Seven Herbs for the Modern Woman Series :: Tulsi

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil or Sacred Basil
This is the second post of a series of seven inspired by some thoughts on the interesting cultural landscape modern women are now navigating.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be making some introductions to some particularly supportive herbs (they do become like friends, so please forgive my ensuing personification of them!) that have a special affinity for women.  You may like to welcome them in for tea if you strike a pleasant chord...

All plants are made the same, yet some are elevated to “extraordinary’ by the reverence and importance given to them by culture and history.  Tulsi is one such a plant.  Native to India, Tulsi is sanskrit for “incomparable one” and is also called holy or sacred basil and is believed in India to be the physical manifestation of the divine.  They love it so much over there that they have 108 different names of it and and it is a Hindu custom to have a pot of tulsi growing out the front of one’s home to bless all those who cross the threshold, and keep evil spirits out.  

India is where I personally got to know Tulsi, and my tale for how I met her is very much how I think of using this plant for others.  Tulsi as the soulful girlfriend you call up when the world is looking a little grey, or you’re trying to figure out the deeper meaning to a problem that you know she will have just the right insightful words for you.

Throughout university I took a year long break to gain some perspective and get to know myself better beyond my identity as a student.  A favourite Irish poet of mine, John O’Donohue once wrote “when the secret is not respected, the sacred vanishes”…an eerie concept to behold when you’re waist deep in a science degree and intellectualism is the currency you’re banking on day in day out.  I was forgetting about all the “secrets” of the plants, of healing, of human nature that first attracted me to studying naturopathy.  And so the sacred was vanishing out of my life and I was feeling dried up and yearning for something I couldn’t put my finger on.  

During that time away, I traveled to a number of herb farms in Australia and overseas to meet the plants first hand.  Amongst them was a tulsi garden, which was part of a wider medicinal garden of an Ayurvedic hospital in Kerala, India.  For two weeks, I would rise at 4:30am, just on sunrise, and ride a bike through a tiny bumbling town on a very bumpy road.  I would spend the morning with a number of others tending to the expanse of tulsi garden beds until it became too hot to work any longer.   The monotony of the work was therapeutic in itself (transplanting three hundred tulsi seedlings does tend to send the mind to some interesting places!).  

A morning’s harvest
Quite the nice ride to “work"
I began to start understanding this plant and this curious land a bit better….I also began to understand a bit more of this sacredness I had been yearning for.  Amidst all the chaos, the seeming hopelessness of many situations, the injustices that abound, you can have a garden, and you can pray, and you can create rituals that tap you into something bigger than yourself.  And this is the medicinal quality tulsi imparts to us.  
And just as sacred as tulsi are these little ones!

A sweetheart in the tulsi garden
Just like in my personal tale, tulsi as a herbal medicine is for those who are yearning for the sacred in their lives. Looking for that deeper river of meaning to understand the ups and downs of life.  If you find yourself yearning for mountains, temples, a retreat or any such place that makes you feel closer to that universal spiritual energy, tulsi is a lovely way to weave that into your day to day.  

Tulsi is a what herbalist’s call an adaptogen and nervine.  That is, a herb that helps us to adapt to all the stimulus in our environment  When we can easily adapt and our immune systems are strong, we build resilience that helps us to thrive in an ever-changing world.  Tulsi and other adaptogenic herbs have an affinity for tonifiying and strengthening the adrenals (the glands that produce all our stress hormones).  When these glands are overworked, as they so often are in these times, this plant lends a supportive hand. 

Tulsi is immensely helpful for women who are feeling “wired and tired” and go for that caffeine or sugar hit in the afternoon to combat fatigue and brain fog.  A cup of strong tulsi tea in the afternoon will help you curb those sugar cravings and flick a mental switch that well help you ease through the afternoon.  

Overtime, tulsi brings about a lightness of spirit and clarity of mind, renewing your faith in yourself or a situation.  It is also known as a plant of compassion and peace, urging people to go beyond the mentality of “an eye for an eye”, and to see the bigger picture. 

Tulsi is beautiful as a tea on its own, especially during the colder months.  It has a slight aromatic pungency and undertone of earthy spiciness…both thanks to its high resin content.  After a morning of harvesting Tulsi in the gardens, my fingers would look like those of a lifelong smoker from all its sticky resin.  Which also makes it great for colds, flus, sinus problems or ear aches.  Not only does it support the immune system, but the resin gives the mucous a firm push along, and it highly anti-microbial.  

Some favourite combinations are:  

For stress, overwork and yearning for soulfulness and meaning: tulsi, withania, rose and cardamon (as a tea or herbal extract blend).    

For a delicious immune tonic, it can be made into an elixir with cinnamon, elderberries and local honey.  Just fill a jar loosely with 1 part tulsi, 1 part elderberries and a couple of cinnamon sticks crushed, pour over with brandy 3/4 of the way, and fill the rest with honey.  Leave in a sunny position for 2-3 weeks, then strain through muslin, and bottle.  Take 1 teaspoon a couple of times a day.  

For a new take of chai, you can use tulsi instead of black tea to create a complex base not.    For a robust blend, combine with bay leaves, black pepper, cinnamon and ginger.  

For something more delicate, combine with vanilla, star anise, cardamon, nutmeg and orange peel.    

You can't always take yourself on a trip to the mountains, with temples and frangipani trees atop,
but it’s fairly easy to make yourself a tulsi tea!


  1. Another wonderful post. You have inspired me to get up and make some Tulsi tea immediately! x

  2. Can we make these recipes above with dried tulsi, rather than fresh?

  3. Yes, indeed you can. The dried tulsi has a richer more pungent flavour that is really lovely. Just make sure you buy organic!


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