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Herbology 101: Tulsi, aka. Holy Basil, "the Queen of Herbs", "the Incomparable One" (Part 1 of 2)

Tulsi is one of the most sacred plants in Ayurveda and often grown near temples and homes. I feel it's power every time I brew a pot of tea with this herb or use it in a tea blend - it's aroma is slightly spicy, slightly sweet, and immediately brings me a few breaths of peace and calm as I inhale the steam lifting off the hot water. Indeed, it is considered to be the most sacred sattvic herb, promoting peacefulness in the body-mind-energy system.

While Tulsi is considered the most powerful in these regards, all basils share similar qualities. Basil is pungent and warm and, though heating, it is considered a milder spice compared to the hotter spices like dry ginger and cayenne. As such, it decreases Kapha and Vata and only mildly increases Pitta. It is stimulating, so able to cut through dullness in the mind and nerves (typically, conditions related to a Kapha imbalance), and it is nervine, so able to calm and cleanse the nerves (often related to an overabundance of Vata).

Tulsi and other basils are anti-inflammatory so can help with many chronic diseases related to inflammation. They are carminative so can help decrease gas, bloating, and nervous indigestion, and they are diaphoretic which means they increase sweating and circulation which can help cleanse the tissues. Uniquely, though basil is considered a warming herb, it is also a febrifuge used to combat all kinds of fever. Taken with a bit of honey, Basil is particularly good for cold and flus and the fever, dullness, and body aches that often come with those ailments. It also helps to cleanse the colon, to ease menstruation, and to clear the head and sinuses. And, it's strongly antioxidant, helping to rid the body of free radicals which are often linked to cancer.

Part of Tulsi's power is it's ability to regulate our body's production and release of cortisol, often called "the stress hormone". Cortisol is a steroid released from our adrenal glands which sit on top of the kidneys and it floods the body when we're stressed, moving us into the "fight, flight, or freeze" response (the sympathetic nervous system). This response evolved to help us during short-term emergency, eg. fighting, running away, or hiding from a predator. But today, we're often chronically stressed with a highly activated sympathetic nervous system from feeling anxious, afraid, or angry, or from hearing car alarms and sirens all day, or from losing our cool and being involved in a screaming match, or stressing about deadlines or a family situation or our self-worth. So many things...

Think about this: steroids reduce our immune response, and more stress equals more cortisol, so that means lower immunity. Tulsi normalizes our cortisol levels which, in this day and age, usually means reducing it. Reducing cortisol moves us into "rest and digest" mode also known as the parasympathetic nervous system. This increases our immune response, helps us sleep better and digest better ("rest and digest"), reduces anxiety and depression, increases our memory and ability to concentrate, and can decrease our risk of heart disease and obesity. It is in this mode that our body is able to maintain, heal, and repair itself on deeper levels. But that's all body-based. What about this whole sattvic situation? Head over to Part 2 of this post to read more about how Tulsi balances the mind and energy systems.

We can use Tulsi in teas, tinctures, essential oil diffusion, as a medicated oil for abhyanga, dried as a snuff, and as a steam for inhalation. It's usage in Ayurveda goes back over 3,000 years, so this is ancient plant medicine that has been with our species for a very long time. If you're new to plant medicine, I recommend starting with teas and essential oil diffusion, and find a teacher to guide you to other methods. And, of course, try growing your own! It's a wonderful tea plant and beloved by pollinators as well as people.

For more, check out:

"Modern day scientific research into tulsi demonstrates the many psychological and physiological benefits from consuming tulsi and provides a testament to the wisdom inherent in Hinduism and Ayurveda, which celebrates tulsi as a plant that can be worshipped, ingested, made into tea and used for medicinal and spiritual purposes within daily life."

"Despite the lack of large-scale or long term clinical trials on the effect of tulsi in humans, the findings from 24 human studies published to date suggest that the tulsi is a safe herbal intervention that may assist in normalising glucose, blood pressure and lipid profiles, and dealing with psychological and immunological stress. Furthermore, these studies indicate the daily addition of tulsi to the diet and/or as adjunct to drug therapy can potentially assist in prevention or reduction of various health conditions and warrants further clinical evaluation."

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