Materia Medica - Tulsi (Holy Basil)


Holy basil kapoor.jpg

Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum), also known as Holy Basil, is a sacred plant in the Hindu religion. Hindus regard it as an earthly manifestation of the goddess Tulasi. In sanskrit, tulsi means “beyond compare”. It is also referred to as Queen of Herbs.


Materia Medica

Latin Binomial: Ocimum sanctum, O. tenuiflorum, O, gratissimum

Common Name(s): Tulsi, Tulasi, Holy Basil

TCM Name: n/a

Ayurvedic Name: Tulsi, Tulasi

Family: Lamiaceae (mint family)

Physical Description of the Plant: 

Holy basil is an erect, multi-branched subshrub, 12–24 in. tall with the characteristic square stem and opposite leaves of the mint family. The strongly scented.leaves are green or purple; simple, petioled, with an ovate, up to 2.0 inch-long blade, usually with a slightly toothed margin.   The purplish flowers are placed in close whorls on elongate racemes. The two main morphotypes cultivated in India and Nepal are green-leaved (Sri or Lakshmi tulasi) and purple-leaved (Krishna tulasi). 

Habitat:  Tulsi grows abundantly in India, Western Asia, Malaysia, Central and South America, and Puerto Rico. It prefers full sun with moderate water and fertile, well-drainied soils. In the temperate north it is grown as an annual, but is perennial in its native habitat. There are four varieties of Tulsi – Rama, Vana, Kapoor and Krishna.  Each has its own unique flavor but all three are used interchangeably. 

Harvest and Collection: Harvest when the plant begins producing flowers. As with culinary basil, cutting the growing tips encourages a full bushy shape. Use fresh in tea or tincture, or dry on screens with good air circulation.

Parts of the Plant Used: Aerial parts

Qualities: In Ayurveda Holy basil is classified as a rasayana, an herb that nourishes a person’s growth to perfect health and promotes longevity. It calms the mind and promotes clarity of the present moment, sharpens all the senses, helps the body adapt to stress, and promotes energy and endurance by increasing the body’s ability to efficiently use oxygen. 

Energetics:  slightly warming, pungent, sweet, bitter

Chemical Constituents: 

  • Aldehydes
  • Alkaloids
  • Antistaphylocoagulase
  • Ascorbic acid
  • Beta-carotene
  • Beta-sitosterol
  • Alpha-ocimene
  • Beta-ocimene
  • Carvacrol
  • Cineole
  • Eugenol
  • Glycosides
  • Linalol
  • Linoleic acid
  • Linolenic acid
  • Methyl-chavicol
  • Mucilage
  • Oleic acid
  • Phenols
  • Saponins
  • Stearic acid
  • Tannin



  • Adaptogen
  • Analgesic
  • Anthelmintic
  • Antimicrobial
  • Antioxidant
  • Carminative
  • Cardiovascular tonic
  • Cerebral stimulant
  • Expectorant
  • Hepatoprotective
  • Immunomodulating
  • Neuroprotective
  • Radioprotective
  • Relaxing nervine

Eastern: Promote stagnant digestion, treat stomach spasms, kidney conditions, promote an increase in blood circulation and aid in the treatment of snake and insect bites.

Indications: menopausal cloudy thinking, poor memory, ADD/ADHD, recovery from head trauma, stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, fungal infections, viral infections (colds and flu, herpes), depression, radiation exposure, ulcers, pain, allergic rhinitis, sport injury recovery, arthritis/bursitis.

Contraindications/Cautions: Use with caution if taking insulin for diabetes; can lower fasting blood glucose significantly, adjust insulin accordingly. It is slightly blood thinning and should not be taken by those who are currently taking warfarin. 

Drug Interactions: May interact with medications that slow blood clotting (aspirin, warfarin, heparin).


TinctureBest tinctured fresh, 40 – 60 drops of a 1:2 tincture, 2 – 3 times a day.

Infusion:  Can be infused fresh or dried. Steep 1 or 2 tsp of the leaf for 5-10 minutes, covered because of its high volatile oil content.

Combinations: It can be combined with other cerebral stimulants such as rosemary, bacopa, and ginkgo. In Ayurveda, a formula that is balancing for all doshas is comprised of tulsi, arjuna and hawthorn.

Folklore: Dating back hundreds of years, holy basil was originally known in India as tulsi, meaning “incomparable one”. This form of basil was commonly used in religious ceremonies and burials. It is also believed that holy basil will protect any home where it is grown. Tulsi is known to be the best herb for preparing the heart and mind for spiritual practices. Chinese medicine adopted this sacred herb and further established its functional uses.

Tulsi has only recently become well known all over the world, but it has always been a cornerstone of Ayurvedic practice. The dried stems of the plant are made into beads for prayer necklaces in India and most every household has a Tulsi plant outside its door. 

Flower Essence: Harmony: Sacred Basil Flower Essence enhances clarity around our true nature or life purpose.

Applications: As a cardiovascular tonic Tulsi is slightly blood thinning and promotes good circulation. Taken daily it can help optimize cholesterol and cortisol levels. Synergizes other herbs in a formula.


Tulsi Cordial

This recipe is made in two stages, the first a double extraction of fresh leaves and flowers and the second a strong tea made with dried leaves and flowers. The two are then sweetened and combined. The recipe makes two quarts. It takes a while to make but is totally worth waiting for.

Ingredients, Extract:

  • Enough fresh tulsi leaves and flowers to loosely fill a quart jar (or simply cut stems to fit up to the shoulder of the jar and stand them in it)
  • Good quality 80 or 100 proof vodka
  • Good quality brandy


  • Add the fresh tulsi to the jar, then fill it half way with vodka. Fill the jar the rest of the way with brandy, making sure the tulsi is completely covered and there are no air pockets. Place the lid on the jar securely and shake gently to blend. Set aside for 2-3 weeks.
  • Remove the plant material from the jar and replace with more fresh tulsi. If needed add a little more brandy to cover and shake gently to blend. Set aside for another 2-3 weeks. 

Ingredients, Tea:

  • 1/2 cup dried tulsi leaves or leaves and flowers in a muslin bag or fine cheesecloth tied securely
  • 1 quart boiling water
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup raw honey or more to taste
  • two clean quart jars


  • Pour the water over the tulsi and allow to steep for 20-30 minutes to make a strong tea
  • Remove the tulsi and add the raw honey while the tea is still warm
  • Strain half the extract into each jar, then strain half the tea into each jar to combine
  • Taste for desired sweetness, adding more honey if needed
  • Cap tightly and place in the refrigerator for another 2 weeks to mellow. Can be used at this point but improves with age.

 Scientific Research:

In scientific studies, holy basil has been shown to be a COX 2 inhibitor (many modern pain medications are COX 2 inhibitors), making it useful against arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. Tulsi is high in eugenol, a constituent also found in cloves, which is helpful to decrease pain.

The Clinical Efficacy and Safety of Tulsi in Humans: A Systematic Review of the Literature, Negar Jamshidi and Marc M. Cohen


Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief by David Winston and Steven Maimes

Tulasi Devi: Goddess of Devotion by Sarvaga and Gunavati



Mimi Alberu