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.
The variety of Ocimum tenuiflorum used in Cambodian and Thai cuisine is referred to as Thai holy basil (Thai: กะเพรา kaphrao) or (Khmer: ម្រះព្រៅ mreah-pruv); it is not the same as Thai basil or Chi neang vorng, which is a variety of Ocimum basilicum.
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 or Shyam 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.
Tulsi essential oil consists mostly of eugenol (~70%) β-elemene (~11.0%), β-caryophyllene (~8%), and germacrene (~2%), with the balance being made up of various trace compounds, mostly terpenes.
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.
Significance in Hinduism
Tulsi is a sacred plant for Hindus and is worshipped as the avatar of Lakshmi. 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. Traditionally, tulsi is planted in the center of the central courtyard of Hindu houses or may be grown next to Hanuman temples. There is also a variant, known as Shyam Tulsi, which is slightly darker (purplish-green) in shade.
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.
- O. tenuiflorum
- Tulsi in a home garden
- Tulsi leaf
- Closeup of inflorescence
- Flower of tulsi
- Tulsi flowers
- An altar with tulsi plant for daily worship in a courtyard
- Prayer beads made from tulsi wood
- Tulsi plant
- Tulsi Flowers, also known as Manjiri in Hindi
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