Ocimum tenuiflorum (synonym Ocimum sanctum), commonly known as holy basil or tulsi, 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.
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 tulsi) and the common wild vana tulsi.
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.
Tulsi (Sanskrit:-Surasa) has been used in Ayurveda and Siddha practices for its supposed treatment of diseases. For centuries, the dried leaves have been mixed with stored grains to repel insects.
Significance in Hinduism
Tulsi leaves are part of the worship of Vishnu and his avatars and some other deities, including Krishna and Rama, and other male Vaishnava deities, such as Hanuman and some brahmanas. Tulsi is a sacred plant for Hindus and is worshipped as the avatar of Lakshmi. Traditionally, tulsi is planted in the center of the central courtyard of Hindu houses or may be grown next to Hanuman temples.
The ritual lighting of lamps each evening during Kartik includes the worship of the tulsi plant, which is held to be auspicious for the home. Vaishnavas traditionally use Hindu prayer beads made from tulsi stems or roots, which are an important symbol of initiation. They have such a strong association with Vaishnavas, that followers of Vishnu are known as "those who bear the tulsi round the neck".
Tulsi Vivah is a ceremonial festival performed anytime between Prabodhini Ekadashi (the 11th or 12th lunar day of the bright fortnight of the Hindu month of Kartik) and Kartik Poornima (the full moon of the month). The day varies regionally.
Prayer beads made from tulsi wood
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