Ocimum tenuiflorum, commonly known as holy basil, tulsi or tulasi, is an aromatic perennial plant in the family Lamiaceae. It is native to the Indian subcontinent and widespread as a cultivated plant throughout the Southeast Asian tropics.
Tulsi is cultivated for religious and traditional medicine purposes, and also for its essential oil. It is widely used as a herbal tea, commonly used in Ayurveda, and has a place within the Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism, in which devotees perform worship involving holy basil plants or leaves.
The variety of Ocimum tenuiflorum used in Thai cuisine is referred to as Thai holy basil (Thai: กะเพรา kaphrao) and is the key herb in phat kaphrao, a stir-fry dish; it is not the same as Thai basil, which is a variety of Ocimum basilicum. In Cambodia, it is known as mreah-prov (Khmer: ម្រះព្រៅ).
Holy basil is an erect, many-branched subshrub, 30–60 cm (12–24 in) tall with hairy stems. Leaves are green or purple; they are simple, petioled, with an ovate blade up to 5 cm (2 in) long, which usually has a slightly toothed margin; they are strongly scented and have a decussate phyllotaxy. The purplish flowers are placed in close whorls on elongated racemes.
The three main morphotypes cultivated in India and Nepal are Ram tulsi (the most common type, with broad bright green leaves that are slightly sweet), the less common purplish green-leaved (Krishna or Shyam tulsi) and the common wild vana tulsi (e.g., Ocimum gratissimum).
Origin and distribution
DNA barcodes of various biogeographical isolates of tulsi from the Indian subcontinent are now available. In a large-scale phylogeographical study of this species conducted using chloroplast genome sequences, a group of researchers from Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, have found that this plant originates from North-Central India.
The genome of the tulsi plant has been sequenced and reported as a draft, estimated to be 612 mega bases, with results showing genes for biosynthesis of anthocyanins in Shyama Tulsi, ursolic acid and eugenol in Rama Tulsi. The predicted proteins and other annotations are available from caps.ncbs.res.in/Ote.
For centuries, the dried leaves have been mixed with stored grains to repel insects.
Water disinfection using O. tenuiflorum extracts was tested by Bhattacharjee et al 2013 and Sadul et al 2009. Both found an alcoholic extract to be more effective than aqueous or leaf juice. Sundaramurthi et al 2012 finds the result to be safe to drink, and additionally to be antimicrobial. A constituent analysis by Sadul found alkaloids, steroids, and tannins in the aqueous, and alkaloids and steroids only in the alcoholic extract.
Significance in Hinduism
Tulsi is a sacred plant for Hindus, particularly the Vaishnavite sect. It is worshipped as the avatar of Lakshmi, and may be planted in courtyards of Hindu houses or Hanuman temples. The ritual lighting of lamps each evening during Kartik includes the worship of the tulsi plant. Vaishnavas followers of Vishnu are known as "those who bear the tulsi around the neck".
Tulsi Vivah is a ceremonial festival performed between Prabodhini Ekadashi (the 11th or 12th lunar day of the bright fortnight of the Hindu month of Kartik) and Kartik Purnima (the full moon of the month).
Every evening, Bengali Hindus place earthen lamps in front of tulsi plants. During the Kati Bihu festival celebrated in Assam, people light earthen lamps (diya) at the foot of the household tulsi plants and pray.
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