Tulsi/ Holy Basil- Benefits, Side Effects & Growing

Tulsi/ Mother of Medicine/ Queen of Herbs

Tulsi or holy basil Ocimum tenuiflorum is one of the most respected plants in Indian culture. It is famously known as The Queen of herbs or Mother Medicine of Nature. This magical herb comes from India. It is an ancient herb that was taken to other parts of the world by early explorers. Today, I believe it must be grown in every part of the world.

Holy Basil- Health Benefits & Uses

We have seen some possible positive effects of holy basil. But there are researchers who also talk about the side effects of these plants. Basil leaves contain eugenol a phenolic compound and other phytochemicals. These phytochemicals can cause low blood pressure,   low blood sugar or slow down the blood clotting. Some animal studies suggest that in high doses holy basil extracts can cause fertility issues. Eugenol in the leaves can cause irritation of the oral mucosa if your mouth is sensitive to such astringents. Other than that it is overall a safe herb to consume in moderate amounts. I guess for the same reasons, it is not consumed as a vegetable but only a few leaves are used at a time. 

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Side Effects of Holy Basil

For centuries, holy basil, a sacred plant, has been believed to cure several illnesses like curing respiratory diseases, infections, stress related issues, fever, bodyache, thyroid issues, heart problems,diabetes, poor memory,blood clotting , fertility problems and many more. Researchers who believe in this plant, are conducting experiments to prove the positive effects of this plant. Other than as a herbal medicine, it is also believed to purify air and that’s why most homes in India keep a holy basil in their front yards. The leaves are used to make tea to comfort body aches and relieve stress during sickness. The spicy minty tea definitely wakes you up for a busy day. It is very comforting. The leaves are boiled with some other herbs like Ashwagandha, onions, black pepper, flax seeds, and cloves to make a decoction to soothe the irritated throat. The stems of holy basil are used to make rosary beads known as Tulsi mala. It has religious significance in Hindu religion. Tulsi / Holy Basil tree is considered a goddess and used in various ceremonies like Tulsi Vivaha when young boys are married to these plants on a special occasion every year. 

Tips to Grow Holy Basil/ Tulsi

Just like other varieties of basil, it has become very popular now as a herb and a traditional  remedy. Many people struggle to grow this plant. I too found it challenging in the beginning when I tried to grow these plants from seeds . Germinating basil seeds was not an issue for me but keeping the young seedlings alive was challenging. The young seedlings are very delicate and if not cared for properly at that stage they can easily die. 

Four Types of Holy Basil

There are four different types of holy basils- namely Rama tulsi, krishna tulsi, vana tulsi and These tulsi plants differ in their taste, blooming patterns, and uses. But, growing requirements are practically the same. 

Holy basil grows annually in my region (zone 8a) because these plants do not tolerate freeze or low temperature. So they die completely in winter and I have to restart every year. They are tropical plants that grow well in hot humid climates. If you do not get harsh winters then the plant can be grown perennially. They might even last for more than 3-4 years if growing conditions are perfect. 

 

Holy Basil - USDA zones

Holy basil are tropical plants that grow well in hot humid climates. They do not tolerate freezing temperatures. They thrive well in USDA zones 10b and 11. In temperate climates they grow perennially. They might even last for more than 3-4 years if growing conditions are perfect. In colder climates, holy basil is a perennial or can be grown indoors throughout year. 

Holy Basil - Starting from seeds

Tulsi is commonly propagated by seeds. Every plant produces thousands of tiny black/purple seeds. These seeds usually self propagate when they fall on the moist soil. Or, you can save the seeds and grow these plants in containers. Towards the end of the winter,  start the seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. The seed germination time is 3-7 days. Fresh seeds germinate faster.

Holy Basil - Optimal Growing Requirements

The potting mix  for holy basil should be well draining loamy mix of soil, sand, and compost that is  slightly acidic to neutral. The optimal pH for Holy basil plants is between 6-7.5. Sprinkle the seeds on the top of this moist mix. If you are growing the seeds in hot climate then you can cover them up with about ⅛ inch potting mix. I typically sow the seeds directly in early spring or cover the planter with a plastic bag to maintain high humidity. In the first few weeks, the seedlings are very delicate and sensitive to moisture and temperature. The optimal temperature is between 60-80 °F or 16-27 °C.

Most people fail to grow this herb successfully because even though the seeds germinate easily, in early days the plants are very delicate. The seedlings do not like sudden temperature changes. Once the seedling are 5-7 inches tall, they are pretty tolerant to changing weather. They can then be easily transplanted to  to a bigger pot or in the ground. If the growing conditions are good, then holy basil seeds can directly be sown in the ground. 

Once established you will be amazed to see how strong these basil plants are. Every year in summer, temperatures in my region are constantly above 100°F for weeks. And Holy basil is one of the few plants that battle with high heat successfully and come out as winners. The high heat makes them bolt and the size of the leaves  gets a little smaller but not much. The Rama-Tulsi  grows crazily like weeds. Regular pruning helps to maintain the desired size and shape. It also allows the surrounding plants to grow freely.  Rama-Tulsi has a bushy nature. The plant gets so thick and broad that other plants do not get any nutrients and sun. Holy basils self seed so easily that you can see them sprouting everywhere in the backyard. In my observation, Rama-Tulsi  (Green leaf holy basil)  produces almost 10 times more seeds and leaves compared to the Krishna-Tulsi (Pruple leaf holy basil). Purple holy basil is comparatively a slow grower and it grows erect like a small tree. For a fuller appearance one can keep trimming it to allow more branching  and encourage new leaf development. These basil plants grow up to 4 ft tall.  


Holy Basil – Myth about Fertilizers

One myth that I would like to talk about here is that if one touches Holy Basil during their menstrual period or after eating a non-vegetarian meal, it can die. This is definitely not true. In fact, just like any other plants these plants love high nitrogen fertilizers like fish fertilizer. It gives them a boost to grow  more leaves. Of course the smell lasts for a few days. So, if you do not want to use animal based organic fertilizers then you can always add some compost tea. I grow these plants directly in the ground. Since, I strongly believe in organic gardening, I believe the focus should be on keeping the soil healthy overall by adding compost, wood chips and organic fertilizers. 

Pests on Holy Basil

Due to the potent chemical in holy basil, it doesn’t really get affected by pests. You might see some aphids sometimes if the plants get wet or after rain. But a quick wash with a jet spray washes off the aphids. If the plants are healthy, they themselves repel pests. 

Rabbits or other rodents do not attack these plants. Sometimes, birds might clip off the seeds. I’m not sure why they do that. I guess they take the sticks to make nests. If you know the reason, let me know in the comments.

Holy Basil – Plant Profile

Leaves of Tulsi are ovate in shape and have serrations on the edges. Depending on the variety the broadness differs. Rama tulsi has broad leaves whereas the leaves of the purple tulsi are somewhat smaller in size. 

The flowers are tiny and purple in color. They grow in groups on flowering stems. A blooming holy basil invites many beneficial insects. Hoverflies, bees and other insects pollinate the flowers. The stems dry off and seeds fall down. They can easily be transported by wind to nearby places. It is easy to collect and save these seeds. They last for several years. 

 

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