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Monday, September 13, 2010


TULSI, TULASI or HOLY BASIL (Ocimum tenuiflorum)

Tulsi or Holy Basil is closely related to the Mediterranean basil so commonly used in European cuisines, but it is not the same as you can see form the pictures on this sit of both types of basil. Tulsi or Holy basil is native to the Asian continent and is a sacred plant for Hindus so is not generally eaten on the subcontinent, as the peoples on this continent tend to respect each others’ religions.

Tulsi is a short-lived perennial with smaller flowers than the Mediterranean basil, and has four ‘nutlets’ or seeds. Unlike the sweet basil seeds (tukh malanga), the seeds of Holy Basil do not produce mucilage. It used to be grown in large pots in the courtyards of Hindu forts and temples, and is still used to purify the body. This is entirely in keeping with the findings of modern medical researchers who have found that Tulsi has antibacterial properties and kills bacteria. It is effective against fungal diseases which attack rice crops. It is still grown in pots in Hindu homes and many women offer blessed water to their Holy basil or tulasi plant and walk around it praying. Hindus believe that offerings to their god and goddesses are not complete without tulasi leaves.

Krishna enjoys offerings of tulsi leaves as it is believed that the Holy Basil plant is the earthly embodiment of the nymph Tulasi who was so beloved by Krishna. It is believed by others that it is actually the earthly embodiment of the goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Vishnu. The Brahmins believe that it is sacred to both gods, and that it guides all who grow it to heaven. In Hindi the name tulsi or tulasi means ‘incomparable’. It is used in Hindu marriage and funeral ceremonies and is used extensively in traditional medicine.

It was mentioned in the Rig Veda written around 1500 BC, and is noted in the medical treatise, Charaka Samhita which was written between the 2nd century BC and the 2dn century AD., so it has a long history of use. A mixture of its leaves, seeds and black pepper are given to pregnant women suffering from malaria, in India, while in Thailand the leaves and often the whole plants are used to stop nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and flatulence. The fresh flowers are used to cure coughs and colds. The oil from the plant is an effective mosquito repellant.

In Ayurvedic medicine it has been used as an antidote to snake bites and as a medicine for coughs, colds, bronchitis and diabetes. It is often taken as a drink with lemon juice or cardamoms. Modern medical research has found that its oil contains eugenol which is a natural antiseptic and it can not only kill bacteria but also reduce inflammation. It also contains rosemarinic acid which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The plant also contains an acid which gives protection to enzymes present in the liver which help break down fats; this is important for diabetes sufferers. It helps lower cholesterol levels too.

Holy basil is used in some creams and ointments to treat eczema, although people with sensitive skins should avoid applying parts of the plant directly onto their skin as it can cause adverse reactions.

The woody stems are carved into prayer beads for Hindus and it is used as a flavouring in Thai cuisines. Thais tell me that it is sometimes confused with a close relative called Thai basil, but it is not the same and shouldn’t be used as a substitute for it as the two plants do not produce the same flavours.

1 tbsp oil for cooking
1 tsp sesame oil
4 green chillies, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
100 gr minced chicken (or beef or pork)
1 tbsp nam pla (fish sauce)
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
pinch sugar
½ cup Holy basil leaves
1 egg per person, beaten


Heat the oil and fry the chillies and garlic until brown and pungent. Add the meat and fry till it is no longer red.

Add the sugar, soy sauce and fish sauce. Stir until the liquid has been totally absorbed then add a little water and the Holy basil leaves. Stir until the leaves have wilted.

In a separate frying pan fry the beaten eggs in a little oil.

Serve the stir-fry on a bed of rice and top with egg slices.

This has Taste and is a Treat.

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