Ocimum tenuiflorum, also known as Ocimum sanctum, holy basil, or tulasi (also spelled thulasi), is an aromatic plant in the family Lamiaceae which is native to the Indian subcontinent and widespread as a cultivated plant throughout the Southeast Asian tropics. It is an erect, many branched subshrub, 30–60 cm (12–24 in) tall with hairy stems and simple phyllotaxic green or purple leaves that are strongly scented.
Leaves have petioles and are ovate, up to 5 cm (2.0 in) long, usually slightly toothed. The flowers are purplish in elongate racemes in close whorls. The two main morphotypes cultivated in India and Nepal are green-leaved (Sri or Lakshmi tulasi) and purple-leaved (Krishna tulasi).
Tulasi is cultivated for religious and medicinal purposes, and for its essential oil. It is widely known across the Indian subcontinent as a medicinal plant and an herbal tea, commonly used in Ayurveda, and has an important role within the Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism, in which devotees perform worship involving holy basil plants or leaves. This plant is revered as an elixir of life.
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 finding is especially interesting, as this region has played important roles in the religious and cultural uprising of India, and the present discovery might suggest the evolution of Tulasi is related with the cultural migratory patterns in the Indian subcontinent.
Tulasi leaves are an essential part in the worship of Vishnu and his avatars, including Krishna and Rama, and other male Vaishnava deities such as Hanuman, Balarama, Garuda and many others. Tulasi is a sacred plant for Hindus and is worshipped as the avatar of Lakshmi. Water mixed with the petals is given to the dying to raise their departing souls to heaven. Tulasi, which is Sanskrit for "the incomparable one", is most often regarded as a consort of Krishna in the form of Lakshmi. According to the Brahma Vaivarta Purana, tulasi is an expression of Sita.[full citation needed] There are two types of tulasi worshipped in Hinduism: "Rama tulasi" has light green leaves and is larger in size; "Shyama tulasi" has dark green leaves and is important for the worship of Hanuman. Many Hindus have tulasi plants growing in front of or near their home, often in special pots. Traditionally, tulasi is planted in the centre of the central courtyard of Hindu houses. It is also frequently grown next to Hanuman temples, especially in Varanasi.[full citation needed]
According to Vaishnavas, it is believed in Puranas that during Samudra Manthana, when the gods win the ocean-churning against the asuras, Dhanvantari comes up from the ocean with Amrita in hand for the gods. Dhanvantari, the divine healer, sheds happy tears, and when the first drop falls in the Amrita, it forms tulasi. In the ceremony of Tulasi Vivaha, tulasi is ceremonially married to Krishna annually on the eleventh day of the waxing moon or twelfth of the month of Kartika in the lunar calendar. This day also marks the end of the four-month Chaturmas, which is considered inauspicious for weddings and other rituals, so the day inaugurates the annual marriage season in India. The ritual lighting of lamps each evening during Kartika includes the worship of the tulasi plant, which is held to be auspicious for the home. Vaishnavas especially follow the daily worship of tulasi during Kartik. In another legend, Tulasi was a pious woman who sought a boon to marry Vishnu. Lakshmi, Vishnu's consort, cursed her to become a plant in earth. However, Vishnu appeased her by giving her a boon that she would grace him when he appears in the form of Shaligrama in temples.
Vaishnavas traditionally use Hindu prayer beads made from tulasi stems or roots, which are an important symbol of initiation. Tulasi rosaries are considered to be auspicious for the wearer, and believed to put them under the protection of Hanuman. They have such a strong association with Vaishnavas, that followers of Hanuman are known as "those who bear the tulasi round the neck".
In India, the use of tulasi in culinary preparations is not encouraged by most Vaishnava communities as it is considered to be sacred (however, tulasi leaves offered to Krishna may be eaten raw by themselves). According to followers of ISKON, movement even uprooting or cutting a branch of a live tulasi tree is considered to be a great offense. However, leaves may be plucked only for offering to Krishna. The combination of tulasi with meat in food preparations is considered to be extremely offensive and disrespectful.
Tulasi (Sanskrit:-Surasa) has been used for thousands of years in Ayurveda for its diverse healing properties. It is mentioned in the Charaka Samhita, an ancient Ayurvedic text. Tulsi is considered to be an adaptogen, balancing different processes in the body, and helpful for adapting to stress. Marked by its strong aroma and astringent taste, it is regarded in Ayurveda as a kind of "elixir of life" and believed to promote longevity.
Tulasi extracts are used in ayurvedic remedies for a variety of ailments. Traditionally, tulasi is taken in many forms: as herbal tea, dried powder, fresh leaf or mixed with ghee. Essential oil extracted from Karpoora tulasi is mostly used for medicinal purposes and in herbal cosmetics.
The leaves of holy basil, known as kaphrao in the Thai language (Thai: กะเพรา), are commonly used in Thai cuisine. Kaphrao should not be confused with horapha (Thai: โหระพา), which is normally known as Thai basil, or with Thai lemon basil (maenglak; Thai: แมงลัก).
The best-known dish made with this herb is phat kaphrao (Thai: ผัดกะเพรา) — a stir-fry of Thai holy basil with meats, seafood or, as in khao phat kraphao, with rice.
For centuries, the dried leaves have been mixed with stored grains to repel insects. In Sri Lanka this plant is used as a mosquito repellent. Sinhala: Maduruthalaa
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Some of the main chemical constituents of tulsi are: oleanolic acid, ursolic acid, rosmarinic acid, eugenol, carvacrol, linalool, β-caryophyllene (about 8%), β-elemene (c.11.0%), and germacrene D (about 2%).
Genome of Tulsi plant has been sequenced and the draft genome has been published by a team of researchers from National Centre for Biological Sciences at Bengaluru. The genome size was estimated to be 612 mega bases and results from the sequencing project show that certain metabolite-biosynthesis genes such as genes for biosynthesis of Anthocyanin in Krishna Tulsi variety, Ursolic acid and Eugenol in Rama Tulsi variety were expressed in large quantities. These metabolites were shown to have anti-cancerous properties as well. It was further commented that these metabolites could be utilized as anti-cancerous drugs.
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