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The Elixir of Life

Tulsi, or holy basil, is revered as a wonder herb that can bolster your immune system and your spiritual development.

By James Bailey, L.Ac., M.P.H.

In ayurveda">ayurvedic circles, tulsi is revered as "the elixir of life," an herb with numerous healing powers. It is used to ward off common ailments, to foster compassion, and to engender divine protection. Also known as holy basil or Indian basil, tulsi is a relative of that fragrant herb commonly used in Western cooking.

Tulsi means "the incomparable one," and its many healing powers were recognized centuries ago by the rishis (spiritual seers), who made it one of the most revered herbs in India. Most notably, it works as an adaptogen, providing protection from the effects of stress by supporting the naturally occurring adaptive responses of the mind-body to psychological and physical challenges from the environment.

The protective effects of adaptogens prevent the onset of many more illnesses than they actually heal. Tulsi is thought to strengthen the immune system, increasing antibody production with its antibiotic, antiviral, and antifungal properties. It is used to treat colds, headaches, digestive disorders, inflammation, heart disease, and various forms of poisoning. It is also an important constituent of Ayurvedic cough syrups, expectorants, and digestive remedies. Tulsi has pungent, bitter, and warming properties, so it is often used to treat various vata and kapha disorders. And although it increases pitta, it is regularly taken to reduce fever.

Some Hindus, particularly those who worship Vishnu, the Preserver of life, honor the spiritual properties of tulsi. In fact, many Indians would consider their home incomplete without a growing tulsi plant, which is usually housed in a meter-high terra-cotta planter that is known as a tulsi vrindavan.

The ancient Vedic scriptures include many references to tulsi. They tell how Brahma is believed to reside in its roots, Vishnu in the stems and leaves, and Shiva in the flowering tops. According to some legends, tulsi is especially sacred to Vishnu, who was quite fond of it. Two of the three varieties of the herb are therefore known as Krishna tulsi and Rama tulsi. (Krishna and Rama are the human incarnations of Vishnu.) The third, Vana tulsi, is named after the sacred forest where Krishna was believed to have lived.

Women throughout India worship tulsi (or tulsi-devi, as they often refer to it) as an embodiment of the Mother Goddess. Some perform a puja (an elaborate daily ceremony) that involves praying and singing praise to the Goddess while pouring holy water on the plant. They invoke tulsi to open the heart and mind, increase prana (life energy), and foster greater love, devotion, faith, compassion, and clarity. Through puja, the Goddess is believed to clear the aura and provide divine protection. Tulsi is so revered that both men and women wear necklaces of 108 beads carved from its stems to provide them with spiritual protection and nourishment, as well as to bring lightness and consciousness into their being.

A simple tea infusion is the best way to absorb tulsi's benefits, which include overall well-being, improved stamina and endurance, and increased sattvic (spiritual) energy. Tulsi is available in tea bags at Indian and Ayurvedic markets; its sattvic properties are more pronounced when it is grown organically.

Contributing Editor James Bailey practices Ayurveda, Oriental medicine, and herbal medicine.

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Reader Comments


Be careful with this one! I drank some of my roommate's Tulsi-green tea, and had an allergic reaction. Stomach cramping and flushed face after only a few sips.

Chareita Smit -Netherlands

Dear Ramnarayan, Thank you for confirming my first statement. You are definitely not an average guy since you are aware of all the do's and don'ts regarding the (Tulsi) mala. With average I mean those who are not spiritually inclined as mala's in the west are often a fashion item and only those as you state "after receiving their calling" learn how to treat a mala/ rosary or those who have indian origins. In any case I didn't mean to offend anybody but a lot of people aren't aware of the 'rules & regulation' as you put it and just wear the mala as a fashion statement.
BTW Tulsi also helps if you have itching red spots on the body. It will cool, dry and bring relieve pain.

Ramnarayan Natarajan, India

Yes, upon wearing Tulsi Mala one shouldnt consume garlic, onion, caffeine products, eggs, meat, and follow no smoking/drinking habits very strictly, together with no illicit sex. I disagree with the statement that " your average guy will not wear a tulsi mala as stated by Chareita Smit from The Netherlands " because, I was a average joe, and upon receiving the calling, I did wear the Tulsi mala and am following all the rules and regulations. So, if I can do it, why not any average person cannot do it? When going to the restroom (bathroom) one still have to wear the Tulsi Mala, but shouldnt remove at any circumstances, and the length shouldnt be lower than the navel. Eleni Roulis you can buy authentic, genuine tulsi mala at any of the ISKCON temples worldwide.

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