up that fire, will be freed from all sinful reactions…

Every part of the holy basil sacred plant is fragrant—the leaves, seeds, and flowers. When in bloom, the fragrance of the tulsi is keenly felt. The plant seeds profusely. Natural regeneration is profuse. There are three varieties of this herb. Two of these are named after the Hindu gods Krishna and Rama—Krishna Tulsi and Rama Tulsi. The former has purple-tinged leaves, and the latter is mostly green. A third variety—Van Tulsi (“van” in Sanskrit means “forest”)—grows in the wild. All three varieties have similar aromatic and medicinal properties.

Holy Basil sacred plant properties include its traditional use to treat arthritis, respiratory ailments, fever, influenza, stomach ailments, etc. Tulsi is a common ingredient in many Ayurveda and Unani medicines.

Ocimumosides A, B, and ocimarin are three compounds isolated from the extract of holy basil leaves that were proven to have anti-stress effects. The anti-stress properties of the herb have been validated in multiple studies (Archana et al., 2002; Samson et al., 2006; Samson et al. (2007, Ravindran et al., 2005). Its neuroprotective properties have been observed in multiple studies (Yanpallewar et al., 2004; Siddique et al., 2007).

The antioxidant properties of tulsi were observed by Subramanian et al., 2013) and), who also observed that it caused a reduction in oxidative stress in the brain. It has been seen that tulsi possessed an amelioration property when the sciatic nerve was cut to induce neuro-dysfunction in rats (Muthuraman et al., 2008). This property could have value in finding treatments for the dysfunctions caused by nerve damage.

The plant contains alkaloids, glycosides, phenols, saponins, tannins, terpenes, etc.

Additional reading:

Asian Herbs and their wondrous health-giving properties

Holy Herbs: Modern Connections to Ancient Plants

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