Health from your gardens –VI,Tulasi plant

Tulasi, sometimes called king of herbal plants or a holy herb is brimming with various minerals and medicinal phytochemicals and considered holy in some countries. Tulasi, Holy Basil or Ocimum sanctum, botanically known as Ocimumtenuiflorum is an aromatic plant in family Lamiaceae, native to India and cultivated throughout Southeast Asian tropics. It is a shrubby erect plant growing to 30 to 60 cms height, has hairy stems with simple opposite green or purple strongly scented leaves, upto 5 cms long, ovate in shape with slightly toothed margins. The flowers are purplish in elongate racemes in close whorls. Cultivated extensively in India and Nepal the plants may be green-leaved (Sri or Lakshmi tulasi) or purple-leaved (Krishna tulasi).

Tulasi plant/shrub

Tulasi leaves

Tulasi is cultivated in most Hindu households and also grown as a cash crop for religious and medicinal purposes. The tulasi plant and leaves are used by Hindu devotees for daily worship and in many religious ceremonies. A variant used in Thai cuisine is called Thai holy basil, different from Thai basil or Ocimumbasilicum.

Uses of Tulasi:
Leaves and twigs of Tulasi plant are extensively used in worshipping various deities by Hindus in India and many other countries. It is also used in many religious ceremonies like weddings and thread ceremonies and “homas. Tulasi plant is also worshipped by many Hindus as an “avatar” of Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of Prosperity). The sacred Tulasi herbal plant/leaves are of two varieties, “Rama tulasi” which are light green and larger and “Krishna tulasi” or “Shyamatulasi” which are darker purplish leaves. Many Hindu families grow a Tulasi plant in front or near their house or in the central courtyard, often in specially made pots. Traditionally the plants are worshipped by women folkdaily and on special designated days. There are many other folklores associated with this sacred plant. In many communities culinary uses of Tulasi leaves are prohibited since it is considered sacred.However Tulasi leaves and water containing leaves can be consumed orally as “prasad” after being offered in worshipping God.

Nutritional & chemical profile of Tulasi:
Nutritive value per 100 gms of Tulasi leaves (USDA National Nutrient data base):

Energy – 23 kcals
Carbohydrates – 30.6 gms
Proteins – 3.15 gm
Total fat – 0.64 gm
Cholesterol – 0
Dietary fibre – 1.60 gms

– Folates – 66 units,Vit A 5275 IU, Vit C 18 mgs, Vit K 414.8 units

Electrolytes: Calcium -177mg, Copper – 385 mg, Magnesium- 64mg & traces of Manganese and Zinc

Some Phyto nutrients like – Carotene beta, Crypto Xanthin beta etc.

Health benefits of Tulasi herb:

  • Tulasi leaves are known to have many chemical compounds having disease preventing and health promoting properties.
  • Has many polyphenolic flavonoids like Orientin, Vicenin having possible anti-oxidant properties.
  • Has several essential oils like eugenol, citronellol, linatooletc having anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties
  • Very low in calories and no cholesterol, but rich in many essential nutrients, minerals and vitamins.
  • Contains very high levels of beta-carotene, Vitamin A, cryptoxanthin, lutein etc all of which have anti-oxidant properties and useful against ageing and some diseases.
  • Zea-Xanthin, a flavonoid carotenoid compound is selectively absorbed into retinal macula lutea and believed to help in age-related macular disease (AMRD) in the elderly.
  • High concentration of Vitamin A serves as anti-oxidant and helps maintaining good vision and healthy mucus membrane and skin. It has also some protective action against lung and oral cancers.
  • Vitamin K in basil leaves is supportive to blood clotting factors and for bone mineralisation.
  • Tulasi is an excellent source of various minerals particularly Potassium – good for control of heart rate & BP and Iron, a component of haemoglobin in RBCs.
  • Basil leaves contain many useful essential oils which have medicinal value against some common ailments.

Tulasi in Ayurveda:
Tulasi leaves and extracts are used in many Ayurvedic preparations and even regarded as an “elixir of life”. It is used in preparing many ayurvedic remedies for variety of ailments. It is also taken orally in many forms like herbal tea, dried powder, as fresh leaf or mixed with ghee. Essential oils from a special variety called “karpooratulasi” are used for medicinal purposes, herbal cosmetics, skin preparations and in medicines for fever, cold and infections.

Other uses and in cuisine:

  • Driedtulasi leaves are used with stored grains to repel insects.
  • In Srilanka, the plant is used as mosquito repellent called “Madurutalaa”.
  • Tulasi leaves are used commonly in Thai cuisine.
  • A “boiled red rice Masala conjee” or podrridgemade in South India uses Tulasi leaves and has an exotic flavour & taste and is very healthy too.

Phatkaphrao mu — holy basil with pork

It is interesting to learn and know about the remarkable nutritional and medicinal values of several plants and trees in our surroundings and in our own garden. We can put them to use in our daily life to enjoy better health.

Best Wishes,
Compiled by Dr M Mohan Rao,
Managing Director & Chief Surgeon (Retired),
Dr U Mohan Rau Memorial Hospital, Chennai.
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