The Ocimum tenuiflorum plant goes by many names, including holy basil, sacred basil, tulasi, monk's basil and, of course, tulsi. This fragrant herb, a close relative of common culinary basil, often lends itself to medicinal and religious purposes. Though it is native to the tropical regions of Asia and the South Pacific, British green fingers and herb gardeners in warm climates can grow tulsi with very little maintenance.
The aromatic Ocimum tenuiflorum herb plant takes the form of a small bushy shrub. It features a woody stem, grows upright and features many green or dark purple branches. Fine spreading hairs coat the base of the tulsi's stem. Oval leaves with sharp tips top the plant's many twiggy branches, featuring a light green colour accented or mottled with purple edges and veins. Like the stems, tulsi leaves feature a coating of fine hair.
Tulsi grows as either an annual or short-lived perennial, depending on the region. In most UK regions, it occurs as a tender perennial. The plant reaches its mature blooming stage 65 to 70 days after planting. Ocimum tenuiflorum grows from about 30 to 60 cm (12 to 24 inches) high and reaches widths of up to 60 cm (24 inches). During the summer season, tulsi blooms small spikes of lavender, pink or white flowers. Herb gardeners can harvest the herb's twigs one month after planting, and again two weeks after each harvest.
Holy basil prefers warm and sunny tropical climates. This plant flourishes in well-drained soils of the loam or sand variety. The Ocimum tenuiflorum, a generally low-maintenance plant, tolerates acidic, neutral and alkaline soil types. With regular watering, tulsi grows very quickly. Tulsi does not tolerate extreme cold or frost. Gardeners can use this type of basil as an edible herb, ground cover, wall cover or as a mixed border.
Herbalists use tulsi seeds mixed with black pepper to treat malaria in pregnant women, while fresh flowers harvested from the plant treat common coughs and colds. Medical trials report some effectiveness for treating hepatic dysfunction and eczema. Other common ailments alleviated by tulsi include nausea, vomiting, ulcers, diarrhoea and gas. In Thailand, cooks flavour many traditional dishes with the leaves of the tulsi plant. In addition to culinary and medicinal uses, some cultures consider Ocimum tenuiflorum a holy plant, hence its collection of spiritual monikers. In India, Hindus use the plant as part of religious ceremonies to cleanse the body. They also make rosary beads from the tulsi's woody stem.